Rocks rich in silica present puzzles for Mars Rover team
NASA’s Curiosity rover has found much higher concentrations of silica at some sites it has investigated in the past seven months than anywhere else it has visited since landing on Mars 40 months ago. Silica makes up nine-tenths of the composition of some of the rocks. It is a rock-forming chemical combining the elements silicon and oxygen, commonly seen on Earth as quartz, but also in many other minerals.
“These high-silica compositions are a puzzle. You can boost the concentration of silica either by leaching away other ingredients while leaving the silica behind, or by bringing in silica from somewhere else,” said Albert Yen, a Curiosity science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Either of those processes involve water. If we can determine which happened, we’ll learn more about other conditions in those ancient wet environments.”
Nearby star hosts closest alien planet in the ‘habitable zone’
UNSW Australia astronomers have discovered the closest potentially habitable planet found outside our solar system so far, orbiting a star just 14 light years away.
The planet, more than four times the mass of Earth, is one of three that the team detected around a red dwarf star called Wolf 1061. “It is a particularly exciting find because all three planets are of low enough mass to be potentially rocky and have a solid surface, and the middle planet, Wolf 1061c, sits within the ‘Goldilocks’ zone where it might be possible for liquid water — and maybe even life — to exist,” says lead study author UNSW’s Dr Duncan Wright.
ESA confirms James Webb telescope Ariane launch
The next great space observatory took a step closer this week when ESA signed the contract with Arianespace that will see the James Webb Space Telescope launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou in October 2018.
Ariane is part of the European contribution to the cooperative mission with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, along with two of the four state-of-the-art science instruments for infrared observations of the Universe.
The telescope’s wide range of targets includes detecting the first galaxies in the Universe and following their evolution over cosmic time, witnessing the birth of new stars and their planetary systems, and studying planets in our Solar System and around other stars.
With a 6.5 m-diameter telescope, the observatory must be launched folded up inside Ariane’s fairing. The 6.6 tonne craft will begin unfolding shortly after launch, once en route to its operating position some 1.5 million km from Earth on the anti-sunward side.
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