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Science Notes: Clay on Mars, Next Mission, Cosmic Chirps

Posted at: 12/04/2012 2:22 PM
Updated at: 12/04/2012 4:44 PM
By: The Associated Press

nullOpportunity may have found clay at Mars crater rim

After more than eight years roaming Mars, the NASA rover Opportunity is still making discoveries.

Scientists said Tuesday the six-wheel, solar-powered vehicle has uncovered hints of clay minerals in outcrops along the western rim of a huge crater in the Martian southern hemisphere.

Clay minerals are important because they hold clues about the Martian climate. Studying them should help scientists determine whether surface conditions in the past could have been favorable for life. Until now, their presence has been spotted by orbiting spacecraft.

Results were released at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Opportunity will stay at its current spot for several more months before heading south to an area believed to have a motherlode of clay minerals.

Opportunity landed in 2004 and outlasted its original, three-month mission.

NASA aims to send another rover to Mars in 2020

NASA says it wants to launch another mega-rover to Mars modeled after the wildly popular Curiosity.

The space agency said Tuesday the spacecraft will be built from spare parts from Curiosity. It would also use the novel landing system that delivered the car-size rover to Mars in August.

The new mission is scheduled for 2020 and is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion. But scientists haven't hashed out exactly what the rover would try to accomplish on Mars.

NASA says it's another step toward eventually sending astronauts to the red planet in the 2030s.

Cosmic radio waves mimic chirping of 'alien birds'

Twin spacecraft have captured the clearest sounds yet from Earth's radiation belts - and they mimic the chirping of birds.

NASA's Van Allen Probes have been exploring the hostile radiation belts surrounding Earth for just three months. But already, they've collected detailed measurements of high-energy particles and radio waves.

Scientists say these waves can provide an energy boost to radiation belt particles, somewhat like ocean waves can propel a surfer on Earth. What's more, these so-called chorus waves operate in the same frequency as human hearing so they can be heard.

A University of Iowa physicist played a recording of these high-pitched radio waves at a conference Tuesday in San Francisco. Craig Kletzing says it sounds like the chirping of "alien birds" and crickets.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)