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Mineral diversity offers clue to early Earth chemistry

March 1, 2013 9:50 am | News | Comments

New research on a mineral called molybdenite by a team led by Robert Hazen at Carnegie's Geophysical Laboratory provides important new insights about the changing chemistry of our planet as a result of geological and biological processes. Analysis of the mineral showed  that concentrations of rhenium, a trace element that is sensitive to oxidation reactions, increased significantly—by a factor of eight—over the past three billion years.

Researchers propose new technique for probing Earth's deep interior

February 22, 2013 10:03 am | News | Comments

National Science Foundation-funded researchers at Amherst College in Massachusetts and the University of Texas at Austin have described a new technique based in particle physics that might one day reveal, in more detail than ever before, the composition and characteristics of the deep Earth. There's just one catch: the technique relies on a fifth force of nature that has not yet been detected, but some particle physicists think it might exist.

Mercury may have harbored an ancient magma ocean

February 21, 2013 7:53 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

By analyzing Mercury's rocky surface, scientists have been able to partially reconstruct the planet's history over billions of years. Now, drawing upon the chemical composition of rock features on the planet's surface, scientists have proposed that Mercury may have harbored a large, roiling ocean of magma very early in its history, shortly after its formation about 4.5 billion years ago.

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NASA rover prepares to analyze Mars rock dust

February 20, 2013 3:21 pm | by The Associated Press | News | Comments

Fresh off drilling into a rock for the first time, the Mars rover Curiosity is prepping for the next step—dissecting the pulverized rock to determine what it's made of. NASA said Wednesday it received confirmation that Curiosity successfully collected a tablespoon of powder from the drilling two weeks ago and was poised to transfer a pinch to its onboard laboratories. It's the first time a spacecraft has bored into a rock on Mars to retrieve a sample from the interior.

Water on the moon: It's been there all along

February 19, 2013 8:10 am | News | Comments

Traces of water have been detected within the crystalline structure of mineral samples from the lunar highland upper crust obtained during the Apollo missions, according to a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues. The lunar highlands are thought to represent the original crust, crystallized from a magma ocean on a mostly molten early moon. The new findings indicate that the early moon was wet and that water there was not substantially lost during the moon's formation.

Russian scientists recover meteor fragments

February 18, 2013 10:32 am | News | Comments

Scientists have found more than 50 tiny fragments of a meteor that exploded over Russia's Ural Mountains with the power of dozens of atomic bombs. Most are less than a centimeter in diameter, but locals saw a big meteorite fall into the lake on Friday, leaving a 6-m-wide hole in the ice. A meteor up to 50-60 cm could eventually be found in the lake.

Wisconsin scientists help search for alien life

February 13, 2013 3:36 am | by CARRIE ANTLFINGER - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are helping search for evidence of alien life not by looking into outer space, but by studying some rocks right here on Earth. Some of the rocks are up to 3.5 billion years old. The scientists are looking for crucial information to understand how life might have arisen elsewhere in the universe and guide the search for life on Mars one day.

Curiosity rover completes first drill into Mars rock

February 11, 2013 8:32 am | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

In a Mars first, the Curiosity rover drilled into a rock and prepared to dump an aspirin-sized pinch of powder into its onboard laboratories for closer inspection. Using the drill at the end of its 7-foot-long robotic arm, Curiosity on Friday chipped away at a flat, veined rock bearing numerous signs of past water flow.  The exercise was so complex that engineers spent several days commanding Curiosity to tap the rock outcrop, drill test holes and perform a "mini-drill" in anticipation of the real show.

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Volcano location could be greenhouse-icehouse key

February 7, 2013 8:00 am | News | Comments

A new Rice University-led study finds the real estate mantra “location, location, location” may also explain one of Earth’s enduring climate mysteries. The study suggests that Earth’s repeated flip-flopping between greenhouse and icehouse states over the past 500 million years may have been driven by the episodic flare up of volcanoes at key locations where enormous amounts of carbon dioxide are poised for release into the atmosphere.

Researchers develop model for identifying habitable zones around stars

January 31, 2013 8:11 am | News | Comments

Researchers searching the galaxy for planets that could pass the litmus test of sustaining water-based life must find whether those planets fall in what’s known as a habitable zone. New work, led by a team of Penn State University researchers, will help scientists in that search.

Ridges on Mars suggest ancient flowing water

January 29, 2013 3:57 pm | News | Comments

Ridges in impact craters on Mars appear to be fossils of cracks in the Martian surface, formed by minerals deposited by flowing water. Water flowing beneath the surface suggests life may once have been possible on Mars.

Martian crater may once have held groundwater-fed lake

January 21, 2013 11:46 am | News | Comments

New information coming from researchers analyzing spectrometer data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which looked down on the floor of McLaughlin Crater on the Red Planet’s surface, suggests the formation of the carbonates and clay in a groundwater-fed lake within the closed basin of the crater. The depth of the crater may have helped allow the lake to form.

Study: Warmer soils release additional carbon dioxide into atmosphere

January 21, 2013 8:41 am | by Beth Potier, University of New Hampshire | News | Comments

Warmer temperatures due to climate change could cause soils to release additional carbon into the atmosphere, thereby enhancing climate change—but that effect diminishes over the long term. The new study sheds new light on how soil microorganisms respond to temperature and could improve predictions of how climate warming will affect the carbon dioxide flux from soils.

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Meteorite made up of rare early solar system material

January 16, 2013 9:22 am | News | Comments

It looked like a fireball in the sky. It created a sonic boom. It vaporized upon entering the atmosphere. It's all of the above: The Sutter's Mill Meteorite had the force of 4 kilotons of TNT upon descent and spilled samples of itself over the towns of Columa and Lotus in northern California when it hit Earth last spring. And now a consortium of scientists has determined that the Sutter's Mill Meteorite is the most pristine sample yet collected of the rare Carbonaceous-Mighei chondrite class of meteorites.

Atomic motions help determine temperatures inside Earth

January 15, 2013 7:41 am | News | Comments

In December 2011, Caltech mineral-physics expert Jennifer Jackson reported that she and a team of researchers had used diamond-anvil cells to compress tiny samples of iron—the main element of the Earth's core. By squeezing the samples to reproduce the extreme pressures felt at the core, the team was able to get a closer estimate of the melting point of iron. At the time, the measurements that the researchers made were unprecedented in detail. Now, they have taken that research one step further by adding infrared laser beams to the mix.

Study reveals gas that triggers ozone destruction

January 14, 2013 9:28 am | News | Comments

Scientists at the Universities of York and Leeds have made a significant discovery about the cause of the destruction of ozone over oceans. They have established that the majority of ozone-depleting iodine oxide observed over the remote ocean comes from a previously unknown marine source.

Oxygen to the core

January 10, 2013 2:15 pm | News | Comments

An international collaboration has discovered that the Earth's core formed under more oxidizing condition's than previously proposed. Through a series of laser-heated diamond anvil cell experiments at high pressure (350,000 to 700,000 atmospheres of pressure) and temperatures (5,120 to 7,460 F), the team demonstrated that the depletion of siderophile elements can be produced by core formation under more oxidizing conditions than earlier predictions.

Magma in mantle has deep impact

January 10, 2013 9:33 am | News | Comments

Magma forms far deeper than geologists previously thought, according to new research at Rice University. The research group put very small samples of peridotite under very large pressures in a Rice laboratory to determine that rock can and does liquify, at least in small amounts, as deep as 250 kilometers in the mantle beneath the ocean floor. This explains several puzzles that have bothered scientists.

Carbon found in Vesta's craters

January 8, 2013 8:43 am | News | Comments

Images taken by the framing camera onboard NASA's space probe Dawn show two enormous craters in the southern hemisphere of the asteroid Vesta, a remarkable protoplanet that is a time capsule of early planet formation in the solar system. Scientists have recently found that the asteroids that created these impact features also delivered dark, carbonaceous material to the protoplanet.

Fluctuating environment may have driven human evolution

January 2, 2013 8:05 am | News | Comments

A series of rapid environmental changes in East Africa roughly 2 million years ago may be responsible for driving human evolution, according to researchers at Penn State University and Rutgers University.

New data challenge old views about evolution of early life

December 26, 2012 2:37 pm | News | Comments

A research team led by biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has tested a popular hypothesis in paleo-ocean chemistry, and proved it false. The team has ruled out zinc as a factor in the delayed diversification of single-celled and multicellular organisms.

Clays on Mars: More plentiful than expected

December 21, 2012 9:30 am | News | Comments

A new study indicates that clay minerals, rocks that usually form when water is present for long periods of time, cover a larger portion of Mars than previously thought.  In fact, the research team say clays were in some of the rocks studied by Opportunity when it landed at Eagle crater in 2004. But Opportunity doesn’t have the capability any longer to detect these clays, which were found using spectroscopic analysis from the Mars Reconnaissance Observer.

Asteroid surfaces more complex than previously thought

December 21, 2012 8:39 am | News | Comments

Meteorites that had fallen from an asteroid impact that lit up the skies over California and Nevada in April were quickly recovered by scientists and recent studies report that this space rock is an unusual example from a rare group known as carbonaceous chondrites, which contain some of the oldest material in the solar system. It is also complex, containing molecules such as water and amino acids.

Grains gang up to bear brunt of major impacts

December 12, 2012 10:38 am | News | Comments

High-speed video of projectiles slamming into a bed of disks has given scientists a new microscopic picture of the way a meteorite or missile transfers the energy of its impact to sand and dirt grains. To their surprise, the transition is jerky, not smooth. The finding may change the way scientists model meteorite and missile impacts and their effects.

Detecting tunnels using seismic waves not as simple as it sounds

December 10, 2012 1:09 pm | News | Comments

Tunnels are often used to smuggle people and illicit goods between the border of the U.S. and Mexico. Researchers have attempted to use seismic waves to find these shallow tunnels, but current methods often miss them because of what is called the “halo effect”, in which fracturing and other geological anomalies create diffuse boundaries that hide open areas. A two-year study has shed light on this phenomenon and may lead to better results.

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