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Carbon’s role in atmosphere formation

April 9, 2013 4:53 am | News | Comments

A new study from a collaboration of several universities suggests that the way carbon moves from within a planet to the surface plays a big role in the evolution of a planet's atmosphere. If Mars released much of its carbon as methane, for example, it might have been warm enough to support liquid water. This finding offers important clues about the early atmospheric evolution of Mars and other terrestrial bodies.

Mars missions scaled back in April because of sun

April 4, 2013 12:39 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

It's the Martian version of spring break: Curiosity and Opportunity, along with their spacecraft friends circling overhead, will take it easy this month because of the sun's interference. For much of April, the sun blocks the line of sight between Earth and Mars. This celestial alignment—called a Mars solar conjunction—makes it difficult for engineers to send instructions or hear from the flotilla in orbit and on the surface.

Power behind primordial soup discovered

April 4, 2013 12:06 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at the University of Leeds may have solved a key puzzle about how objects from space could have kindled life on Earth. While it is generally accepted that some important ingredients for life came from meteorites bombarding the early Earth, scientists have not been able to explain how that inanimate rock transformed into the building blocks of life, until now.

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Study provides evidence ancient asteroid caused global firestorm on Earth

March 28, 2013 7:48 am | News | Comments

A new look at conditions after a Manhattan-sized asteroid slammed into a region of Mexico in the dinosaur days indicates the event could have triggered a global firestorm that would have burned every twig, bush, and tree on Earth and led to the extinction of 80% of all Earth’s species, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Study: Volcanic eruptions triggered the end-Triassic extinction

March 22, 2013 2:28 pm | News | Comments

It’s not entirely clear what caused the end-Triassic extinction, although most scientists agree on a likely scenario: Over a relatively short period of time, massive volcanic eruptions from a large region known as the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) spewed forth huge amounts of lava and gas, including carbon dioxide, sulfur and methane. Now, a research team has determined that these eruptions occurred precisely when the extinction began, providing strong evidence that volcanic activity did indeed trigger the end-Triassic extinction.

Computer models show how deep carbon could return to Earth's surface

March 21, 2013 9:17 am | News | Comments

Computer simulations of water under extreme pressure are helping geochemists understand how carbon might be recycled from hundreds of miles below the Earth's surface. Carbon compounds are the basis of life, provide most of our fuels and contribute to climate change. The cycling of carbon through the oceans, atmosphere, and shallow crust of the Earth has been intensively studied, but little is known about what happens to carbon deep in the Earth.

Scientists discover layer of liquified molten rock in Earth’s mantle

March 20, 2013 2:30 pm | News | Comments

Using advanced seafloor electromagnetic imaging technology, scientists with Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution imaged a 25-km-thick layer of partially melted mantle rock below the edge of the Cocos plate where it moves beneath Central America. The finding of this layer, which may be responsible for the sliding motions of the planet’s massive tectonic plates, could have far-reaching implications to our understanding of geologic processes.

Under California: An ancient tectonic plate

March 18, 2013 4:39 pm | News | Comments

Large chunks of an ancient tectonic plate that slid under North America millions of years ago are still present under parts of central California and Mexico, according to new research led by Brown University geophysicists. Called the Isabella anomaly—a large mass of cool, dehydrated material about 100 km beneath central California—is in fact a surviving slab of the ancient Farallon oceanic plate driven deep into the Earth’s mantle about 100 million years ago.

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Mars rover shows planet could have supported life

March 13, 2013 12:26 pm | by Alicia Chang, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

Drilling into a rock near its landing spot, the Curiosity rover has answered a key question about Mars: The red planet long ago harbored some of the ingredients needed for primitive life to thrive. Topping the list is evidence of water and basic elements that teeny organisms could feed on, scientists said Tuesday.

Lunar impacts created seas of molten rock

March 12, 2013 10:46 am | News | Comments

A new analysis of data from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter shows that molten rock may have been present on the Moon more recently and for longer periods than previously thought. Differentiation—a settling out of rock layers as liquid rock cools—would require thousands of years and a fluid rock sea at least six miles deep.

Study: Glaciers contribute significant iron in Atlantic Ocean

March 11, 2013 4:24 pm | News | Comments

All living organisms rely on iron as an essential nutrient. In the ocean, iron’s abundance or scarcity means all the difference as it fuels the growth of plankton. A new study from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution identifies an unexpectedly large source of iron to the North Atlantic—meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets, which may stimulate plankton growth. This source is likely to increase as melting of the Greenland ice sheet escalates under a warming climate.

Stone in shipwreck may be Viking navigators' tool

March 8, 2013 3:10 pm | by Raphael Satter, Associated Press | News | Comments

A rough, whitish block recovered from an Elizabethan shipwreck may be a sunstone, the fabled crystal believed by some to have helped Vikings and other medieval seafarers navigate the high seas, researchers say. That's because of a property known as birefringence, which splits light beams in a way that can reveal the direction of their source with a high degree of accuracy.

Researchers track sediments’ fate in largest-ever dam removal

March 8, 2013 12:35 pm | News | Comments

Salmon are beginning to swim up the Elwha River for the first time in more than a century. But University of Washington marine geologists are watching what’s beginning to flow downstream—sediments from the largest dam-removal project ever undertaken. It turns out there is even more sediment than originally thought—about 34 million cubic yards.

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Report: First discovery of a natural topological insulator

March 6, 2013 10:59 am | News | Comments

Unlike conventional electrical insulators, which do not conduct electricity, topological insulators have the unique property of conducting electricity on their surface, while acting as an insulator inside. In a step toward understanding and exploiting an exotic form of matter that has been sparking excitement for potential applications in a new genre of supercomputers, scientists are reporting the first identification of a naturally occurring topological insulator that was retrieved from an abandoned gold mine in the Czech Republic.

“True grit” erodes assumptions about evolution

March 5, 2013 1:13 pm | by Sandra Hines, University of Washington | News | Comments

New research led by the University of Washington challenges the 140-year-old assumption that finding fossilized remains of prehistoric animals with such teeth meant the animals were living in grasslands and savannas. Instead it appears certain South American mammals evolved the teeth in response to the gritty dust and volcanic ash they encountered while feeding in an ancient tropical forest.

Researchers find link to arsenic-contaminated groundwater

March 5, 2013 10:01 am | News | Comments

Millions of people in Bangladesh and neighboring countries are chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated groundwater, which causes skin lesions and increases the risk of certain cancers. According to an international team of scientists, human activities are not the primary cause of arsenic found in groundwater in Bangladesh. They found instead that the arsenic is part of a natural process that predates any recent human activity, such as intensive pumping.

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.

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.

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.

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