Is There Water – And Life – On Mars?

"Although life at the Martian surface would have been possible only 3.5 or 4 billion years ago, life could have existed on Mars any time from 4 billion years ago all the way up to the present. And if it does exist, it would be below the surface. "

- Bruce Jakowsky, Ph.D., Geologist and Planetary Scientist,
University of Colorado, Boulder

December 2, 1999  Houston, Texas - On Friday, December 3rd, NASA's Polar Lander will set down on the South Polar Cap of Mars. Two probes designed to punch into the soil will be released. If all goes well, soil samples will be warmed up and analyzed for water. If there's ice, there might be liquid water underground. And if there's water, then life could still possibly exist on Mars - even if only bacteria and other microbes below the surface.

The Allan Hills, Antarctica ALH84001 meteorite discovered in 1984 that made worldwide headlines because scientists found rice-shaped carbon globules in tiny cracks on the rock which resembled earth bacteria. The carbon in this meteorite dates back about three billion years when Mars probably had water on its surface, was warmer and had a global magnetic field. Photograph provided by the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.
The Allan Hills, Antarctica ALH84001 meteorite discovered in 1984 that made worldwide headlines because scientists found rice-shaped carbon globules in tiny cracks on the rock which resembled earth bacteria. The carbon in this meteorite dates back about three billion years when Mars probably had water on its surface, was warmer and had a global magnetic field. Photograph provided by the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

 

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Kunjin West Nile Fever Virus Update

 

"I think it's very unlikely that it was an engineered virus. It looks much more like there are sequences very similar in another part of the world, but that doesn't tell us anything about how it might have been introduced. And that is obviously cause for some concern."

- W. Ian Lipkin, M.D., Univ. of California at Irvine -

November 15, 1999  University of California-Irvine ­ By the time the first frost touched Philadelphia this fall, dead crows and other birds in a couple of suburbs had been sent to laboratories to see if the Kunjin West Nile Fever Virus had spread from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The Pennsylvania test results are due soon and public health officials are concerned about the implications for next spring and summer. For the first time in history, this virus strain normally found only in Africa, Australia, the Middle East and Eurasia showed up in the United States. Fifty-six people in New York City were infected with the foreign virus and seven died, along with dozens of crows that are especially sensitive to the West Nile Virus. Transmission of the disease is through ticks, mites or mosquitoes that bite birds. Bird blood fills up with the virus rapidly over several days. During that time, insects can bite infected birds and then bite a human who can also become ill.

Photograph of Culex pipiens female mosquito,  courtesy Entomology Image Gallery.
Photograph of Culex pipiens female mosquito, courtesy Entomology Image Gallery.

 

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Leonids – and Linearids? – Light Up November Skies

Leonid meteor exploded over Hong Kong on November 16, 1998.  Photograph © 1998 by Charanis Chiu, Hong Kong Astronomical Society.
Leonid meteor exploded over Hong Kong on November 16, 1998. Photograph © 1998 by Charanis Chiu, Hong Kong Astronomical Society.

November 6, 1999  Chula Vista, California ­ The International Meteor Organization (IMO) has announced a call for meteor observations between midnight and dawn local times on November 10, 11 and 12. This is not for the famous Leonids. A newly discovered comet this year called Comet LINEAR made its closest approach to the Sun in September. Earth will be passing through whatever dusty debris the comet left in our planet's orbital path on November 11th. This new meteor shower will be called Linearids, not to be confused with Leonids that will arrive a week later on November 18th. Those dates are around New Moon, so dark skies beyond city lights will help meteor watches. But since no one has seen this comet before, scientists don't know whether it will leave a strong meteor wake or not.

 

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A Mysterious “Perturber” at the Edges of Our Solar System

"One would expect comets when they come in around the sun to be roughly uniform in their positions in space. So, if you plotted the closest point of the comet to the sun on a globe or sphere, the comets should be uniformly distributed. In fact, comets are not uniformly distributed."

- Daniel Whitmire, Ph.D., Professor of Physics,
University of Louisiana, Lafayette -

October 25, 1999  Lafayette, Louisiana ­ Physicists in the United States and England have been studying the orbits of comets and are theorizing that something is pulling on the icy clumps that revolve at the dark and outermost edges of our solar system. The "perturber" might be a brown dwarf three times more massive than the sun and orbiting about three trillion miles from earth in the primeval Oort Cloud of ice, rocks and dust that literally surrounds the family of sun, planets, moons, asteroids and comets in our solar system. 

Inset depicts nine planets of our known solar system embedded inside the large cloud of debris left over from the formation of our system known as the Oort Cloud. The hypothetical planet or brown dwarf "perturber" would be about halfway out from the center of the cloud. Diagram courtesy University of Michigan/NASA, 1999.
Inset depicts nine planets of our known solar system embedded inside the large cloud of debris left over from the formation of our system known as the Oort Cloud. The hypothetical planet or brown dwarf "perturber" would be about halfway out from the center of the cloud. Diagram courtesy University of Michigan/NASA, 1999.

 

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A Blast of Solar Wind Provokes Aurora Over Northern U. S.

October 25, 1999  Suitland, Maryland ­ The sun erupted with a massive solar flare on Sunday evening, October 18. Three days later on October 21st, the flare's shock front of charged particles had rippled through space for 93 million miles and struck earth's magnetosphere. The collision of electrons and protons with upper atmospheric molecules created a dramatic glow called aurora borealis or Northern Lights. The magnetic storm was strong over Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes and as far south as Ohio.

By October 22, NASA's Ultraviolet Imager on a polar spacecraft captured dramatic images of the earth's magnetic field interacting with the solar wind. Frequently, when viewed from space, a complete aurora will appear as a circle around one of the earth's magnetic poles. This recent October display was more concentrated in a band along the northern United States.

Image by the Ultraviolet Imager on NASA's Polar spacecraft showing UV emissions from aurora borealis during a strong geomagnetic storm, October 22, 1999. Courtesy NOAA Space Environment Center, Suitland, Maryland.
Image by the Ultraviolet Imager on NASA's Polar spacecraft showing UV emissions from aurora borealis during a strong geomagnetic storm, October 22, 1999. Courtesy NOAA Space Environment Center, Suitland, Maryland.

 

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Kunjin/West Nile Virus ­ First Time in Western Hemisphere

October 12, 1999  New York City, N. Y. ­ Starting back around July 1999, residents in Queens, New York began calling their city's wildlife office to report various types of birds on the ground shaking, wobbling and disoriented. Then crows at the Bronx Zoo and surrounding areas kept dying. Dozens of them. Pathology tests showed mysterious lesions in the brains and hearts.

By August, doctors in New York's Flushing Hospital were seeing an increasing number of people with fever, mental confusion and severe weakness. The combination of symptoms was confusing because usually in cases of encephalitis, which is an inflammation of brain tissue, patients hallucinate, are out of control and sometimes have seizures. These new patients were disoriented, but were so weak they could not move.

 

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Could Ancient Microbes in Polar Ice Cause Epidemics?

September 26, 1999  Syracuse, New York ­ The recent encephalitis outbreak in New York City that has killed three people and made fifteen others very ill has now been traced to a microbe called the West Nile-like virus, a bird virus never seen in the United States or the entire Western Hemisphere before, according to the Center for Disease Control. Until now, it's a virus that was only known in eastern and northern Africa and western Asia. Now CDC officials fear the dangerous virus could spread to Central and South America as birds migrate for the winter season and fly south.

How exactly this African and Asian bird virus got to the United States is not known. It might have come in an illegal import of a bird from the other side of the world. But this encephalitis outbreak and the associated human deaths show that when microbes are released into an environment where they have not been before, the microbes can be especially dangerous because what they infect has no immunity against them.

 

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New Photos from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

September 24 and 28, 1999 Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama ­ This week NASA released new photographs from its Chandra X-Ray Observatory launched in July 1999. One surprising image is in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a galaxy 190,000 light years from earth. It's the aftermath of a supernova, a sun that blew itself apart, which looks like a wheel with spokes. The "wheel" is forty light years in diameter.

Chandra X-Ray Observatory photograph of supernova remnant in the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy 190,000 light years from earth, released by NASA on September 20, 1999.
Chandra X-Ray Observatory photograph of supernova remnant in the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy 190,000 light years from earth, released by NASA on September 20, 1999.


 

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Solar Eclipse In Reims, France

© 1999 by Linda Moulton Howe

August 11, 1999  Reims, France ­ More than half a million people drove into Reims yesterday and this morning to try to see the last total solar eclipse in Europe until the end of the next century in 2079. Satellite weather reports had focused on northern France as having the best chance of clearer viewing compared to England and other locales in the path of total moon shadow. Reims was once the territory of the long-haired Celtic clan of Gaul. By 817, a Carolingian cathedral was begun and added to over the centuries to become the now famous Notre Dame Cathedrale of Reims. A Reims high school was also where the Treaty ending World War II was signed.

 

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30th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Landing, July 20, 1969

© 1999 by Linda Moulton Howe

July, 18, 1999 Titusville, Florida ­ Associated Press reports from Moscow, Russia that locust swarms have been eating crops across Russia's southern border at the speed of about 31 miles a day. The insects moved into Russia from Kazakstan where government authorities usually have teams to kill locust swarms. But this year, Kazakstan claims it did not have enough money to handle the infestations. Farmers are appealing to the Russian government for insecticides and financial aid. The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry says it needs at least $12 million to battle the locusts.

 

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