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Was there ever life on Mars?

March 25, 2015 - 9:05am
Did Mars ever support life?  This question has intrigued us for centuries!  We have had spacecraft on Mars for quite a while poking and analyzing soil and rocks and taking photos.  Now NASA has new data which help answer these questions.A team using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite aboard NASA's Curiosity rover has made the first detection of nitrogen on the surface of Mars from release during heating of Martian sediments. The nitrogen was detected in the form of nitric oxide, and could be released from the breakdown of nitrates during heating. Nitrates are a class of molecules that contain nitrogen in a form that can be used by living organisms. The discovery adds to the evidence that ancient Mars was habitable for life.

NASA using space radar to track groundwater pollution risks

March 20, 2015 - 6:25am
Water is our most precious natural resource.  Without clean water to drink human populations cannot exist.  But our water supplies are under constant assault from anthropogenic pollution.When pollutants get into groundwater, they can stay there for decades. Cleanup efforts are difficult, expensive and not always successful. It would be better to protect groundwater from contamination in the first place, but risks to groundwater are moving targets. Although unchanging factors such as porous soil or shallow aquifer depth play a role, the greatest risk comes from the source of the pollutants: people. And people are always moving. A growing city, in particular, usually means a growing threat to groundwater quality. To lock on to the moving target of groundwater risk, planners worldwide need up-to-date information on how people are changing the land surface.

Electric Vehicles are Cool, Literally.

March 19, 2015 - 3:02pm
A study in this week’s Scientific Report by researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) and in China add more fuel to the already hot debate about whether electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles by uncovering two hidden benefits.They show that the cool factor is real – in that electric vehicles emit significantly less heat.  That difference could mitigate the urban heat island effect, the phenomenon that helps turn big cities like Beijing into pressure cookers in warm months.

The importance of methane seeps in microbial biodiversity of sea floor

March 18, 2015 - 10:58am
A new study “provides evidence that methane seeps are island-like habitats that harbor distinct microbial communities unique from other seafloor ecosystems." These seeps play an important role in microbial biodiversity of the sea floor.Methane seeps are natural gas leaks in the sea floor that emit methane into the water. Microorganisms that live on or near these seeps can use the methane as a food source, preventing the gas from collecting in the surrounding hydrosphere or migrating into the atmosphere.“Marine environments are a potentially huge source for methane outputs to the atmosphere, but the surrounding microbes keep things in check by eating 75 percent of the methane before it gets to the atmosphere. These organisms are an important part of the underwater ecosystem, particularly as it relates to global gas cycles that are climate important in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” said University of Delaware assistant professor of marine biosciences, Jennifer Biddle.

New data show iron rain fell on early Earth

March 18, 2015 - 9:52am
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories’ Z machine have helped untangle a long-standing mystery of astrophysics: why iron is found spattered throughout Earth’s mantle, the roughly 2,000-mile thick region between Earth’s core and its crust.

Princeton University geologists mapping the Earth's mantle in 3D

March 12, 2015 - 3:04pm
When a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck central China's Sichuan province in 2008, seismic waves rippled through the region, toppling apartment houses in the city of Chengdu and swaying office buildings 1,000 miles away in Shanghai.Though destructive, earthquakes provide benefit in one respect: they help researchers learn about the structure of the Earth, which in turn could lead to more accurate predictions of damage from future quakes and volcanic activity. By eavesdropping on the seismic vibrations of quakes as they rumble through the Earth, researchers can detect the existence of structures such as mineral deposits, subterranean lakes, and upwellings of magma. Thanks to a growing earthquake detection network and superfast computers, geoscientists are now able to explore the Earth's interior, a region that has been more inaccessible than the deepest ocean or the farthest planet in our solar system. 

Bristol University sheds new light on early terrestrial vertebrate

March 12, 2015 - 7:54am
The first 3D reconstruction of the skull of a 360 million-year-old near-ancestor of land vertebrates has been created by scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge. The 3D skull, which differs from earlier 2D reconstructions, suggests such creatures, which lived their lives primarily in shallow water environments, were more like modern crocodiles than previously thought. 

Saturn's moon Enceladus is spewing tiny silica grains, new study finds

March 11, 2015 - 5:28pm
A new study by a team of Cassini mission scientists led by the University of Colorado Boulder have found that microscopic grains of rock detected near Saturn imply hydrothermal activity is taking place within the moon Enceladus.The grains are the first clear indication of an icy moon having hydrothermal activity, in which seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust, emerging as a heated, mineral-laden solution. The finding adds to the tantalizing possibility that Enceladus, one of at least 60 Saturn moons or moonlets and which displays remarkable geologic activity including geysers, could contain environments suitable for living organisms.

Solar Impulse going around the world on sunshine

March 10, 2015 - 8:48am
After 13 years of planning, the Solar Impulse SI2 took off last night from Al-Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi at 7:12 a.m. local time. This initiated the first leg of its historic attempt to be the first solar-powered airplane to fly around the world. If all goes well, the plane will return to Al-Bateen in June or July. As reported here in January, the first leg was a short 12-hour “shakedown cruise” to Muscat, Oman, piloted by Andre Borschberg. The plane landed safely in Muscat, more or less on schedule, at 12:14 p.m. Eastern time.Of the two pilots who will take turns behind the wheel, Borschberg is the engineer and former fighter pilot who is intimately familiar with every detail of the plane’s design and construction.

New insight on the Tree of Life from Temple University

March 4, 2015 - 7:47am
Temple University researchers have assembled the largest and most accurate tree of life calibrated to time, and surprisingly, it reveals that life has been expanding at a constant rate. "The constant rate of diversification that we have found indicates that the ecological niches of life are not being filled up and saturated," said Temple professor S. Blair Hedges, a member of the research team's study, published in the early online edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. "This is contrary to the popular alternative model which predicts a slowing down of diversification as niches fill up with species." The tree of life compiled by the Temple team is depicted in a new way --- a cosmologically-inspired galaxy of life view --- and contains more than 50,000 species in a tapestry spiraling out from the origin of life.

Using satellites to monitor forest health

February 28, 2015 - 7:12am
Scientists for the first time have simultaneously compared widespread impacts from two of the most common forest insects in the West – mountain pine beetle and western spruce budworm – an advance that could lead to more effective management policies.By combining data from satellites, airplanes and ground-based crews, the researchers have shown in unprecedented detail how insects affect Western forests over decades.In the past, forest managers relied on airplane surveys to evaluate insect damage over broad areas.

Antifreeze protein from ticks fights frostbite in mice

February 26, 2015 - 8:54am
A protein that protects ticks from freezing temperatures also prevents frostbite when introduced in mice, a Yale-led study has found. The research is the first to demonstrate the protein’s ability to boost frostbite resistance in an adult mammal.

ENN Releases App for Android Users

February 23, 2015 - 9:14am
Last month ENN launched a new mobile app available at the iTunes store making it easier for you to connect with us and stay up to date with groundbreaking environmental news. Now, ENN releases the mobile app at Google Play, making it compatible for Android users.ENN is more than just a gatherer of environmental news but rather a unique set of resources, archives, tools, and experts for the increasingly complex field of environmental science attracting readers from all levels of government, business and academia.We also encourage you to join the conversation by checking out our Community Blog and by connecting with us on Facebook.Apple users can download the app at the iTunes store.Android users can download the app at Google Play.Make sure you click on the app with the logo shown here.

Massive Landfill Site Turns Into Thriving Eco-Park

February 19, 2015 - 8:46am
Israel’s largest landfill dump has undergone a massive makeover that has seen the mountain of garbage turn into a 2,000-acre ecological park three times the size of New York City’s Central Park. This new “green lung,” which includes a 150-acre recycling station, walking and cycling trails, ponds and extreme sports activities, will soon be home to a 50,000-seat amphitheater, one of the largest concert venues in Israel. And if that’s not enough, the biogas from this landfill, once a toxic pollutant, is now being reused as green energy.The multi-million-dollar makeover of Hiriya, which started in 2001, has proven to benefit both the surrounding environment and visitors from all over the world. Now, what once was a huge dump between Road 4 and Road 461 in central Israel known for its unpleasant past, is no longer Israel’s ugliest site. 

'Hidden Order' Physics Mystery getting less mysterious thanks to Rutgers scientists

February 17, 2015 - 7:33am
A new explanation for a type of order, or symmetry, in an exotic material made with uranium may lead to enhanced computer displays and data storage systems, and more powerful superconducting magnets for medical imaging and levitating high-speed trains, according to a Rutgers-led team of research physicists.The team’s findings are a major step toward explaining a puzzle that physicists worldwide have been struggling with for 30 years, when scientists first noticed a change in the material’s electrical and magnetic properties but were unable to describe it fully. This subtle change occurs when the material is cooled to 17.5 degrees above absolute zero or lower (a bone-chilling minus 428 degrees Fahrenheit).

A Valentine's Day gift to us all from NASA

February 14, 2015 - 6:03am
Valentine's Day is special for NASA's Voyager mission. It was on Feb. 14, 1990, that the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back at our solar system and snapped the first-ever pictures of the planets from its perch at that time beyond Neptune. This "family portrait" captures Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from Voyager 1's unique vantage point. A few key members did not make it in: Mars had little sunlight, Mercury was too close to the sun, and dwarf planet Pluto turned out too dim. 

New data shows stars are younger than previously thought

February 6, 2015 - 9:27am
The highly anticipated update of the analysis of data from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite starts with a first paper published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, which already holds in store a few major surprises. The first article in fact "rejuvenates" the stars of our Universe. Thanks to new maps of cosmic background radiation (in particular, those containing "polarization anisotropies" of radiation) scientists have found that the "reionization" process could be more recent than estimated until now.Reionization is one of the most important processes in cosmology as it is associated with star formation, which cosmologists data back to after the "dark ages" of the Universe, when there was still no starlight. The NASA WMAP satellite, launched in 2001, had given an initial estimate of the period when the process may have taken place. 

Pigeons are smarter than you think!

February 4, 2015 - 6:09pm
The more scientists study pigeons, the more they learn how their brains--no bigger than the tip of an index finger--operate in ways not so different from our own.In a new study from the University of Iowa, researchers found that pigeons can categorize and name both natural and manmade objects--and not just a few objects. These birds categorized 128 photographs into 16 categories, and they did so simultaneously.

Plants Can be 'Reprogrammed' for Drought Tolerance

February 4, 2015 - 3:02pm
Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting plant growth and development.  When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and reduces water consumption.  Specifically, the hormone turns on a receptor (special protein) in plants when it binds to the receptor like a hand fitting into a glove, resulting in beneficial changes – such as the closing of guard cells on leaves, called stomata, to reduce water loss – that help the plants survive.

Scientists discover organism that hasn't evolved in more than 2 billion years

February 3, 2015 - 9:08am
An international team of scientists has discovered the greatest absence of evolution ever reported — a type of deep-sea microorganism that appears not to have evolved over more than 2 billion years. But the researchers say that the organisms’ lack of evolution actually supports Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. The findings are published online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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