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‘A complete surprise’: NASA Mars rover finds key evidence of a former lake’s existence

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Billions of years ago, a lake once filled the 96-mile- (154-km) wide crater being explored by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, bolstering evidence that the planet most like Earth in the solar system was suitable for microbial life, scientists said on Monday.

The new findings combine more than two years of data collected by the rover since its sky-crane landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012.

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Scientists discovered stacks of rocks containing water-deposited sediments inclined toward the crater’s center, which now sports a three-mile (5 km) mound called Mount Sharp. That would mean that Mount Sharp didn’t exist during a period of time roughly 3.5 billion years ago when the crater was filled with water, Curiosity researchers told reporters during a conference call.

“Finding the inclined strata was … a complete surprise,” said lead scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“Sedimentary geology … is the cutting edge for trying to understand the Earth. When oil companies collect seismic surveys across places, they are looking for inclined strata because … then you get geometry that tells you where the rocks are that you’re looking for,” he added.

Shortly after landing, Curiosity found that Mars once had the chemical ingredients and the environmental conditions needed to support microbial life, fulfilling the primary goal of its mission.

The rover then began driving toward Mount Sharp to look for other habitable niches and learn if the life-friendly environments actually existed long enough for life to evolve, a complicated question since scientists don’t even know how long it took for life to form and take hold on Earth.

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“The size of the lake in Gale Crater and the length of time and series that water was showing up implies that there may have been sufficient time for life to get going and thrive,” said NASA’s Mars Exploration Program scientist Michael Meyer.

The new studies, which have not yet been published, point to a series of wet and dry times at Gale Crater, challenging a previously held notion that Mars’ period of warm climate was early and relatively short-lived, scientists said.

“All that driving we did … just didn’t get us to Mount Sharp. It gave us the context to appreciate Mount Sharp,” Grotzinger said of the rover, which has traveled around 5 miles (8 kms) since landing on Mars in 2012.

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(Reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Andrew Hay)


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Carl Bernstein: There are 7-9 ‘wobbly’ Republicans who want witnesses but Mitch McConnell is trying to block them

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In a CNN panel discussion Wednesday, notorious Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein revealed that there are seven to nine Republican senators who are wavering after the compelling argument that the House has provided for the impeachment. The problem, however, is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow any break from the party line.

"I think this is a hugely damaging narrative that was laid out today, and that Mitch McConnell understands, and has understood for a while that this hugely damaging narrative was going to affect his members," said Bernstein. "And that his strategy -- I've talked to some Republicans about this -- #MidnightMitch is to wear out his own members so that they don't vote for more witnesses because there are six, seven, eight, nine wobbly Republicans."

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Republican Kevin McCarthy gets taken down by former top GOP colleague

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was attacked by a former Republican colleague who alleged McCarthy and his fellow members of Congress have allowed the House GOP to become the official shill for the White House.

In a profile for the New York Times, former Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) shamed the GOP House for the way that a once-respectable institution has fallen.

“Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,” said Davis. “He is made for that role.”

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Former senator reveals to Maddow how one brave Democrat can reveal key document in impeachment trial

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Near the end of Wednesday's impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that an agreement had been made to allow senators to read supplemental testimony from Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.

The document will remain classified, despite claims that there is no classified material in the document, only evidence that is damning to the president.

"In terms of this document potentially being improperly classified, which is something that has been raised in writing by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and raised on the floor of the Senate tonight by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)," MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted. "Obviously, it was the vice president's office that said it was classified, they are getting publicly criticized for that. If it has been improperly classified and it should be something that the public can see, who adjudicates that?"

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