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March 12, 2013 at 7:02 PM
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NASA: Mars could have supported life

WASHINGTON, March 12 (UPI) -- NASA says the Mars Curiosity rover's analysis of a rock sample confirms the Red Planet could have supported living microbes in its ancient past.

The analysis identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the sample Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater, NASA announced at a news conference Tuesday.

"A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "From what we know now, the answer is yes."

The data, provided by the rover's sample analysis at Mars and chemistry and mineralogy instruments, indicates the area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes.

This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty, NASA scientists said.

"The range of chemical ingredients we have identified in the sample is impressive, and it suggests pairings such as sulfates and sulfides that indicate a possible chemical energy source for micro-organisms," said Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator of the sample analysis suite of instruments at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Additional drilled samples of the Red Planet will be collected to help confirm these results, researchers said.

"We have characterized a very ancient, but strangely new 'gray Mars' where conditions once were favorable for life," said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Curiosity is on a mission of discovery and exploration, and as a team we feel there are many more exciting discoveries ahead of us in the months and years to come."

Google fined $7 million over data grab

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., March 12 (UPI) -- Google says it's agreed to pay $7 million to 37 U.S. states to settle complaints that its Street View cars violated people's privacy by gathering wireless data.

The settlement comes nearly three years after Google admitted information such as passwords and emails was collected from un-encrypted WiFi networks its cars drive by collecting images for its mapping Street View project, CNN reported Tuesday.

Google has also agreed to destroy the personal data it collected.

"We work hard to get privacy right at Google," the company said in a statement. "But in this case we didn't, which is why we quickly tightened up our systems to address the issue. The project leaders never wanted this data, and didn't use it or even look at it."

Cars with cameras attached to their roofs have been collecting 360-degree images for the Google Maps Street View component since 2007.

Officials in states involved in the settlement were quick to comment on the settlement.

"The importance of this agreement goes beyond financial terms," said Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen. "Consumers have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

However, some consumer advocates said Google got off too lightly.

"With Google's revenue of $100 million a day, the fine is just a drop in the bucket and not enough to deter bad behavior," American Consumer Institute President Steve Pociask said.

"Consumers are growing tired of seeing Google apologize time and time again, pay a small fine and make vague promises in settlements with one agency or another, only later to engage in the same behavior."

Red tide killing Florida manatees

TAMPA, Fla., March 12 (UPI) -- Toxins created by an algae bloom off southwest Florida, called Florida red tide, have killed 174 manatees since January, wildlife experts say.

That's the highest number of deaths from a red tide of the gentle, slow-moving creatures -- sometimes known as sea cows -- in a calendar year, state wildlife officials told CNN Monday.

Red tides are an almost annual occurrence in Florida, usually lasting just days or weeks, but this year's event has lingered and settled in an area of warm water frequented by manatees, they said.

"It's kind of filled in an area where they've congregated and are feeding on sea grass where the toxins settle on," Kevin Baxter, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Kevin Baxter said.

Those toxins can affect the central nervous systems, causing the animals to die, experts said.

Manatees are listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 but conservation efforts have resulted in an increase in the manatee population, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider reclassifying them from endangered to threatened.

Scientists describe 'melting' of the moon

PROVIDENCE, R.I., March 12 (UPI) -- Spacecraft data suggests molten rock may have been present on the moon more recently and persisted for longer periods than previously thought, NASA says.

An ocean of molten rock covered the moon's entire surface early in its history, which then cooled over millions of years, but a new analysis suggests it wasn't the last time the Moon's surface was melted on a massive scale, planetary scientists from Brown University said.

Data from NASA's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter shows an impact event that formed the Orientale basin on the Moon's western edge and far side produced a sea of melted rock 220 miles across and at least six miles deep, they said.

Similar seas of impact melt were probably present at various times in at least 30 other large impact basins on the moon, and the amount of rock formed in melt seas is far from trivial, researchers said.

Brown graduate student William Vaughan and his colleagues said they estimate impacts forming the Moon's 30 large basins produced almost 240,000 cubic miles of melt, enough to make up 5 percent of the Moon's crust.

"This work adds the concept of impact melt magma seas to the lexicon of lunar rock-forming processes," Brown planetary geologist James W. Head III said.

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