Science Friday: Mars, Cars, Spins, & Skins

This week is an exciting one for Mars scientists who found evidence for water ice and nutrients necessary for supporting life on the surface of Mars. Also in Mars news, the mystery of the "two-faced" planet might have been answered. This plus an accidental ‘electron spin’ discovery in the laboratory could lead to faster computers, a new ‘dermal skin regenerator’, and our gadget of the week: the GINA BMW shape-shifting car.


Phoenix Update: Water Ice & Nutrients for Life Found on Mars!

The first images of a small trench dug by the Phoenix Mars Lander, a centimeter below the surface, suggested that scientists have found what they were looking for: water ice. An image, taken June 15, shows small white cubes in the corner. Four days later, they are gone. The scientists say the ice sublimated (vaporized) after exposure to Martian air. “We have found the proof that we’ve been seeking to show that this hard bright material is really water ice and not some other substance,” says a mission scientist.

Before (left) and after (right) sublimation of the water ice

After performing the first wet chemistry experiment ever done on another planet, Phoenix discovered that a sample of Martian dirt contained several soluble minerals, including potassium, magnesium and chloride. Though the data is preliminary, the results are very exciting, scientists said. “We basically have found what appears to be the requirements for nutrients to support life,” said Phoenix’s wet chemistry lab lead. “This is the type of soil you’d probably have in your backyard. You might be able to grow asparagus pretty well, but probably not strawberries.”

The color inset shows a microscopic view of fluffy red soil particles at the tip of the scoop

Huge Meteor Strike Could Explain Mars’s Shape
The puzzle of why the northern and southern hemispheres of Mars look so different may now have been solved. The lopsided shape of Mars may well be a result of a cataclysmic impact of a Pluto-size meteor billions of years ago, three teams of scientists are reporting. That would suggest that the lowlands of Mars’s northern hemisphere are a single gigantic impact crater, the largest crater in the solar system.

A Pluto-sized meteor striking Mars may have caused its Northern lowlands

Accidental Discovery Could Enable Faster Computers
Physicists at UC Riverside have made an accidental discovery in the lab that has potential to change how information in computers can be transported or stored. Dependent on the “spin” of electrons, a property electrons possess that makes them behave like tiny magnets, the discovery could help in the development of spin-based semiconductor technology such as ultrahigh-speed computers.

This design could enable faster computing based on electron spin

Spray-on Skin Gun: An Early Dermal Regenerator?
The Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine just invested $250 million in researching a gun that sprays new, stem-cell infused skin onto a wound, essentially speeding up the healing process to a matter of hours. The idea reminds us of an early dermal regenerator. Advancements such as these will make healing and fixing damaged body parts a snap, so hopefully it’ll only be a matter of time before losing a few inches of skin will only be a minor inconvenience.

Skin gun similar to Trek’s dermal regenerators

Gadget of the Week: GINA, BMW’s Morphable, Fabric-Covered Car
Instead of steel, aluminum or even carbon fiber, the GINA Light Visionary Model has a body of seamless fabric stretched over a movable metal frame that allows the driver to change its shape at will. The car — which actually runs and drives — is a styling design headed straight for the BMW Museum in Munich and so it will never see production, but building a practical car wasn’t the point. Chris Bangle, head of design for BMW, says GINA allowed his team to “challenge existing principles and conventional processes.”


Science Quickies
Here’s a warp-speed look at science tid-bits that didn’t quite make the cut, but nonetheless merit mention.

Deep Space Nine’s Solar Sailor

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Oh brave new world… what awaits us?

Some strange stuff.

Chris Bangle feels it necessary to explain what an acronym is, while somnolent music plays in the background. I think this car is running for president.

I can’t wait for the future. I just hope that I will be around for it.

On another note, as a Bio major, I love the aspect of stem cells. Now that we can DEdifferentiate cells, we can completely bypass ALL the controversy. Dedifferentiation allows us to take an already-formed cell from, let’s say your arm, take it, and make it into a stem cell. Once we do that, we can essentially… do whatever we want.

I love science. Keep it coming, Anthony.

PS. I want that car!

you mean ‘keep it coming, Kayla’

Ah, a female of the ‘Homo Sapien.’

In that case:

Keep it coming, Kayla!


Fun stuff. Um, how do solar spaceships land and take off?


Jump forward as if you were diving. When you hit your face on the floor as break your nose, THAT is how they land. As for taking off, my guess is that:

A. They take them up in rockets, deploy them, then continue with the same speed that the rocket was going, then they can accelerate with the solar winds. Yay photons!

B. Magic

Isn’t it kind of a magical coincidence that within 7 feet of where the pheonix landed and a few inches below the surface, water ice has been found? :-)

The car is sick! Roswell crash technology?

#9 Mark

I was under the impression they put the lander in that particular spot for that reason, they though there may be ice right there.

If not then yes, one hell of a coincidence…

Who to say whole planet Mars not covered in ice just below surface. Not much digging before there.

They landed Phoenix in the dang northern plains of Mars. They already knew there was likely to be ice all over the place.

Oh OK, you got me. NASA used Roswell-scrounged technology because if you find a flying saucer the one thing you want to do is visit a dead planet and make Slushies.

WOW! Are we seeing the beginnings of the Utopia Plantia Yards on Mars AND computers as fast as Starfleet’s?? The future is looking brighter…

14 — Yes, as long as we don’t kill the bees and polar bears before we get that far. No bees = massive crop losses. No polar bears = nothing to eat all the starved corpses, meaning lots of disease for the survivors.

But, no pressure.

Once again, Kayla, thank you so much for your wonderful articles. The diversity is fantastic. I’ve been casually following Phoenix’s mission, and I find the electron spin story fascinating. And GINA? Wow, what a very cool, sculptural, and artistic concept for a car. Ahhhhh, picturing me in the driver’s seat and a hot green chick in the passenger’s…lol

I love this site.

you know when i first saw the mars story i was reminded of the earth theia impact that creaded the moon. i wonder what those possibilites are?

now this car still needs work but it looks like what the military is doing for the tng aircraft skins. #10 i come i missed that. damn.

Why are they pushing this absurd collision theory about the Northern Plains, after already proving–beyond doubt–that the Martian Crustal Dichotomy is evidence of an early Martian Sea?

Does this collision now supercede the deep water explanation?

Make up your minds, people.

Now all we need is some bacardi limon and diet coke and mars could be a haven for human life…

Great article Kayla. I’ll have to keep an eye on the news to see how the solar sail performs.


No, not a coincidence. The Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft had spotted what they though *might* be ice from orbit a while ago. They then sent Pheonix to that area to check it out.

Thanks for another fascinating article, Kayla!

alright boys , you hear the info , lets get building the terraforming ship to mars , first one there is president .

Well it’s about time that Earth technology began progressing further.

ya know i never dfid finish thosee robinson mars books


How do you know that we are killing the bees?

And while I hope we can reverse global warming, if the Arctic gets warm enough, the grizzlies and kodiaks will move in and pick up where the polar bears left off. One species’ hopeless habitat is another’s prime stomping ground.

Or perhaps you haven’t heard of Darwin yet.

Thanks for the interesting articles Kayla. You do a great job of summarizing – I like your style.

I sit corrected…

According to the Doctor a vast amount of Earth’s Bees are Extra Terrestial in nature. And if they suddenly leave, it is going tobe because of an imminent Dalek invasion.