August 02, 2017


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The Curiosity rover has taught us a lot about the history of Mars and its potential to support life. Take a tour of its landing site, Gale Crater.


In 2012, NASA’s Curiosity Rover went to Mars to explore Gale Crater, a large impact basin with a massive, layered mountain in the middle. How did this strange landscape come to be? And what can its history teach us about the potential for life on Mars? After several years of exploration, here’s what we think could have happened.

Around 3.7 billion years ago, a large meteor impact blasts out the initial crater, cracking the rock below and leaving a central peak as the surface rebounds. It’s a wetter time in Mars’ history. Groundwater seeps into the new crater, while rivers fed by rain or melting snow also flow in, forming a large lake – and carrying in gravel, sand and silt.

This material keeps building up over millions of years. And as each layer cements into rock, it records a snapshot of the environment that shaped it. In time, the gradual drying of Mars shuts off the rivers. But sediment keeps piling up as sand and dust blow into the crater, deeply burying the deposits laid down in water.

Meanwhile, groundwater remains deep below the dusty surface. At some point, winds that once carried sediment in begin scouring it back out. In areas closer to the crater rim, these winds dig all the way down into the ancient lake deposits. And as the heavy weight above is lifted, these layers crack, which helps groundwater flow through and alter them again before they dry out.

By about 3 billion years ago, we’re left with the basic form we see today. It’s in this version of Gale Crater that Curiosity has helped piece together the story: Sediment patterns show a lot of water was present, continually, over many millions of years – both as persistent groundwater, and a long-standing lake (with occasional dry spells).

Mineral and chemical readings show that water from both the lake and subsurface was friendly for potential microbes. Drill samples from the lakebed show key elements, organic molecules, nutrients and energy sources that microbes could have used. Water flowing through underground fractures could have supported life even in deeply buried rocks. And the composition of some layers makes them good for preserving potential signs of past life.

Taken together, the evidence points to Gale Crater (and Mars in general) as a place where life — if it ever arose — might have survived for some time.

With our primary mission fulfilled, we continue exploring: uncovering the history of Mars, and learning more about how and where future missions can search for the signatures that ancient life may have left behind.

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This story, which started last week on the west side of Carding, Vermont has now shifted to the center of town. Specifically to the family residence of the Bennetts, located above their business, the Crow Town Bakery.

The Bennett children, Wil and Faye, are plowing through life’s complexities as only teenagers can. And their Mom, Diana, is on hand to gently insert an observation or two as needed.

So what does a knocked-down newspaper box at Agnes Findley’s house have to do with teenage values? Be sure to stop by next week as this story continues.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy part two.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Faye Bennett was sitting on the deck that wraps around two sides of the second-floor apartment where she lived with her family. She was watching her older brother, Wil, as he paced in the small parking lot below, talking on his phone and waving his free hand in the air.

The kitchen door opened and their mother, Diana, came out to join her daughter. “Do you have any idea who Wil’s talking to?” she asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” Faye said.

Meanwhile Or In The Meanwhile

Diana poked at the tea pot in the middle of the table. “Is that still hot?”

Faye nodded. “Yeah. It’s scalding. Just the way you like it.”

Diana squinched up her nose as she poured. “I don’t like it cold, that’s all.”

They grinned at one another over their long-running difference in optimum tea temperature then settled back to watch Wil. His flailing gestures now included pulling on his hair.

Faye sipped. “It must be a call for technical assistance from Gram. That always makes Wil want to pull his hair out.”

Student links downloadsmrs. land 7th grade ela grade 8. Wil finally shoved his phone back into his jacket pocket, and stood still, shaking his head.

“Yeah, I’d definitely say that was a call from Gram,” Faye said. “You know, I don’t get it. Gram is incredibly smart. She runs Carding Academy like a top, hires teachers, organizes classes, and keeps track of everything and everyone, and yet when anything changes on her computer, she just falls to pieces. Why is that?”

“Maybe she just likes spending time with Wil and this is the only time he stops long enough to pay attention to her,” Diana said. “Both of you are hard to pin down for more than sixty seconds so we never know what’s going on in your lives.”

“You’re kidding, right? Wil and I live here, Mom. How can you not know what’s going on with us?” Faye said.

“Well, let me give you an example. How’s Dave?” Diana asked.

Faye squirmed. “What do you mean?”

Diana chuckled into her tea. “Well, all summer long, you left the house early so that you two could kayak together on Half Moon Lake.…alone…in the mornings. Now you’re always home for breakfast. So I’ll ask again, how’s Dave?”

“It’s complicated.”

Diana waited.

“I’m not sure.” Faye fidgeted with the tea pot. “I like Dave.”


“But…well…we’re figuring out that our…hmmm…values are different from one another’s.” Faye said. “I’m not as…comfortable…as I once was.”

Diana’s head whipped around, her assumption about the meaning of Faye’s last statement apparent on her face.

Faye snorted. “No, not sex Mom. Other stuff. Values.”

Wil started stamping up the steps to the deck, much to Faye’s relief. She hadn’t heard from Dave in several days nor had she reached out to him. Their last conversation had been awkward, to say the least.

In addition to their differences in values, Faye had detected a disturbing trend in her own behavior, a tendency to follow Dave’s lead when it came to making social plans for the two of them. It wasn’t something that Dave expected. Not at all. So why was she subordinating her own desires to his, even when they were unspoken?

The probable answer to that question bothered her immensely. So all in all, she was comfortable with taking a break from Dave Muzzy.

“Aarrgh!” Wil threw himself into a chair. “Since when is Gram taking classes by Zoom?” he asked.

“She enrolled through the library,” Diana explained. “She and Ruth and Aggie.”

“Ah, the fearsome threesome,” Faye said. “Are they taking the same class or different ones?”

“Last I knew, they were taking a sociology class together on how women can create effective social change,” Diana said.

Faye and Wil looked at one another, their eyebrows arching. “Now, that could be dangerous,” Wil said.

His mother laughed. “I certainly hope so. That’s why I’m taking the class with them.” She leaned forward, locking eyes with her son. “And there are two reasons why Gram is asking for your help with setting up Zoom. The first one is that that’s the only time she ever sees you, and she misses you.”

Wil tried to dodge Diana’s stare. “I just never know what to talk to her about.”

“Hmm, I think you need to come up with a better excuse than that,” Diana said. “The other reason is that it’s quicker to ask you for a tutorial than it is to learn that sort of thing online where you can’t ask questions in the moment. You know your grandmother hates to waste time.”

“Besides, she makes great cookies,” Faye said.

“And she’s seventy years old and we’re living through a pandemic and even though the future is always uncertain, this is one of those times that we know that for sure,” Diana said. “Every human being lives with regrets, Wil. Don’t make ignoring your grandmother one of yours.”

Wil eyeballed his mother and sister for a moment then he pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped the screen. “Hey Dave. Listen, I’m going to spend time with my grandmother this afternoon so I won’t be around. Maybe we can get together tomorrow, okay?”

Diana covertly watched her daughter while Wil talked with her boyfriend. Or was Dave now officially an ex-boyfriend? Was the drifting-apart that she’d seen in Faye’s relationship with the young man permanent?

“I’m sorry, Mom,” Wil said as he put his phone down. “I get impatient sometimes. You know I love Gram.” Then he turned toward his sister. “So what’s going on with you and Dave? Why aren’t you two tight any more?”

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and an upcoming mystery, The Education of Miss Ruby Royce.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Meanwhile Examples

Thieves of Fire

Meanwhile In Canada

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Meanwhile In Japan

Light in Water, Dancing

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