Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Future space explorers might be able to use a silica aerogel — a porous, extremely light solid material — to insulate greenhouses and other structures on Mars, a study in the journal Nature Astronomy this week shows.

Why it matters: Most schemes to allow people to live on Mars include some kind of extreme attempt to make the planet itself livable though terraforming, but the new aerogel could prove a simple and low-tech solution for habitability.

Details: The study suggests that just a 2- to 3-centimeter-thick aerogel "shield" over parts of the Martian surface could actually make those parts of the world able to sustain liquid water on the surface and even support photosynthesis.

  • The aerogel is "very light and it is an incredibly effective thermal insulator. It also is nearly transparent to visible radiation but blocks UV light," Robin Wordsworth, one of the authors of the study told Axios via email.
  • The gel could raise the temperature of the surface beneath it by as much as 122°F, helping to protect whatever is beneath it from temperatures that can dip as low as -130°F in the midlatitudes during the winter, according to NASA.
  • Wordsworth and the other authors of the study replicated conditions on Mars in a lab and then used climate models to show that the aerogel could insulate the planet's surface.

But, but, but: There's a way to go before the material is ready for the Red Planet. "Aerogel is quite fragile, so it'd need to be modified or combined with other materials to make a robust shield," Wordsworth said.

  • The scientists behind the idea are now hoping to test the aerogel on Earth in a desert or even Antarctica to see just how effective it could be on Mars.

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Schumer: "Nothing is off the table" if GOP moves to fill Ginsburg's seat

Sen. Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told fellow Democrats on a conference call Saturday that "nothing is off the table next year" if Senate Republicans move to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court seat in the coming weeks.

What he's saying: “Our number one goal must be to communicate the stakes of this Supreme Court fight to the American people.”

  • “Let me be clear: if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year," Schumer said, according to a source on the call. "Nothing is off the table.”

ActBlue collects record-breaking $30 million in hours after Ginsburg's death

A makeshift memorial in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 19. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

ActBlue, the Democratic donation-processing site, reported a record-breaking $30 million raised from 9 pm Friday to 9 am Saturday in the aftermath of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, NPR writes and ActBlue confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters via the New York Times: "The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 30,557,899 — Total deaths: 952,981— Total recoveries: 20,822,644Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 a.m. ET: 6,730,304 — Total deaths: 198,679 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 93,150,052Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19 — Massive USPS face mask operation called off — How the American diet worsens COVID-19.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety net.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.
  7. World: Guatemalan president tests positive for COVID-19.