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Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
After decades of sending missions to Mars, NASA is now zeroing in on regions of the red planet that they think have the best chance of determining whether the world has hosted — or hosts — life.
The big picture: Scientists are now able to point to parts of Mars that were once likely wet and warm, with geological signatures similar to the rivers, deltas and lakes on Earth — upping the odds that those parts of Mars could have once been friendly to life.
"Habitable and inhabited are two very different questions. You can build a house and you can furnish it nicely and put food in the fridge, but that doesn't mean someone lives there."— NASA's Melissa Trainer to Axios
Driving the news: A new study finds NASA's Mars 2020 rover will land in an area that could be the perfect place to hunt for the fossilized evidence of past life.
Meanwhile: Last week, NASA announced that Curiosity — which found Mars was habitable for microbial life in the past — detected a small amount of oxygen on Mars, but no one is quite sure where it's coming from.
Yes, but: It's possible methane and oxygen could have been created through natural geological processes that have nothing to do with life.
"There's always this uncertainty when we look at Mars."— NASA scientist Lindsay Hays to Axios
A new report paints a stark picture of NASA's progress toward accomplishing its Artemis mission to the Moon in 2024.
Why it matters: The report from NASA's inspector general — and others like it — reveals some of what lurks below the positive face the space agency puts forward announcing its accomplishments and hyping its future endeavors.
Details: One of the major issues the report points out is NASA's struggles to manage big projects like the development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, both of which are key to Artemis.
What to watch: NASA is working to get Artemis fully funded by Congress.
Artist's concept of an intermediate-mass black hole. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists may need to cast a wide net, searching across a range of frequencies in order to find never-before-observed intermediate-mass black holes if they crash together in deep space, according to a study in Nature Astronomy this week.
Why it matters: Intermediate-mass black holes — those that are 100–100,000 times the mass of the Sun — represent a gap in humanity's understanding of the universe and could be key to figuring out just how our cosmos evolved over time.
What they found: LIGO can, in theory, pick up ripples in space-time from intermediate-mass black holes today, but according to the new study, it will take future detectors to get a more complete view of the mysterious objects.
What's next: New ground-based observatories could also help scientists parse signal from noise and find direct evidence if these types of black holes exist.
Arrokoth as seen by New Horizons. Photo: NASA/JHU-APL
The most distant world ever observed from close range has an official name: Arrokoth, meaning "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language.
The big picture: NASA's New Horizons had its close flyby of the body — located 1 billion miles past Pluto — on New Year's Day 2019.
“We graciously accept this gift from the Powhatan people. Bestowing the name Arrokoth signifies the strength and endurance of the indigenous Algonquian people of the Chesapeake region.”— Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a statement
Between the lines: Scientists had originally nicknamed the object "Ultima Thule," however, controversy around that name erupted when Newsweek first reported that the name was historically tied to the Nazi regime.
Artist's illustration of a Blue Origin New Glenn rocket. Image: Blue Origin
New NASA study finds some long-haul danger for astronauts: Blood flow in reverse (Denise Chow, NBC News)
Boeing faced only "limited" safety review from NASA while SpaceX got a full examination (Christian Davenport, Washington Post)
If alien life exists in our solar system, it may look like this (Nadia Drake, National Geographic)
GAO sides with Blue Origin in protest of Air Force launch contract rules (Sandra Erwin, Space News)
The Milky Way shines in a photo taken by a space telescope designed to hunt for planets circling stars far from our own solar system.
How it works: TESS looks for planets by keeping an eye out for minute dips in a star's light created when a world passes in front of its star.
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