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Scientists have used artificial intelligence to spot small, newly formed craters on Mars for the first time.

Why it matters: This use of AI could cut down on the time scientists spend combing through images of the Red Planet's surface taken by orbiters to find interesting features worthy of study.

The state of play: The AI tool, operating on a supercomputer cluster at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, analyzed about 112,000 images taken by one of the cameras aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

  • The tool found a group of craters in the Noctis Fossae area of Mars, and on Aug. 26, scientists using another camera aboard the MRO confirmed the finding.
  • Researchers behind the tool have now submitted more possible crater candidates for MRO follow-up.

What's next: NASA hopes to one day repurpose the tool for use on board spacecraft heading to deep space destinations like Mars in order to cut down on the time needed to analyze their findings.

  • Instead of scientists back on Earth going through every image beamed home from distant space, the tool could help prioritize exactly what researchers want to see in the first place.
  • Scientists also hope the tool can give them a more complete picture of meteor impacts on Mars in general.
  • "There are likely many more impacts that we haven't found yet," Ingrid Daubar, a JPL scientist who helped develop the tool, said in a statement. "This advance shows you just how much you can do with veteran missions like MRO using modern analysis techniques."

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 5, 2021 - Science

White House lays out new planetary protection guidelines against human contamination

Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The White House laid out a plan last week for updating long-held rules around how to protect the Moon, Mars and other bodies from human contamination.

Why it matters: If a space agency or private company is looking for life on Mars or another deep space object, it's key to be sure any microbes detected are actually native and didn't hitch a ride from Earth.

The rebellion against Silicon Valley (the place)

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Silicon Valley may be a "state of mind," but it's also very much a real enclave in Northern California. Now, a growing faction of the tech industry is boycotting it.

Why it matters: The Bay Area is facing for the first time the prospect of losing its crown as the top destination for tech workers and startups — which could have an economic impact on the region and force it to reckon with its local issues.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Telework's tax mess

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

As teleworkers flit from city to city, they're creating a huge tax mess.

Why it matters: Our tax laws aren't built for telecommuting, and this new way of working could have dire implications for city and state budgets.