For the 5th time since landing on Mars, the remarkable Spirit and Opportunity rovers have had their mission time extended, possibly as far as 2009. It's an amazing achievement given that they were expected to last at best 90 days. Yet the two rovers have been hard at work since January 2004 and despite many problems, including dust on their solar panels and a dragging wheel on Spirit, they continue to return valuable scientific data. To date, Spirit has driven 7.26 kilometers (4.51 miles) and has returned more than 102,000 images. Opportunity has driven 11.57 kilometers (7.19 miles) and has returned more than 94,000 images.
Has there been, or is there even now, water on Mars is a question that provokes vigorous debate amongst scientists. Just in the last month, data from Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was re-examined and previously promising evidence for free flowing water some time in the planets past was downgraded from a probable to a maybe. Alfred McEwen from the MRO project suggested that incredible images which appeared to show sudden explosive outpourings of water in just the last year might not even have been water. "The thing we've found with six examples is that they all occur on some of the steepest slopes, steep enough that dry movement, dry flow, could have been sufficient to explain these deposits," said Professor McEwen.
But don't give up on that watery Mars yet. Just in the last few days University of Guelph researchers say they may have identified visible signs of water, in a white, salty substance churned up by the wheels of the Spirit rover. If the material is indeed what they think it is, then the deposits spotted in the Columbia Hills region of the planet could contain up to 16 per cent water. Normally the chemical analyser on Spirit, called an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer would not be able to extract this sort of information, but some clever work on the data has revealed the evidence for water, which had previously been dismissed as interference. So it's not the most conclusive piece of evidence, but the debate is clearly not yet closed.
The long running television crime drama Cold Case is celebrating its 100th episode in great style, with a story that will dig up the bones of a crime committed amidst the chaos of the Orson Welles War Of The Worlds radio broadcast. The episode is called "World's End" and will air on Sunday, November 4. The Cold Case series stands out amongst the numerous crime dramas on our screens by taking the interesting angle of resurrecting cases that were left unsolved years ago. By applying modern forensic technology and investigative techniques, the cold case team hopes to put to rest these old mysteries. Little is known at present about the episode Worlds End, will it will apparently involve the case of a woman strangled to death and dumped in a well.
Trailblazing computer animators Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars) are reported to have concluded a deal with the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs to bring a trilogy of movies to fruition based on the John Carter of Mars novels. It's a concept that has been back and forth through development hell for many years, with any number of attempts made and shelved, but this has got to be the most exciting and yet most worrying to date. Pixar have never tackled anything like this before. This is potentially no kiddie cartoon and it will be interesting to see if they have the nerve to stay true to the source material, which had its fair share of nudity and violence. If they can stick to the spirit of the source material, we can anticipate an extraordinary cinema experience. Reports indicate that representatives of Pixar recently spent a day looking through the huge Burroughs archives for inspiration and have the full support of Burroughs representatives, Danton Burroughs, Sandra Galfas and Jim Sullos. But we've got a long wait: the first movie is expected in 2012.