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Volume 4797
John Carter: The Man Behind the News

Art by Paul Privitera
Scientific Mysteries Unraveled in the World of ERB?

The Barsoomian Barbecue
By John Martin
  "They do this on Jasoom," said John Carter. "The Earthmen call them weenie roasts. They go out in the country, build a big fire, cook some weenies on the ends of sticks and them put them in a bun smeared with mustard."

  "And then what do they do?" asked the incomparable Dejah Thoris.

   "Why, eat them, of course," said John Carter.

   "Why would we go out on the dead sea bottoms to do that," she said, "when we have kitchens right in Helium with perfectly good galleys, and slaves who are the best cooks on Barsoom?"

  "Why Dejah," said John Carter, "haven't you heard that food always tastes better when it's eaten outdoors?"

  The next day the sky above Helium was filled with flyers as thousands of Martians lifted off to head to the picnic area. But they saw the large smoke cloud long before they got there.

  "What the hey," said John Carter. "What's going on? That smoke is covering the entire picnic grounds. Looks like someone beat us here and they're having their own weenie roast."

  They eased their flyers down near the Visitors Center at the entrance to the huge dead sea bottom park at which they had planned to have their weenie roast.

  The Ranger ambled out to greet them.

  "What's the deal?" asked John Carter. "That smoke's higher than I've ever seen smoke on Barsoom before."

  "It's an out-of-control moss and lichen fire," said the Ranger. "Some idiot hiker was careless with a campfire and now we've got a destructive blaze on our hands."

  "I hate to see it go to waste, though," said John Carter. "Do you think it would be okay if we got close enough to roast some weenies? We promise to be careful."

  "Well, all right," said the Ranger. "You know we don't do this for everyone, but since you're the Warlord and all, I guess we can make an exception."

  "Thanks," said John Carter. "You won't be sorry."

  Soon the Heliumites were everywhere, unpacking supplies from their flyers and impaling thoat weenies on the ends of their long swords. They lined up along the edge of the big fire for hundreds of haads. The sound of sizzling hotdogs created a delicious din. Women, meanwhile, were plastering Barsoomian buns with Martian mustard and setting out dishes with other picnic food.

  As the fat dripped from the roasting weenies onto the ground, it created more fuel for the fire and soon the smoke was rising even higher than it had before, blotting out the sight of the two Martian moons which were making one of their daytime journeys across the skies.

  Dejah came up and stood beside John and began looking at the rising smoke. She kept tilting her head further and further up until she lost her balance and spilled over backward onto the ground. Laughing, John Carter reached down a hand and helped her up.

  "No use trying to see the top, Dejah," he said. "This thing is so high I bet they can see it from Earth."

  And they could:

Martian mystery cloud defies explanation
By Alexandra Witze,
A mysterious plume that appeared on Mars in 2012 is testing scientists’ understanding of the Martian atmosphere.

Amateur astronomers spotted the bizarre feature rising off the edge of the red planet in March and April of 2012. It looked like a puff of dust coming off the surface, but it measured some 200 to 250 kilometres high. That is much higher than would be expected from the lower-altitude dust storms that rage across the planet.

W. Jaeschke and D. Parker/Grupo Ciencias Planetarias/UPV/EHU/NOAA

A mysterious Martian plume (circled) and its changing shape (left) captured on 21 March 2012.

Now a team of astronomers proposes that the plume was either a cloud of ice particles or a Martian aurora. But neither possibility fully explains the plume — raising new questions about the state of the Martian atmosphere. The study, led by astronomer Agustín Sánchez-Lavega of the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain, is published on 16 February in Nature1.

“This observation is a big surprise,” says Aymeric Spiga, a planetary scientist at the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, who was not involved in the work. “Another puzzle on Mars!”

The plume first appeared on 12 March 2012 as a small bump on the dawn side of Mars’s southern hemisphere. It changed shape over the next 11 days, morphing from blobs to pillars and other forms. Within weeks another plume appeared, this one also lasting about a week and a half.

The plumes' sheer height is the hard thing to explain. To find an answer, Sánchez-Lavega’s team coordinated observations from amateur astronomers, and searched imagery from Mars spacecraft.

The simplest explanation is that the dust storms that frequently whirl across Mars might have kicked dust up to high altitudes. But dust has not been seen at altitudes higher than about 50 kilometres in the Martian atmosphere. And even that requires unusual weather conditions to funnel dust upwards, in an event that Spiga dubbed 'rocket dust storms' in a 2013 paper2.

A more plausible explanation is that the plumes were formed by shards of frozen carbon dioxide or water vapour, says Sánchez-Lavega. But their existence would require the atmosphere to be much colder than models predict for that altitude.

Alternatively, the plume could have been an aurora — an interaction between charged particles from the Sun and a planet’s magnetic field — which are known to occur on Mars3. But there is not much supporting evidence for the aurora idea, says Nicholas Heavens, a planetary astronomer at Hampton University in Virginia. “The ice plume is a little more reasonable,” he says.

Sánchez-Lavega and his colleagues are still working to resolve the mystery. NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, one of the flotilla of US and Indian probes currently orbiting Mars, would be able to see a plume if it happened to be looking at the right place at the right time — but has not seen anything like it yet. And amateur astronomers watched Mars closely in April 2014, when the planet was last closest to Earth and saw no high-altitude plumes. The next such opportunity comes in 2016.

Magic Amid the Rings
By John Martin

  Tars Tarkas was always impatient to get things done right away, which helps to explain his comment to John Carter that "The only problem with the thing is that it takes so darn long to get an answer."

  "True," replied the more patient Warlord of Mars, "but at least we know that the answer we eventually get will be the truth."

  "How long have we been waiting now," said Tars.

  "Oh, just over a year," said John Carter. "So we should get an answer any time now. And it hasn't been a really bad year. We have this huge space ship with all the comforts of home, even a large arena and thoats to ride. Our wives are here with us, as well as a lot of our friends, so we've had plenty of company."

  "Oh, it's nice," said Tars. "And I'm not really complaining. But you know, there's no place like home."

  "True," said Carter. "And I miss it too."

  Their interstellar ship, the Helium Navy stratocruiser named Dejah One, represented the best in improvements to the basic Morgor design, accomplished by the greatest scientist in the Solar System, Ras Thavas. It had been cruising around the planet Saturn in a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, going where no Barsoomians had gone before, and was doing studies on Saturns's 62 (and counting) moons as well as its amazing set of rings.

  It was while doing those explorations that they had intercepted the NASA transmission and subsequently discovered the amazing anomaly amidst the orange hazy mist that enshrouded Saturn's largest moon, Titan. John Carter, thanks to his knowledge of Earth devices, realized immediately that the entire moon was actually a Magic 8 Ball, no doubt the prototype and inspiration for the toys that had started to fascinate Earth children in the 1950s. To test his theory, Carter had asked a question above the dark sea and they were now in geosynchronous orbit, waiting for the 100-square-mile bright spot to become visible in the hydrocarbon below, bearing the answer to the question. According to Ras Thavas's calculations, it was about to appear at any moment.

  "I see something! I see something!" yelled Thuvia excitedly, clapping her hands.

  "What's it say? What's it say?" asked Carthoris.

  "Indeed, what does it say?" said John Carter, stepping forward to peer out the porthole.

  Slowly the giant mass began coming into focus in the black liquid below.

  "It says..." he began.

  "Yes? Yes?" the others cried.

  "Uh, it says 'Reply Hazy, Try Again.' "

  "Well," said Tars Tarkas. "It looked like we're going to be here another year."

  "A year?" said Dejah Thoris. "Probably more like 13 months. Let me take another look at that NASA article..."

Mysterious feature on Saturn's moon baffles NASA scientists
Sept. 30, 2014
By Meghan DeMaria

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered a "mysterious feature" on Saturn's moon Titan. Scientists are working to determine, what, exactly, this feature might be.

NASA reports hat the feature is roughly 100 square miles, and it lies in Ligeia Mare, one of Titan's hydrocarbon seas. Cassini's radar has observed the feature twice, but its appearance changed between the two sightings. Scientists suspect the feature's change in appearance could be the result of Titan's changing seasons, which Cassini's current extended mission will monitor.

The feature's first sighting was in July 2013, and the radar images depicted a bright spot, which stood out from the dark sea. Scientists were "perplexed" when the feature couldn't be located with follow-up radar experiments, but they found it again on August 21, 2014.

Though the scientists aren't sure what the feature is, NASA reports that they are "confident" the feature is not a "flaw in their data." Some of their current explanations for the feature include "surface waves, rising bubbles, floating solids, solids suspended just below the surface, or perhaps something more exotic."

Titan's hydrocarbon lakes have long been a source of curiosity for scientists who speculate that life may be able to survive on the moon's surface. "But if life exists on Titan, it would be very different than life on Earth, which is intimately tied to liquid water," notes.

"Science loves a mystery, and with this enigmatic feature, we have a thrilling example of ongoing change on Titan," Stephen Wall, the deputy team lead of Cassini's radar team, said in a statement. "We're hopeful that we'll be able to continue watching the changes unfold and gain insights about what's going on in that alien sea."

The Barsoomian Boulder
By John Martin

"Ewwwwwwww," said Dejah Thoris, wrinkling up her nose. "Get it out of here."

  "What," said John Carter, laying down his copy of The Helium Herald.

  "I found THIS under the sleeping silks," she said, pointing to a small, round object.

  "Oh," said John Carter. "That looks like the jelly doughnut I lost several months ago."

  "Well now it looks like it's petrified," snarled Dejah, "and I want it gone."

  "No problem, my dear," said the greatest swordsman of three worlds and counting. He picked up the hard, crusty Frisbee-shaped object and stepped onto the veranda. "I was pretty good at skipping rocks on water when I was on Jasoom," he said. "I wonder how far I can skip this thing on dry ground."

  So saying, he flung the hardened pastry like a discus thrower and, with extra oomph from his strong, Earth muscles, made stronger in the lesser gravity of Mars, he managed to propel it high and far over the parapets of Helium and into the flatlands beyond, where it skipped crazily until it was out of site.

  "I guess we'll never know where it landed," he said, turning back into their luxurious digs. we:

Nasa says Mars mystery rock that
'appeared' from nowhere is 'like nothing we’ve seen before'
Jan. 19, 2015

A mysterious rock which appeared in front of the Opportunity rover is "like nothing we've ever seen before", according to Mars exploration scientists at Nasa.

Experts said they were "completely confused" by both the origins and makeup of the object, which is currently being investigated by Opportunity's various measuring instruments.
Astronomers noticed the new rock had "appeared" without any explanation on an outcrop which had been empty just days earlier. The rover has been stuck photographing the same region of Mars for more than a month due to bad weather, with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California monitoring the images it sends.

Nasa issued a Mars status report entitled "encountering a surprise", and lead Mars Exploration rover scientist Steve Squyres told a JPL event it seems the planet literally "keeps throwing new things at us".

He said the images, from 12 Martian days apart, were from no more than a couple of weeks ago. "We saw this rock just sitting here. It looks white around the edge in the middle and there’s a low spot in the centre that's dark red - it looks like a jelly doughnut.

"And it appeared, just plain appeared at that spot - and we haven't ever driven over that spot."

Images captured by Opportunity show the mysterious rock 'appeared' on an outcrop that had been empty just 12 Martian days ('Sols') earlier Squyres said his team had two theories on how the rock got there - that there's "a smoking hole in the ground somewhere nearby" and it was caused by a meteor, or that it was "somehow flicked out of the ground by a wheel” as the rover went by.

"We had driven a metre or two away from here, and I think the idea that somehow we mysteriously flicked it with a wheel is the best explanation," Squyres said.
Yet the story got even stranger when Opportunity investigated further. Squyres explained: "We are as we speak situated with the rover's instruments deployed making measurements of this rock.

"We've taken pictures of both the doughnut and jelly parts, and the got the first data on the composition of the jelly yesterday.

"It's like nothing we've ever seen before," he said. "It's very high in sulphur, it's very high in magnesium, it's got twice as much manganese as we've ever seen in anything on Mars.
"I don't know what any of this means. We're completely confused, and everyone in the team is arguing and fighting (over what it means).

"That's the beauty of this mission... what I've realised is that we will never be finished. There will always be something tantalising, something wonderful just beyond our reach that we didn't quite get to - and that's the nature of exploration."

Squyres was speaking at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the arrival of Opportunity and Spirit on the surface of Mars.

While Spirit lost contact with Earth and was later declared "dead" in 2010, Opportunity has now roamed the planet far in excess of what was originally planned as a three-month mission. Nasa said that with its maximum speed of just 0.05mph, as of "Sol 3547" (15 January 2014) Opportunity had covered just over 24 miles (38km).

Later, NASA reported the following:

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says it has solved the mystery of a doughnut-shaped rock that appeared in front of its Opportunity Mars rover in January. NASA said that it was probably a rock knocked out by one of the rover's six wheels, although it didn't rule out the item being debris from a nearby meteorite strike.


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