Well, this is embarrassing! Imagine sending a multibillion-dollar rover to an ancient lakebed on Mars only to discover after a year of poking around at the rocks that it might not actually have been a lake after all. That seems to be the impression of Jezero Crater that planetary scientists are forming after looking at the data coming back from Perseverance since it nailed the landing in what sure as heck looked like a dried-up lake, complete with a river delta system. A closer look at the sediments Perseverance has been sampling reveals a lot of the mineral olivine, which on Earth is rare near the surface because it readily reacts with water. Finding lots of olivine close below the surface of Jezero suggests that it either wasn’t all that watery once upon a time, or that what water was there was basically ice cold. The results are limited to where the rover has visited, of course, and the nice thing about having wheels is that you can go somewhere else. But if you were hoping for clear signs that Jezero was once a lake teeming with life, you might have to keep waiting.
In other space news, we have to admit to taking NASA to task a bit in the podcast a couple of weeks back for not being quite up to SpaceX’s zazzle standards with regard to instrumenting the SLS launch. Yeah, a night launch is spectacular, but not having all those internal cameras like the Falcon has just sort of left us flat. But we should have been more patient, because the images coming back from Artemis 1 are simply spectacular. We had no idea that NASA attached cameras to the solar panels of the Orion spacecraft, which act a little like selfie sticks and allow the spacecraft to be in the foreground with Earth and the Moon in the background. Seeing Earth from lunar distance again for the first time in 50 years has been a real treat, and getting our satellite in the frame at the same time is a huge bonus.
We all know how the algorithmic tides of news stories ebb and flow on the Internet these days, but even when you’re expecting it, it can be jarring to see related stories suddenly popping up in your feed. To wit, we found a couple of stories this week about electric vehicles suffering serious damage at charging stations. The first was a report by a Ford F-150 Lightning driver that a charger bricked his truck. The user reports that while topping off at an Electrify America station in Oregon, he heard a loud boom before the charger and his ungodly expensive vehicle went dead, requiring a flatbed tow to the Ford dealership for repairs. Separately, a BC Hydro charger in Vancouver reportedly borked at least two EVs, one of which racked up $6,300 in repair charges. No word about the nature of the damage, of course, and BC Hydro claims the charger was taken out of service. We can’t help but wonder what the concurrence of these two stories has to tell us about the state of charging stations in general, though.
Also from the, “Isn’t that weird?” files, reports are popping up around the world of LED streetlights suddenly going all purple. Normally an intense bluish-white, LED streetlights in places like Wisconsin, Florida, North Carolina, California, and elsewhere are now glowing an eerie but beautiful shade of deep purple. When we first saw this story, we figured it would just be a problem with the phosphors on the COB LEDs, perhaps wearing away and letting the underlying UV light shine through. And indeed, that’s the conclusion this story eventually reaches, at least for Vancouver lights which seem to be suffering from delamination of the phosphor layer thanks to heat damage. The article goes a bit further and blames the ever-present “supply chain issues” for the problem, which honestly isn’t that hard to swallow.
And finally, can you turn a car into a pillar of salt? No, you can’t, but if you follow the lead of artist James Birdle you may just be able to trap a self-driving car with a couple of kilos of salt. James found that encircling his car with a double dashed line of salt made the car think it could both drive across the barrier and not violate it. So the car just failed safe and stayed put inside the salty circles. We’d love to dive a little further into this– it’s not clear what the car is, but one comment on the Vimeo video claims it’s a 2006 SEAT Ibiza, whatever that is. It’s not likely a 16-year-old vehicle is self-driving, so perhaps it has lane-departure sensors.