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Gizmorama - January 17, 2018

Good Morning,

I can't make heads or tails of 3D-printing plans and Martian ice sheets. It's all weird to me.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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* Hi-res images reveal 3D structure of massive Martian ice sheets *

High-definition images have revealed the 3D structure of large subsurface ice sheets on Mars, a first.

The images were captured using the HiRISE instrument on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and analyzed by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey. Their analysis revealed new details about the ice deposits' composition, vertical structure and thickness.

NASA scientists identified eight locations in the mid-latitudes where ice has become exposed on the eroded, pole-facing slopes known as scarps. MRO and its HiRISE instrument targeted the eight sites.

The ice deposits are encased by only a thin layer of ice-cemented rock and dust, beneath which lies mostly pure water ice. The deposits could provide future manned missions to Mars with a steady water supply.

Scientists believe the icy deposits can prove as scientifically useful as ice and sediment cores collected on Earth. The varied layers can offer insights into Mars' geology and climate history.

Early analysis of the newly imaged ice deposits -- described this week in the journal Science -- has already confirmed scientists basic understanding of Mars' climatic past.

"This [research] supports models for snowfall and accumulation in the geologically recent past," Colin Dundas, a researcher with the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, told UPI in an email.

Scientists believe the scarps detailed in the new study are formed by the sublimation process, as exposed ice evaporates into the atmosphere. The process sees the ice move from a solid to a gaseous state, skipping the liquid phase. Over the time, sublimation causes the icy slope to retreat like glaciers, becoming longer and wider.

Scientists knew there were expansive subsurface ice deposits spread across much of Mars. Now, scientists can confirm the deposits feature relatively pure ice within just a few feet of Mars' surface.

While scientists can see some of the ice sheet's layering -- variation in the concentration of dust and sediment in the ice -- researchers won't be able to truly tap the deposits' scientific potential until they drill sample cores.

Mars has plans to send a surface-drilling lander to the Red Planet this year, but the InSight lander will be collecting sediment cores, not ice.

"InSight is planned to land near the equator, far from any known ice deposits," Dundas said.

Scientists will continue to tap the new images for all the science they're worth, but researchers are already thinking about how to learn more. To do so, more hi-res images may be necessary.

"We and the rest of the scientific community will need to understand how this cross-sectional information at our study sites is similar to and different from conditions at other locations where such information is not available," Dundas said.

*-- Scientists publish 3D-printing plans for 200-million-year-old dinosaur skull --*

Anyone with access to a 3D printer can now create a replica of a 200-million-year-old dinosaur skull.

Scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, used advanced CT scanning technology to image and digitally reconstruct -- bone by bone -- a detailed 3D model of the skull of Massospondylus, a sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Early Jurassic.

The researchers published their rendering of the ancient dino skull this week in the journal PeerJ.

"This means any researcher or member of the public can print their own Massospondylus skull at home," Kimi Chapelle, a PhD student at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, said in a news release.

Massospondylus is one of the most famous dinosaurs in South Africa. Its fossil record is rich. But the latest study is the first to offer a detailed anatomical survey of the long-necked dinosaur's skull.

"I was amazed when I started digitally reconstructing Massospondylus' skull, and found all these features that had never been described," said Chapelle, "It just goes to show that researchers still have a lot to learn about South Africa's dinosaurs."

CT scans revealed new details about the connection between the dino's middle and inner ear. The imaging also showed the pathways nerves took through the neck and head.

"By comparing the inner ear to that of other dinosaurs, we can try and interpret things like how they held their heads and how they moved," said Chapelle. "You can actually see tiny replacement teeth in the bones of the jaws, showing us that Massospondylus continuously replaced its teeth, like crocodiles do, but unlike humans that can only do it once."

The analysis also showed this particular dinosaur's cranial bones had yet to fully fuse. It was still maturing.

"This allows us to understand how Massospondylus grew, how fast it grew and how big it could grow," Chapelle said.

Chapelle says she plan to pose new questions and answer them with the help of new fossils and CT scans.

"Students like Kimi have been able to use our CT facility to produce cutting-edge research like this," said Jonah Choiniere, a Wits professor who supervised Chapelle's work. "It's changing the way we do dinosaur research."


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