Archive for October 28th, 2010


Evidence of Subsurface Water in Mars

The ground where NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit became stuck last year holds evidence that water, perhaps as snow melt, trickled into the subsurface fairly recently and on a continuing basis, NASA reports.

Stratified soil layers with different compositions close to the surface led the rover science team to propose that thin films of water may have entered the ground from frost or snow. The seepage could have happened during cyclical climate changes during periods when Mars tilted farther on its axis. The water may have moved down into the sand, carrying soluble minerals deeper than less-soluble ones. Spin-axis tilt varies over timescales of hundreds of thousands of years.


mimicking the sun on earth for spacecraft tests

NASA is replicating the power of the sun on Earth—in Alabama—to test how satellites and other hardware will survive in space.

Researchers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville are using their Solar Thermal Test Facility to simulate some of the harshest conditions of space to find out what extreme temperatures can do to flight hardware close to the sun.

The researchers use a two-story tall curved mirror that beams about 1 million watts per square meter of solar energy intensity into a vacuum chamber at its focal point, where units to be tested are placed.

Researchers have installed a liquid nitrogen shroud on the inside of the vacuum chamber that will allow engineers to chill the vacuum chamber to freezing cold temperatures like those in deep space.

In the front, the mirrors expose the test object to the heat of the sun while in the back the nitrogen exposes it to the coldness of a vacuum.

Together they accurately mimic the conditions of space, allowing scientists to test how their instruments will perform on actual missions close to the sun.


Choice not ability keeps women out of math-intensive fields

Two Cornell University psychological researchers conclude that the main factor for a shortage of women in math, science and engineering fields is, clearly, not ability, but rather freely made choices.

They suggest that some women would rather study biology than math. And the reason for a lower number of women than men in these areas of academia is also by choice, given the fact that the difficult first years as a professor coincide with the time when many women are having children.

Psychological scientists Stephen Ceci and Wendy Williams of Cornell University set out to understand the differences between men and women in math-intensive fields such as physics, engineering, computer science, economics, and chemistry. In the top 100 U.S. universities, only 9% to 16% of tenure-track positions in these kinds of fields are held by women.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

October 2010

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