Subsurface Glaciers On Mars

Vast glaciers lie buried below thin layers of crustal debris on Mars, according to ground-penetrating radar from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Because current conditions on the Red Planet at the regions measured—between 30 and 60 degrees south latitude—do not support the development office, the glaciers probably took shape in the distant past, when Martian climate patterns were different. The debris covering protected the ice and kept it from sublimating into water vapor. The ice formations could constitute the largest stores of water on Mars outside its polar areas.—John Matson

Exoplanetary Carbon Dioxide

The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. The exoplanet, called HD 189733b, is roughly the mass of Jupiter and orbits a star 63 light-years away. Scientists determined its atmospheric components by comparing the light spectrum from the star with that from the star and planet combined. Besides CO2, the data reveal the existence of carbon monoxide, and previous findings indicate the presence of water vapor and methane. Although HD 189733b, which orbits very close to its parent star, is much too steamy for life as we know it, the finding shows that techniques exist to find markers of life on other worlds.—John Matson

Weak On The Nano Risk

The plan of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) to ensure the safety of nanomaterials contains serious weaknesses, according to a December 10, 2008, report by the National Research Council. The NNI has a strategy to assess the risks of these substances, which include carbon nanotubes for strong materials and silver particles for antibacterial activity. But the council has found several flaws—for instance, the NNI has neither a summary of current safety knowledge nor an adequate way to hear from industry, academia and consumer advocates. The NNI says that it has begun pursuing some fixes but that it will need Congress to implement others.—Philip Yam