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The enduring questions about Mars are starting to be answered

The rovers and orbiters studying Mars are being tasked with answering the persistent questions that remain about the Red Planet, decades after NASA sent its first missions to the world.

Why it matters: New spacecraft recently sent to Mars will help NASA and other space agencies fill in gaps in knowledge, moving them ever-closer to finding out whether the world once played host to life.


  • But answering questions about Mars' past and its potential for life will likely take more spacecraft, and possibly even human missions to solve.

Driving the news: A study published this month suggests much of Mars' water may have been absorbed into the ground, not lost to space, as scientists have thought for decades.

  • Thanks to this new study, scientists have been able to start to square the planet's geology with what they know of how its atmosphere was lost, painting a clearer picture of why the world is now the barren one we see today.

Yes, but: Not all questions about Mars can be quickly answered with current data.

  • Perhaps the most pressing question has stood for centuries: Has life ever existed onthe Red Planet?
  • NASA is just scratching the surface of answering that question using its Perseverance rover — the first mission dedicated to hunting for past Martian life — which made it to Mars in February.
  • Even that rover likely won't be able to find signs of life on its own, however. Perseverance is expected to cache samples for a return to Earth on a future mission that will allow scientists to use high-powered tools to analyze the samples.

The big questions: Although scientists know Mars was once habitable — at least for microbial life — it's still not clear that the environment could have supported diverse and abundant life as we see on Earth.

  • While the planet did have lakes and rivers, researchers don't know exactly how warm the planet was.
  • "There are a lot of basic things we still don't know, like how warm or how wet was ancient Mars? Was it a cold, icy barren world or was it this warmer, wetter ... warm desert planet?" Purdue University planetary scientist Briony Horgan told me.

Rovers on the planet have also found the world is scattered with layered rocks, but no one is quite sure how they formed.

  • Scientists' best guess at the moment is these layers formed through erosion, wind, water and ice. But we don't see rock layers like this on Earth because they're destroyed by plate tectonics, which don't exist on Mars, Horgan added.

The intrigue: Sending rovers and landers to Mars has actually complicated scientists' understanding of the Red Planet.

  • "When you only have one data point, it's easy to make a model that fits that one data point, but when you have 50 data points, it's a lot harder to find the right model to fit those data," NASA Mars researcher Abigail Fraeman told me.

What's next: Human missions to the Red Planet could one day help resolve these mismatches between data beamed back from spacecraft in orbit and rover-collected data from the ground.

  • Having people on Mars would allow scientists to easily move to other parts of the planet to search for interesting rocks without the planning and guesswork that goes into a rover's roadmap, experts say.

Senate Democrats settling on 25% corporate tax rate

The universe of Democratic senators concerned about raising the corporate tax rate to 28% is broader than Sen. Joe Manchin, and the rate will likely land at 25%, parties close to the discussion tell Axios.

Why it matters: While increasing the rate from 21% to 25% would raise about $600 billion over 15 years, it would leave President Biden well short of paying for his proposed $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package.

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Republican leaders raked in sizable donations from grassroots supporters

Republican leaders turned to grassroots supporters and raked in sizable donations after corporations cut them off post-Jan. 6.

Why it matters: If those companies hoped to push the GOP toward the center, they may have done just the opposite by turning Republican lawmakers toward their most committed — and ideologically driven — supporters.

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CDC: Half of US adults have received one COVID-19 vaccine dose

Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Half of US adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about a third are fully vaccinated, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why it matters: COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are still on the rise, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said during Friday's White House COVID-19 briefing. With cases in many states being driven by variants, public health officials have emphasized the need to ramp up vaccinations.

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Israeli intel agencies believe Vienna talks will lead to U.S. return to Iran nuclear deal

Israeli military intelligence and senior officials in the Mossad briefed a meeting of the nation's security cabinet that talks in Vienna between Iran and other world powers will lead to the U.S. returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, two officials who attended the meeting told me.

Why it matters: The Israeli government is very concerned about a U.S. return to the nuclear deal and is trying to convince the Biden administration not to take the pressure off the Iranian regime.

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"It hurts": Latino community of 13-year-old killed by police in Chicago reels after shooting

Residents of Little Village, a well-known and predominantly Latino neighborhood in Chicago, are grieving the death of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Mexican American boy from the neighborhood who was shot and killed by a police officer on March 29, NBC News reports.

Why it matters: Adam Toledo's killing shines a spotlight on police shootings of Latinos, who are killed by law enforcement at the second-highest rate after Black Americans, according to data from the Washington Post.

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Biden adviser warns "there will be consequences" for Russia if Navalny dies

The Biden administration warned the Russian government "that there will be consequences" if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

The big picture: Sullivan also defended President Biden for not mentionining Navalny in a Thursday speech about Russia or in a Tuesday call with Russian President Vladimir Putin,saying the White House aims to deal with the issue "privately and through diplomatic channels."

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Prosecutor on leave for failing to "fully present the facts" after shooting of 13-year-old boy

Cook County prosecutor James Murphy was placed on administrative leave Friday after he implied in court that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by a police officer in March, was armed when he was shot, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times report.

Why it matters: Videos of the shooting show that Toledo dropped what appears to be a weapon and put his hands in the air a moment before before he was fatally shot. A lawyer for the Toledo family said Thursday that if the teen "had a gun, he tossed it."

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Biden's blinking red lights: Taiwan, Ukraine and Iran

Russia is menacing Ukraine’s borders, China is sending increasingly ominous signals over Taiwan and Iran is accelerating its uranium enrichment to unprecedented levels.

The big picture: Ukraine, Taiwan and Iran’s nuclear program always loomed large on the menu of potential crises President Biden could face. But over the last several days, the lights have been blinking red on all three fronts all at once.

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