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New images suggest a snowy past on Mars

Just a few feet beneath its seemingly barren surface, enormous deposits of ice lay buried on Mars. Scientists have long speculated upon the properties of the ice, but until recently, imaging technology has been limited to relatively coarse radar sounding and small samples drilled from land-bound rovers.

A new study to learn more about the potential of water on Mars was led by the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff. They used the infrared features of the HiRISE camera (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to capture high-resolution images of thick ice sheets located underneath eight sloped regions of the planet. These regions are called scarps.

The sheets extend more than 300 feet deep. Improving upon previous technology, the HiRISE is able to provide three-dimensional cross-sections of the sheets, revealing the vertical structures of the ice sheets for the first time. From these images, scientists are able to observe individual layers and find out how the ice was formed. With only a few feet of rock and dust to guard the pure ice sheets, NASA is optimistic that these clean ice water sheets will be accessible for physical extraction in future missions.

Much of the excitement from this new study stems from the purity of the ice. Unlike previous samples where ice was mixed in with rock and dust like a sedimentary slush puppy of sorts, the images taken in this new study show that the majority of the layers in these sheets are largely uninterrupted by debris.

Colin Dundas is the research geologist leading the study. Similar to how scientists study ice cores drilled from glaciers here on Earth, Dundas and his team use the Martian sheets as a window to peer into the planet’s past climate.

“In the case of what we’re seeing with the way the ice is layered, it tells us that this was formed as a snowpack rather than just water condensing in the dirt,” he said. “It tells us that there’s been enough snowfall on Mars to build up a 300-foot sheet of ice.”

Currently, precipitation occasionally forms but doesn’t reach the surface of Mars. Dundas explains that these sheets were probably originally part of the Red Planet’s North and South Poles. Billions of years ago, the planet’s axial tilt varied between 15 and 35 degrees. Today, it sits at 25 degrees, just fractions away from Earth’s 23.5.

“Once the axis tilted, the ice caps got warmer and lost ice,” he said. “They probably got redeposited at mid-latitude. And that’s what we’re seeing now.”

Scientists still don’t have a definite answer as to whether Mars was once able to support life, but evidence of snow made from the same water as on Earth makes one wonder what discoveries still await us on Mars.

Eric Duong is this year’s NAU-NASA Space Grant science-writing intern at the Arizona Daily Sun.

Dow drops more than 650 points as stocks swoon

U.S. stocks slumped Friday, and the market suffered its worst week in two years, as fears of inflation and disappointing quarterly results from technology and energy giants spooked investors. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped by more than 650 points.

Bond yields rose and contributed to the stock market swoon after the government reported that wages grew last month at the fastest pace in eight years. The Dow had its worst decline since June 2016, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index had its biggest one-day percentage drop since September 2016.

"We've enjoyed low interest rates for so long, we're having to deal with a little bit higher rates now, so the market is trying to figure out what that could mean for inflation," said Darrell Cronk, head of the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

The increase in bond yields hurts stocks in two ways: it makes it more expensive for companies to borrow money, and it also makes bonds more appealing to investors than riskier assets such as stocks.

Several major companies, including Exxon Mobil and Google's parent company, Alphabet, sank after reporting weak earnings. Apple fell on concerns about iPhone sales.

The sharp decline in stocks this week short-circuited a robust start to the year that was spurred by strong global economic growth, solid company earnings and lingering enthusiasm for the GOP tax overhaul. Even with the pullback, the major indexes are still up more than 3 percent this year.

The downturn also follows a long period of unprecedented calm in the market. Stocks haven't had a pullback of 10 percent or more in two years, and hit their latest record highs just one week ago.

The S&P 500 fell 59.85 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,762.13. The index has lost 3.9 percent since hitting a record high a week ago.

The Dow lost 665.75 points, or 2.5 percent, to 25,520.96. The Nasdaq slid 144.92 points, or 2 percent, to 7,240.95. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 32.59 points, or 2.1 percent, to 1,547.27.

While interest rates are still low by historical standards, meaning borrowing is still relatively cheap for businesses and people, they've been rising more swiftly, and that's what has markets on edge.

"The pace of rate increases is more important than the level," said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

The increase in rates has been driven by the prospect of stronger economic growth, and higher inflation, in the U.S. and abroad.

Bond prices declined again Friday, pushing yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a benchmark for interest rates on many kinds of loans, including mortgages, climbed to 2.84 percent, the highest level in roughly four years. The rate was at 2.41 percent four weeks ago and 2.66 percent on Monday.

"Once we started going north of 2.5 percent, and you put that together with an overbought market, it had the ingredients of a sell-off, especially since January was so strong," said Jeff Zipper, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, soared 5.6 percent in January, its biggest monthly gain since March 2016.

One concern for investors is that the Federal Reserve will respond to higher inflation by raising its key interest rate more quickly than expected. The government's latest job and wage data stoked those concerns Friday.

U.S. employers added a robust 200,000 jobs in January, slightly above market expectations for an 185,000 increase. Meanwhile wages rose sharply, suggesting employers are competing more fiercely for workers. The figures point to an economy on strong footing even in its ninth year of expansion, fueled by global economic growth and healthy consumer spending at home.

That's good news for Main Street USA, but not for Wall Street. Some economists were predicting Friday that the central bank will raise its benchmark rate four times this year, rather than the three times most previously expected.

The market slide may have been overdue, particularly after the strong start for stocks this year where the S&P 500 had its best January in two decades. Some investors saw a potential buying opportunity.

The global economy is still strong, corporate profits and sales have been better than expected this reporting season and buyers for stocks still remain, all reasons to be optimistic about stocks, said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

"It's appealing, these 2 to 3 percent pullbacks," said Thooft, who had been trimming some of his stock holdings after the market's big January gains. "We look at this and say, 'Maybe it's your first day to buy a little bit.'"

While earnings overall have been strong, some big companies have posted disappointing results.

Google's parent company Alphabet slumped 5.3 percent after the search giant reported results that missed analysts' forecasts. The stock slid $62.39 to $1,119.20.

Exxon Mobil dropped 5.1 percent, while Chevron lost 5.6 percent after the oil companies' latest quarterly results fell short of forecasts. Shares in Exxon shed $4.54 to $84.53. Chevron gave up $6.99 to $118.58.

Apple declined 4.3 percent after the technology company said it sold 77.3 million iPhones in the last quarter, below the 80 million analysts expected. The stock slid $7.28 to $160.50.

Flagstaff schools in need of replace and repair worth $95 million

A consulting group is recommending that FUSD spend nearly $95 million to refurbish most of its 17 district buildings, replace two elementary schools and the portable wing at another school.

The H2 Group recently presented the findings of a yearlong assessment of the district’s schools and administration building to the FUSD board. According to the report, the average age of an FUSD building is about 47 years.

Most of the buildings have been well-maintained over the years and are in good shape for their age, said architect Paul Hartley. The district has been doing a good job at maintaining and trying to keep on top of repairs to the buildings. However, the everyday wear and tear of thousands of students, staff and teachers has taken a toll on the buildings and fixtures, carpeting, floors and other equipment have exceeded their recommended lifespan and need to be upgraded or replaced.

At least three schools, Kinsey and Killip elementary schools and the portable buildings at Mount Elden Middle School, should probably be replaced with new buildings, Hartley said. Kinsey, Killip and Mount Elden are some of the district’s oldest schools, with Kinsey being built in 1958, Killip in 1948 and Mount Elden in 1958.

The group estimates that the cost to replace the buildings at about $36,233,772. It would cost about $9,486,694 to patch the three schools up and keep them running for another few years.

However, these estimates could change based on prices for labor and materials, he said.

All three of these schools need extensive repairs, Hartley said. For example, at Kinsey and Killip, repairs need to be made to the roof, the hallways are not compliant with current Americans with Disabilities Act standards, the single-pane windows need to be replaced, the restrooms need to be refurbished, doors and door frames need to be fixed, the heating and cooling system needs to be replaced, the electrical system needs to be replaced and more. Any new work in the building would have to be done according to current building codes and meet current ADA standards. And there is the possibility of environmental hazards such as lead paint and asbestos.

The portable buildings at Mount Elden have outlived their lifespan and have gaps under the buildings that can let in pests.

The main problems noticed at nearly all of the schools by H2 were cracking parking lots and sidewalks, old heating and cooling systems, worn flooring, worn cabinets and countertops, outdated fire and security systems, the need for roof repairs and the need for upgrades to come into compliance with the current ADA requirements. H2 estimated the cost to repair these buildings at a total of about $68,013,914 including repairs, but not replacing, Killip, Kinsey and Mt. Elden’s portable buildings.

Most of the repairs are due to the age of the buildings and the everyday wear and tear that the buildings get over the years, such as rusted window frames and water damaged ceiling tiles from leaking roofs, Hartley said. A lot of the outside damage to the buildings comes from Flagstaff’s rapid freeze/thaw cycles during the winter, which causes a lot of damage to pavement, walls and roofs.

“Your climate is just hard on your facilities,” he said. Flagstaff schools face problems that other Arizona schools don’t because of the weather.

Most of these repairs can be spread out over the next several years because they aren’t a risk to the health or safety of the students, Hartley said.

Other items, like the plumbing, electrical, roofs, heating and cooling systems, haven’t been upgraded since the schools were built and need to be replaced because they’ve exceeded their life span and are no longer efficient.

H2 Engineer Jalal Avades pointed out that many of the schools only have one heating and cooling system. If that system should fail, especially in the winter, the district may have to close the school to repair or, more likely, replace the system. The plumbing and electrical systems in most of the schools should also be rebuilt or upgraded.

“Codes have changed a lot since many of these schools were built,” he said.

In order to finance the repairs and replacements, Hartley recommended the school look at asking voters to approve a bond.

“Bonds are really the only vehicle available to most school districts to fund repairs,” he said.

The state’s Schools Facilities Board can help with some projects but is unlikely to provide all of the funding the district would need to make all of the repairs necessary or fully fund the replacement of some of the schools.

The FUSD Governing Board is currently researching the idea of going to local voters with a bond and/or override issue. On Jan. 9, the board approved hiring an election consultant to do some public opinion research on the possibility of a bond and/or override on the November ballot. That consultant is expected to report back to the board in May with his results and recommendations.

Trump says Russia-probe memo proves bias; Dems say no

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declassified a top-secret congressional memo Friday and suggested it proved the investigation of his presidential campaign and Russia was fatally flawed from the start. Democrats said the document did nothing to clear him or his campaign, and the FBI called the memo inaccurate and incomplete.

Butting heads just as they had before the memo's release, Trump and his critics stuck to the positions they had staked out in the weeks leading up to the hotly disputed release of the memo prepared by Republicans on the House intelligence committee. The memo makes their case — and Trump's — that politically motivated abuses in the early stages of the FBI's investigation made it worse than worthless.

The Democrats, having none of it, said the four-page memo merely cherry-picks Republican talking points in an effort to smear law enforcement and undercut the current federal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, said the GOP document "mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information" and its release "will do long-term damage to the intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies."

The memo's central premise is that the FBI relied excessively on anti-Trump research funded by Democrats in seeking a warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign associate and that federal authorities concealed the full details of who was paying for the information.

The disclosure of the document is extraordinary since it involves details about surveillance of Americans, national security information the government regards as among its most highly classified. Its release is likely to further escalate an intra-government conflict that has divided the White House and Trump's hand-picked law enforcement leaders.

Trump, who lashed out at the FBI and Justice Department on Friday morning, refused to express confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller and is mentioned by name in the memo.

Asked if he was more likely to fire Rosenstein, and if he still had confidence in him, Trump retorted, "You figure that one out."

A senior White House official said later the administration expects Rosenstein to remain in his job.

Trump has been telling confidants he believed the memo would validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department conspired against him. Though the document had been classified since it deals with warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the White House declassified it Friday and sent it to the intelligence committee chairman, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, for immediate release.

The development also comes amid an ongoing effort by Trump and congressional Republicans to discredit the investigation by Mueller that focuses not only on whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia but also on whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Republicans seized on the memo's allegations to argue that the FBI's investigation was politically biased.

The memo does not address obstruction questions that have led Mueller to express interest in interviewing Trump. But it does reveal the FBI investigation actually began in July 2016, months before the warrant was even sought, based on information involving a separate Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, who has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Mueller inherited the probe in May 2017. Four people have so far been charged in his investigation.

Trump said Friday of the information in the memo: "I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace."

Earlier in the day, he tweeted: "The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans - something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank & File are great people."

The memo offered the first government confirmation that the FBI in October 2016 obtained a secret surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign associate, Carter Page, on the basis that agents believed he might be an agent of a foreign power — Russia. That warrant was signed off on multiple times, including by Rosenstein.

In a statement, Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser and came on the FBI radar in 2013 as part of a separate counterintelligence probe, said, "The brave and assiduous oversight by Congressional leaders in discovering this unprecedented abuse of process represents a giant, historic leap in the repair of America's democracy."

The memo asserts that opposition research conducted by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, "formed an essential part" of the initial application to receive the warrant. It's unclear how much or what information Steele collected was included in the application, or how much has been corroborated. Steele's research into Trump and Russia was compiled into a series of memos, or a dossier, containing salacious allegations.

The FBI routinely relies on multiple sources of information when it obtains surveillance warrants. And the memo makes clear that the FBI believed there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power and a judge agreed — four times over.