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From Beyond

Back on space patrol: The latest photos from the UA-designed HiRISE camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are detailed enough for UA geologist Chris Okubo to conclude that liquid or gas passed through cracks beneath the red planet's surface--which could have been a key element to Martian life.

Okubo and HiRISE Principle Investigator Alfred S. McEwen of the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory report in the Feb. 16 edition of Science that bleaching along fractures seen in the rock surface of the Candor Chasma canyon is a sign that some sort of fluid moved through holes in the rock. See if you agree with their analysis of the photos.

Speaking of space shots: H.P. Lovecraft would love the latest infrared pics from the Helix Nebula, which reveal a dead star 700 light years from Earth that bears a spooky resemblance to a blazing red eye. Dr. Kate Su, a UA astrophysicist, is reporting in the March 1 edition of Astrophysical Journal Letters that photos taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope show a white dwarf that likely has comets crashing all around it, kicking up a whole bunch of space dust that glows green in the infrared spectrum. Either that, or we've finally discovered the eye of Cthulhu. You make the call..


Mock Trial

Elsewhere on a campus in crisis: UA President Robert Shelton expressed his disappointment that a handful of students followed the national trend of dressing in blackface and adopting a ghetto theme to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

"Over the past few days, there have been expressions of shock, anger, sadness, fear and disillusionment on our campus that have come from Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, African-American and international students and employees," Shelton wrote in a missive that was sensitively crafted to include everyone on campus. "I have also read letters to the editor in the Arizona Daily Wildcat defending the party by citing free speech, and scoffing at any assertion that it matters that someone might be hurt or offended by this behavior. It does matter.

"At institutions like ours, including the University of Arizona, freedom of speech is valued as it must and should be," Shelton continued. "However, with that right comes great responsibility. Do we assert freedom of speech and then create havoc by jokingly mentioning bombs and hijackings at airports? When attending a movie, do you shrug your shoulders, think 'freedom of speech' and then overlook the loud, obnoxious person talking on their cell phone? Or do we consider how our words and actions might affect others?"

UA diversity officials are holding forums in hopes that the students will hug it out by spring break.


Ride 'Em, Midnight Cowboy

As Ken Kesey observed: You're either on the bus or off the bus--but here in Tucson, you can now get on the bus a little later. Sun Tran announced several routes, including Broadway Boulevard/Sixth Street, Speedway Boulevard and 12th Avenue/Oracle Road, will be providing service until midnight, with five others extended to 11 p.m. Now if they could just get that trolley up and running ...


Dread Weed

A buffelgrass summit on Feb. 9 brought together more than 120 people from the UA, Pima Association of Governments, U.S. Geological Survey, city of Tucson, Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Pima County and private volunteer groups to discuss ways to eradicate the invasive species. An African perennial grass that is spreading willy-nilly across the Southern Arizona, buffelgrass is wiping out native species by snatching up water and nutrients. On top of that, it's a major fire hazard, which is why local environmentalists are declaring war on it.

After the summit, USGS senior scientist Julio Betancourt press-released: "Buffelgrass is spreading exponentially. Populations of buffelgrass appear to be doubling in size every year, and so is the cost of mitigation. The time to act is now, and we must act decisively."


Hits and Misses

Let's look on the bright side of being a UA sports fan: The UA softball team beat Texas Tech 8-1 on Sunday, Feb. 18, winning the Worth Wildcat Invitational and improving to 9-2 on the season. And although the UA baseball team lost two of three away games to Cal-State Fullerton over the weekend, the squad has also started the season with a 9-2 record.

One minor disappointment: The men's basketball team finished up the final homestand of the season with the worst Pac-10 loss in McKale Center during Coach Lute Olson's Arizona career. The UCLA Bruins beat the Cats 81-66 on Saturday, Feb. 17. Two days earlier, on Thursday, Feb. 15, the University of Southern California Trojans beat the Cats 80-75. The losses leave the Cats 17-9 on the season and 8-7 in Pac-10 play.

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