The Range


The UA Lunar and Planetary Lab continued its invasion of Mars last week, with the robot arm aboard the Phoenix space craft scooping up samples from the soil of the northern arctic plain for analysis in the spacecraft's Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer, or TEGA, a tiny oven designed to heat the soil and sniff the gases that are given off for a chemical breakdown. The analysis hit a snag when very little of the soil got past a screen on the tiny oven chamber.

Possible culprit: The soil is too clumpy, according to Doug Ming, a Phoenix science team member from NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Says Ming: "We're a little surprised at how much this material is clumping together when we dig into it."

The science team tried vibrating the screen, but only a few particles fell into the oven. As a result, the science team was planning on trying a new technique this week involving shaking up the soil while it was still in the robotic arm so that just a small sample would fall on the oven's door.

Meanwhile, the optical microscope aboard the Phoenix has returned the highest-resolution photo ever taken of Martian dust and sand. Michael Hecht, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, who is the lead scientist for Phoenix's Microscopy, Electrochemistry and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) instrument, said the image was a test run for the microscope before the robot arm delivers an actual soil sample.


FALLEN HERO: The Range salutes Tucson Police Officer Erik Hite, who dies from wounds suffered one day earlier during a cross-town pursuit of a heavily armed nutjob who had gone on a Sunday-morning shooting spree. Hite, 43, an Air Force veteran who had been on the force for four years, was allegedly shot in the head by David Nickolas Delich, 25, who had been the target of a pursuit by Tucson police and Pima County deputies after he opened fire on homes on the northwest side.

Delich was captured on Mount Lemmon after reportedly killing Hite and shooting at several other officers. He is in Pima County Jail facing charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault on law enforcers and discharging firearms at a structure.

TWO BITS: The Arizona quarter is released by the U.S. Mint. Gov. Janet Napolitano declares: "When Americans reach into their pocket, this quarter will remind them of two iconic images of Arizona and the American West--the Grand Canyon and the saguaro cactus. Enjoy them, collect them and spend them with pride in our great state."


JUST IN TIME TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE: Moments after Sen. Barack Obama claims the Democratic nomination in a stirring speech in front of 17,000 people in St. Paul, Minn., Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords announces that her superdelegate vote will go to the Illinois senator. Says Giffords: "Now that all primaries and caucuses have concluded, I am enthusiastically endorsing Sen. Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States."


SEE YOU IN COURT: The Center for Biological Diversity, the Tucson Audubon Society and the Maricopa Audubon Society team up to sue Pinal County, saying that officials have illegally seized property in the lower San Pedro riverbed to create a road. The conservation groups say that Pinal County didn't consult federal agencies before using eminent domain to grab the property and don't have property permits to create the passageway across the riverbed, which is being used by off-road vehicles that are damaging the river banks.

"Pinal County's advocacy for wanton ORV abuse in such a sensitive and important conservation preserve is inexcusable," press-released Herb Fibel of the Maricopa Audubon Society.


HIGHER AND HIGHER: Tucson drivers see the average cost of a gallon of gas climb another 7.2 cents this week to an average of $3.725, according to the weekly survey by AAA Arizona. That's the lowest average in the state, say AAA staffers.


BUFFY RULES: It's the first day of the weekend's Buffy the Vampire Slayer conference in Little Rock, Ark., according to The Associated Press, which informs us that more than 90 academic papers will be discussed, including "Buffy and Identity" and "Hero's Journey, Heroine's Return: Buffy, Eurydice and the Orpheus Myth." We never realized how smart we were when we were watching that show!


ABOUT TIME: New York Sen. Hillary Clinton finally packs it in, delivering a speech in which she throws her support to Barack Obama.

"The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand, is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States," says Clinton. "Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him."


SO LONG, JAKE: State Sen. Jake Flake dies of a heart attack at his home in Snowflake, where he had been recuperating from a fall from a horse. Flake, 72, was in his second term in the Senate; he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996.

SEASON'S END: The UA's baseball team's bid for a College World Series slot ended when the Bat Cats lost to Miami, 4-2. Arizona won the first game of the three-game series against the Hurricanes before losing the next two.