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Why the Curiosity Rover is Forbidden From Collecting Water on Mars

In 2015 NASA announced that they found definitive evidence of liquid water on Mars. But while obtaining a physical sample would revolutionize science, it’s forbidden by international law. 

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents every nation on Earth from sending a mission, robot or human, close to a water source in the fear of contaminating it with life from Earth [PDF]. In its 140-million-mile journey from Earth to Mars, it’s possible that Curiosity has carried harmful microbes all the way from home. Even though NASA tries its best to sterilize all space-traveling equipment before launch by subjecting it to intense ultraviolet light, it still might harbor microbial hitchhikers.

In theory, NASA could turn up the heat and radiation to a level pretty much guaranteed to destroy any microbial life—but that could also end up wiping out the rover’s internal systems. "In order to be completely sterile, they'd have to use really powerful ionizing radiation or heat, both of which would damage the electronics,” University of New South Wales astrobiologist Malcolm Walter told Fairfax Media. "So they go as far as they dare."

Another issue that would prevent Curiosity from investigating the water source is the terrain itself. The slopes where the streaks formed are steep and therefore difficult to navigate. Future Mars rovers could be designed with this hurdle in mind, and they could also come equipped with DNA sequencers to test for life or 3D-printing capabilities to build smaller bots with little to no chance of being contaminated.

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Unfortunately, it’s too late for NASA modify the next generation of Mars rovers, which is set to launch in 2020. The European Space Agency says it plans to send an organic molecule analyzer on its 2018 ExoMars mission, though they still wouldn’t be able to test Martian water unless they could guarantee 100 percent sterilization.

[h/t: Science Alert]

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Food
In a Delicious Rivalry, Two Pierogi Festivals Fight Over a Shared Name
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Whiting, Indiana and Edwardsville, Pennsylvania are embroiled in a duel of the dumplings. While located in different regions of the U.S., the two municipalities share a local tradition: They host annual festivals that celebrate Polish pierogies, which are fried dough morsels stuffed with meat, cheese, potatoes, fruits, and other fillings. Both events are called "Pierogi Fest"—and as Smithsonian reports, neither town is pleased about it. And now, they're in a nasty legal battle over the name.

Technically speaking, Whiting's Pierogi Fest—and its moniker, which the city trademarked in 2007—came first: Their event was launched more than two decades ago, whereas the inaugural Edwardsville Pierogi Festival took place in 2014. The following year, the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce—which runs Indiana's Pierogi Fest—sent a letter to their their dumpling-loving rivals in the Keystone State, threatening to sue them for infringing on their name.

The Edwardsville Hometown Committee—which runs Pennsylvania's Pierogi Fest—didn't comply with the request. So in June 2017, Whiting officials followed up with a second legal threat, which they mailed to the Edwardsville Hometown Committee and five of its sponsors. This move reportedly made some local businesses think twice about supporting the event.

Instead of backing down, Edwardsville officials flexed their own legal muscle: They filed a federal lawsuit against the Whiting Pierogi Fest's organizers, alleging that they "willfully and tortiously interfered with the Hometown Committee's relationship with sponsors" by "threatening them with liability for the claimed trademark infringement," according to The Chicago Tribune. They're requesting compensation for damages and attorney fees, and official legal permission to continue using the name Pierogi Fest.

Whiting officials—who, in recent years, also filed a successful infringement lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival—say that the similarly named festivals cause "consumer confusion," even though Whiting's festival is much larger and more established than the one in Edwardsville. Meanwhile, pierogi lovers in Edwardsville argue that the two dumpling fests are held so far away from each other that having the same name shouldn't be a big deal. 

The 2017 Edwardsville and Whiting Pierogi Fests have already passed, but the legal battle between the two towns rages on. Hopefully by the time the 2018 festivals roll around, the two municipalities will have finally settled their nasty dough-spute once and for all.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Animals
Swans Used to Be an Aristocratic Delicacy—Now They're Practically Royalty
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If you've ever wondered why people in the United Kingdom eat duck, chicken, and goose, but never swan, there is a simple explanation for that: Swans are the property of Queen Elizabeth II, who exercises a strict no-eating policy for the birds that dwell on London's River Thames.

In fact, she's even hired individuals called "swan markers" to protect the royal species. Great Big Story caught up with David Barber, a swan marker tasked with looking after the swans wherever the Queen has requested service. Among his responsibilities is "swan upping," a practice that has taken place since the 12th century. Once a year, Barber—alongside a crew of people in six rowing skiffs—rides along the River Thames collecting information about the birds. During this excursion, the crew will weigh and measure every swan they encounter, as well as check for any injuries or diseases.

A couple of years ago, the Queen herself joined the team for their annual excursion. As for whether she enjoyed herself? Well, Barber wouldn't dare answer for the Queen, but he suspects so.

Watch the video from Great Big Story below:

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