The ancient Martian Lake, Mandela's memorial speakers, Gabby's PAC plans, and more from the Slatest PM.

Slatest PM: Ancient Martian Lake Raises (Small) Hopes of Life

Slatest PM: Ancient Martian Lake Raises (Small) Hopes of Life

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Dec. 9 2013 4:46 PM

Slatest PM: Ancient Martian Lake Raises (Small) Hopes of Life

In this handout provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech, tracks from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover are seen August 22, 2012 on Mars

Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech via Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.

An Ancient Martian Lake: Washington Post: "NASA’s steady reconnaissance of Mars with the Curiosity rover has produced another major discovery: evidence of an ancient lake with water that could plausibly be described as drinkable, and which was part of a long-standing, wet environment that could have supported simple forms of life. Scientists have known that the young Mars was more Earthlike than the desert planet we see today, but this is the best evidence yet that Mars had swimming holes that stuck around for thousands or perhaps millions of years. ... Scientists had announced this year that they’d found signs of an ancient, fresh-water lake within Gale Crater, but the new reports provide a much more detailed analysis, including the first scientific measurements of the age of rocks on another planet."


Where There's Water...: New York Times:  "Whether any life ever appeared on Mars is not yet known, and Curiosity was not designed to answer that question. But the data coming back from the planet indicate that the possibility of life, at least in the ancient past, is at least plausible. John P. Grotzinger, a professor of geology at the California Institute of Technology who is the project scientist for the Curiosity mission, said that if certain microbes like those on present-day Earth had plopped into that ancient Martian lake, they would most likely have found a pleasant place to call home. ... But that location would have been an extremely challenging environment for life to take hold — very salty and highly acidic. Later, the scientists said the soils had been soaked not so much by water as by sulfuric acid. ... What has not been found yet is solid evidence for the carbon molecules known as organics that could serve as the building blocks of life. Such molecules are not always preserved in stone and are destroyed by radiation."

It's Monday, December 9th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

Largest of Its Kind: NBC News: "An open-air stadium packed with as many as 95,000 mourners, and thousands more surging to get close. On the inside, one current and three former presidents of the United States, and the leaders of most of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday will be the biggest security event in modern memory — planned on just five days’ notice. South African police said that thousands of officers would be in place to direct traffic, protect the masses and help the bodyguards that the world’s dignitaries bring with them. High government officials, mostly presidents and prime ministers, from at least 88 countries and world bodies will be there, according to an official list from the South African government."


Obama-Castro to Bookend: Washington Post: "President Obama will be one of six foreign leaders to speak Tuesday at Nelson Mandela's memorial service.... Obama is scheduled to speak first among the foreign leaders selected. He will be followed by Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff.... China's vice president Li Yuanchao, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee will follow. Cuba's president, Raul Castro, will conclude that portion of the program."

LA Officers Charged: Los Angeles Times: "Several Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies who have been the subject of excessive force accusations have been charged with criminal civil-rights violations, according to the federal court's website. Among the deputies who are listed as being in custody and scheduled to appear in court are deputies Fernando Luviano and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, who allegedly took part in a controversial force incident involving a jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo. Carrillo alleged he was beaten while handcuffed while visiting his brother at the Men's Central Jail in February 2011. Carrillo was initially charged with battery against the deputies following the incident but prosecutors abruptly dropped the case, telling a judge they were awaiting more reports from the Sheriff's Department."


Plastic Guns: Associated Press: "Racing a midnight deadline, Congress is ready to renew the expiring ban on plastic firearms that can evade airport detection machines. But lawmakers are sure to reject toughening those restrictions — the latest defeat for gun-control forces in the year since the grade school massacre in Newtown, Conn. The Senate planned to give final congressional approval Monday evening to a 10-year extension of the prohibition against guns that can slip past metal detectors and X-ray machines. The quarter-century-old ban has been renewed twice and would expire Tuesday without action. But first, senators were set to defeat an effort by Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to strengthen the ban by requiring that such weapons contain undetachable metal parts. Some plastic guns meet the letter of current law with a metal piece that can be removed, making them a threat to be slipped past security screeners at schools, airports and elsewhere. ... The National Rifle Association, which has been instrumental in blocking gun restrictions, has expressed no opposition to renewing the law. But the gun lobby said it would fight any expanded requirements, including Schumer's, 'that would infringe on our Second Amendment rights' to bear arms."

Covering Newtown, or Not: Huffington Post: "Newtown government officials have asked that the media stay clear of their town when it marks the first anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. ... CNN's Brooke Baldwin also said on Monday that CNN would not be reporting live from Newtown on the anniversary, although it will have coverage of the day featured on the network. NBC and ABC News have also said that they have 'no plans to dispatch fully equipped crews through Newtown that day.' ...."


Gabby's PAC: USA Today: "Former congresswoman Gabby Gifford's political action committees will play an active role in House and Senate races next year in a push to 'change the map' in Congress after lawmakers failed to pass any significant gun control or mental health legislation, Gifford's husband, Mark Kelly, said Monday. Their team has not identified the congressional races, but they are sifting through about two dozen competitive House contests and about a half-dozen Senate races and are likely to winnow the list, Kelly said. ... The group's super PAC arm raised $6.5 million during its first six months and spent $600,000 on mailings, online ads and other political activity to back the successful campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in last month's race for Virginia governor. Super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, but cannot donate directly to candidates or coordinate their activity with the politicians they support."

Crumbling Arches: Reuters: "McDonald's Corp on Monday reported another sluggish month of sales at established restaurants, results that suggest the famed hamburger chain is losing U.S. market share to rivals. The fast-food chain, the world's largest by revenue, has struggled for more than a year to significantly increase those monthly sales, hindered by slack demand and intense competition for the business of budget-conscious diners. November's biggest disappointment came from the United States, where monthly sales at restaurants open at least 13 months fell 0.8 percent, versus the 0.3 percent gain expected, on average, by 14 analysts polled by Consensus Metrix. ...  Wall Street initially expected the chain's fortunes to turn this past spring because its results would be compared with weak monthly numbers starting in the spring of 2012."

That's all for today. See you back here tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.