NASA probe finds opals in Martian crevices + What the heck is a boffin?

By | October 30, 2008

A NASA space probe orbiting Mars has discovered deposits of opals in the mighty Valles Marineris canyon system* east of Tharsis. Opals aren’t valuable enough to justify interplanetary trade, but the discovery is significant as it suggests that liquid water existed on Mars a billion years more recently than had been thought.

“This is an exciting discovery because it extends the time range for liquid water on Mars, and the places where it might have supported life,” said Scott Murchie of Johns Hopkins University, in charge of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s spectrometer scope.

“The identification of opaline silica tells us that water may have existed as recently as 2 billion years ago.” … – register

The story mentions boffins again. I’ve been meaning to look this up for a few years now. Finally did.

In the slang of the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, boffins are scientists, engineers, and other people who are stereotypically seen as engaged in technical or scientific research. … the use of “Boffin” by Dickens found its way into naval slang. The Baffin plane, being a naval torpedo craft, perhaps took its variant name from the same naval tradition. The café on the coast at East Anglia took its name from the naval tradition. Then, to counteract spies the term “boffins” was taken from naval slang at the outbreak of war in 1939, and became widely applied as a convenient euphemism for research scientists. – wiki

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