Editor's note:Â We're listening to you. Every day, we spot thought-provoking comments from readers. What follows is a look at some of the most talked-about stories of the day.
"Space ... the final frontier. These are the voyages of the rover Curiosity. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."
–ARAKUN, CNN.com commenter
As we get more pictures back from the Mars rover Curiosity, readers seem to be talking about it more and more. Light YearsÂ asked readers toÂ caption three photosÂ of the Red Planet and got more than 300 responses. The caption above, given by user talkhazin, was one of theÂ three selectedÂ by editors.Â TheÂ social media galaxyÂ has been buzzing about the fourth rock from the sunÂ all week.
1. Why we love Mars
2. Drought vs. food
3. Running on a broken leg
4. Fossil research
5. Pet names
This opinion piece by Greg Bear brought out even more joy from our readers, who say space and science are important to our country. We also saw counterarguments from those who think space research is nice but are concerned that there are other things the money is needed for. You could see these views at odds.
fasteddie09: "Mars is important because it is Earthlike. Mars used to be much warmer and wetter than it is today. What went wrong? By trying to understand Mars' history, we can improve our understanding of Earth's geology and climate. When you study only one world, Earth, your knowledge is limited to a data set of one observation. The more you expand that data set, the greater your understanding can become. Closed minds narrowly focused on the ground and the now have little hope of making discoveries."
sandMonkeys: "Wow, go back to watching 'Star Trek,' nerd. We're not going to colonize Mars. That's too expensive and ultimately it gives us nothing in return. It's a pipe dream."
Justanothermonkeyman: "I love the Mars missions! The only sad part is that more people don't care about them. I think it is a shame that most people care about celebrity news more. I mean COME ON - we landed a probe on another planet! That's so amazing and intriguing to me!"
CanadaPride4: "You want to know why I love Mars? Because I don't. It is a big rock that doesn't do anything. It is a stupid big rock."
Some readers were concerned about what humans plan to do on Mars. FULL POST
The CNN Daily Mash-up is a roundup of some of the most interesting, surprising, curious, poignant or significant items to appear on CNN.com in the past 24 hours. We top it with a collection of the day's most striking photographs from around the world.
CNN's Ben Wedeman gives a harrowing account of a trip into the besieged city of Aleppo, Syria, describing snipers, street vendors selling their wares as bombs fall, and a spectrum of conditions and attitudes among civilians. An 11-year-old girl named Nahla told Wedeman that government forces keep bombing her neighborhood:
We're confused. We feel they want to attack us. We left this area before, then came back. Now we want to leave again, but we can't.
Project Morpheus, a new NASA test spacecraft carrying a prototype moon lander, crashed and burned Thursday during a test flight at Kennedy Space Center, CNN affiliate WKMG reports.
Complete coverage and all the conversations surrounding the 2012 London Games are available at CNN's "Aiming for Gold" Olympic blog.
[Posted at 5:16 p.m. ET] Hands on hearts as they close out the ceremony with the "Star-Spangled Banner." The young women on the U.S. team are smiling and singing victoriously with shiny new, gold medals dangling from their necks. That's it for the live blog. We appreciate you stopping in, and we hope you enjoyed the coverage!
[Posted at 5:13 p.m. ET] Sounds like the crowd cheers loudest for Wambach, who at 32, might be standing on that podium for the last time, but who knows?
[Posted at 5:11 p.m. ET] The three-time reigning Olympic champs are up next. As they hold their locked hands aloft in victory, the crowd cheers. Hope Solo gets her gold medal first. She's beaming.
[Posted at 5:07 p.m. ET] The Japanese women are bearing wide grins as well as "Chariots of Fire" plays in the stadium. You wouldn't know they just lost a heartbreaker of a soccer match. They seem thrilled with their silver medals as they show them off for the cameras. They should be proud. They just played one heck of a physical match.
[Posted at 5:04 p.m. ET] Now, the Canadians - decked out in their new silverware, hanging from their necks on purple lanyards - are accepting bouquets. They're all smiles as they lift the bouquets to the cheers of the crowd.
[Posted at 5 p.m. ET] The teams have taken the field for the medal ceremony. The third-place Canadians go first and are receiving their bronze medals.
[Posted at 4:58 p.m. ET] OK, time for some fun. The U.S. Soccer Federation wants to have a little fill in the blank contest. Tweet back at them, or let us know below how the win made you feel:
[Posted at 4:54 p.m. ET] Well, that didn't take long. Nike already has its ad out:
[Posted at 4:51 p.m. ET] U.S. women's national team just tweeted, calling this fine group of soccer players "golden":
[Posted 4:48 p.m. ET] The U.S. women's gold just put the country in a tie with China for most gold medals, at 37. The U.S. is still leading in total medals.
Interpol has issued an international wanted notice for conservationist and âWhale Warsâ TV star Paul Watson, days after he skipped bail in Germany as Costa Rica tried to have him extradited.
Watson was arrested at Germanyâs Frankfurt airport on May 13 on an arrest warrant issued by Costa Rica, which accuses him of endangering a fishing vessel off the coast of Guatemala in 2002.
He posted roughly $302,000 bail and was ordered to remain in Germany as it considered Costa Ricaâs extradition request, but he stopped reporting to authorities on July 22, a German court said. Watson left Germany and forfeited his bail, according to his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which isnât revealing his location.
âFollowing confirmation from German authorities that Paul Watson had failed to satisfy the bail conditions established by the German courts and had fled the country, Costa Rican authorities renewed their requestâ for Interpol to issue an international wanted noticeÂ for Watson, which Interpol did Tuesday, Interpol said.
Costa Rican authorities allege that Watson - whose attempts to disrupt Japanese whalers at sea gained him fame on Animal Planetâs âWhale Warsâ TV show - and his crew aboard Sea Shepherdâs Ocean Warrior ship endangered a Costa Rican fishing vessel during a confrontation off Guatemalaâs coast.
At least 57Â membersÂ of an Islamist sect, including children,Â have beenÂ discovered living underground in the Republic of Tatarstan, according to Russian police.
Many of them have never even seen the sun, authorities said.
The sect members, which includes at least 19 children ages 1 to 17, were freed. They were found August 1 duringÂ a police raid performed as part of an ongoing investigation into militant groups in Tatarstan. The bunker, which appeared to beÂ made ofÂ decrepit concrete blocks, has multipleÂ levels below groundÂ with tight-quartered cells that have no light, ventilation or heat.
The leader of the sect is reportedly Fayzrahman Satarov, anÂ 83-year-oldÂ whoÂ pronounced himself a prophetÂ destined to direct aÂ caliphate,Â according toÂ a report by Russia state TV channel Vesti.
Amid chants of defiance, police detained Satarov and some other members, and they are facing charges.
Russian media reports say his followers lived in isolation, refusing to recognize Russian laws or the authority of mainstream Muslim leaders in Tatastan.
The bunkerÂ is located near the cityÂ of Kazan in Tatarstan,Â about 500 miles from Moscow.
TatarstanÂ is majority Muslim andÂ oil rich.
Shireen T. Hunter is a noted scholar on Islam and Russia, and is the director of the Carnegie Project on Reformist Islam at Georgetown University.Â She has visited Tatarstan and Kazan several times to do research.
It's important, she said, to keep in mind that little is known about the group and simply because the leader identifies himself as Islamist, there should not be immediate connectionsÂ drawn between the group and Islam in the area as a whole.
"This could just be some 83-year-old who wants to control people," she said. "This may have nothing at all to do with radical or extreme Islam as we understand it. This man - creating a caliphate? How is he going to do that? This just doesn't seem like the modis operandi of a serious radical cell bent on challenging the government."
Kazan is a pleasant city with coffee and clothing shops, Hunter said.Â Â Some women wear hijabs, others don't. Some women work and other choose not to, she said. In recent years, many people have bought villas and other housing in Kazan.
It's conceivable to her that a group could live underground and go unnoticed for years.
"If I decided to live underground in Washington, D.C., I could do that, and so could other people," she said.
Health worker Tatiana Moroz told CNN that the children are in "satisfactory condition" and that they have been fed. Some were sent to the hospital for care.
"Upon receipt from the building, the children were in satisfactory condition," she said. "The children were all fed, although they were dirty. Upon receiving them, we washed them. They have undergone a full examination - all the Russian specialists have examined them, and taken all the analyses. [Friday] the full analyses will be finished and we will give our final conclusion about the condition of their health."
CNN's Matthew Chance contributed to this report.
The drought that's drying up the Heartland isn't just an American problem. It's causing food prices to surge worldwide.
And it could get worse.
"This is not some gentle monthly wake-up call, it's the same global alarm that's been screaming at us since 2008," said Colin Roche of Oxfam, noting that the drought could lead to food shortages for millions of people worldwide.
Food is a major U.S. export, so the drought affects prices around the globe.
"World leaders must snap out of their lazy complacency and realize the time of cheap food has long gone," Roche said.
In July, food prices jumped 6%, after three months of declines, according to the United Nations' monthly Food Price Index released Thursday. The main drivers behind the increase? Grain prices. And more specifically, corn prices, which have hitÂ record highs in recent weeks.
According to the U.N. report, global corn prices surged nearly 23% in July, exacerbated by "the severe deterioration of maize crop prospects in the United States, following drought conditions and excessive heat during critical stages of the crop development."
"It's going to have a big impact [on consumers]," said Sam Zippin, an analyst at financial information firm Sageworks. "Corn is in almost everything."
Food prices have been creeping up throughout the United States, as hot temperatures across the Midwestern and Western parts of the nation have dried out crops and driven up the price of corn and grain.FULL CNNMONEY.COM STORY
The Atlantic Ocean may have a couple more named storms this year than the National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationÂ initially predicted, the group said Thursday.
NOAA now predicts 12 to 17 named storms, up from the nine to 15 it predicted shortly before the June 1 start of hurricane season. Six named storms, including the current Tropical Storm/Hurricane Ernesto, have been produced so far.
For the Atlantic Ocean, a normal season would produce 12 named storms (with top sustained winds of at least 39 mph), including six hurricanes and three major ones.
NOAAÂ also adjusted its predicted hurricane range, to five to eight (up from four to eight). Two to three of those should be major hurricanes, meaning Category 3 (with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph) or higher, NOAA says.FULL STORY
The race to the presidency now turns toward the general election in November.Â CNN.com Live is your home for all the latest news and views from the campaign trail.
Today's programming highlights...
Continuing coverage - Tropical Storm Ernesto
12:45 pm ET - Obama talks economy - President Obama continues his campaign swing through Colorado today with two events.Â The first one will be in Pueblo, followed by a speech in Colorado Springs at 3:30 pm ET.
A Delaware doctor and his wife were arrested this week after their daughter told authorities that she was punished by "waterboading," police said.
The 11-year-old girl told police that her father, pediatrician Melvin Morse, would hold her face under a running facuet causing the water to shoot up her nose, the Delaware State Police said. The punishments happened at least four times over a two-year period and the girl's mother, Pauline Morse, witnessed some of them and did nothing, police said.
Morse specializes in near-death experiences in children and wrote a book about the subject called "Closer to the Light" in 1991.
"In hundreds of interviews with children who had once been declared clinically dead, Dr. Morse found that children too young to have absorbed our adult views and ideas of death, share first-hand accounts of out-of-body travel, telepathic communication and encounters with dead friends and relatives," a reviewer wrote about the book.FULL STORY
Tropical Storm Ernesto hugged the southern edge of the Bay of Campeche early Thursday, quickly strengthening in its warm waters, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm's forecast map shows it regaining hurricane status by mid-morning.
As of 2 a.m. ET, the storm was about 30 miles (50 km) north-northeast of Paraiso and about 100 miles (160 km) east-northeast of Coatzacoalcos, the center reported. Ernesto was moving west at 16 mph with packing maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
"Some additional strengthening is expected and Ernesto is forecast to become a hurricane before making landfall," forecasters said. "Weakening is expected after the center moves over land."
A storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.
After crossing the Yucatan Peninsula Wednesday, Ernesto is expected to make landfall a second time on Mexico's coast by Thursday night.FULL STORY