Researchers pinpoint site where search for life on Mars could begin

Researchers have found a patch of land in an ancient valley on Mars that they believe is of significant interest  in the search for signs of past life forms on the Red Planet.

The site discovered by researchers from Trinity College Dublin was flooded by water in the not-too-distant past, and the suggestion that water was once present at the site means that it may be of particular interest during future missions to the Mars.

“These findings are hugely significant,” said Dr Mary Bourke of Trinity College Dublin. “Firstly, the Martian sand dunes show evidence that water may have been active near Mars’ equator – potentially in the not-too-distant past. And secondly, this location is now a potential geological target for detecting past life forms on the Red Planet, which is important to those involved in selecting sites for future missions.”

The discovery on Mars was made possible by the team from Trinity College’s previous study of the Namib Desert.

In a remote sensing study of the Namib Desert, the researchers had previously noted the same patterns occuring between migrating sand dunes.

Fieldwork subsequently showed that these patterns – described by the searchers as “arcuate striations” – were a consequence of dune sediments being left behind once groundwater had evaporated. These dune sediments later were found to be relatively immobile, which means they are left behind as the dunes continue to migrate downwind.

“On Earth, desert dunefields are periodically flooded by water in areas of fluctuating groundwater, and where lakes, rivers and coasts are found in proximity. These periodic floods leave tell-tale patterns behind them,” said Bourke.

“You can imagine our excitement when we scanned satellite images of an area on Mars and saw this same patterned calling card, suggesting that water had been present in the relatively recent past.”

The finding on Mars come just weeks after NASA described current plans for a manned mission to Mars as “fragile”, and called for the establishment of a “Marz Czar” or a specialist mission office to adequate preparations were put in place for an unprecedented mission to the Red Planet.

The hypothesis proposed by Trinity College researchers may give fresh impetus to the search for life on Mars.

“Following our work in Namibia, we hypothesise that on Mars, similar arcuate striations [patterns] exposed on the surface between dunes are also indications of fluctuating levels of salty groundwater, during a time when dunes were actively migrating down the valley.”

The researchers’ full findings are available in Geophysical Research Letters.

DeepMind’s Go-playing AI can learn the game for itself now

Google’s AI subsidiary DeepMind believes it is one step closer to creating AI with general intelligence because its Go-playing software, AlphaGo, has been updated and can now teach itself how to play. AlphaGo Zero was only programmed with Go's basic rules, and from there it learns everything else by itself.

Source: The Verge

UK spies monitoring social media in mass surveillance tactic

The privacy rights group Privacy International says it has obtained evidence for the first time that UK spy agencies are collecting social media information on potentially millions of people. The discovery raises concerns about whether effective oversight of the mass surveillance programs is in place.

Source: TechCrunch

Blue Origin passes hot-fire test

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Source: Ars Technica

5G to be used by 1 billion people in 2023 with China set to dominate

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Source: CNBC

Climate change makes it more likely to see hurricanes in Europe

Meteorologists from the University of Bristol have predicted that the likelihood of hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, much like Hurricane Ophelia did this week, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change.

Source: New Scientist

Russia to launch 'CryptoRuble’

According to local news sources, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that the nation will issue its own cryptocurrency at a closed door meeting in Moscow. The news broke via minister of communications, Nikolay Nikiforov.

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Human habitat located on the Moon that will shield us from its extreme elements

Researchers have discovered a potential habitat on the Moon, which may protect astronauts from hazardous conditions on the surface.

No one has ever been on the Moon for longer than three days, largely because space suits alone can’t shield astronauts from its elements: extreme temperature variation, radiation, and meteorite impacts. Unlike Earth, the Moon also has no atmosphere or magnetic field to protects its inhabitants.

However, in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers have claimed that the safest place for astronauts to seek shelter is inside an intact lava tube.

“It’s important to know where and how big lunar lava tubes are if we’re ever going to construct a lunar base,” said Junichi Haruyama, a senior researcher at JAXA, Japan’s space agency.

Image courtesy of Purdue University/David Blair. Featured image courtesy of NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Lava tubes are naturally occurring channels formed when a lava flow develops a hard crust, which thickens and forms a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. Once the lava stops flowing, the tunnel sometimes drains, forming a hollow void.

The Lava tubes located by Purdue University researchers are said to be spacious enough to house one of the United States’ largest cities, and while their existence – and in particular their entrance near the Marius Hills Skylight – was previously known, their size was previously an unknown quantity.

“They knew about the skylight in the Marius Hills, but they didn’t have any idea how far that underground cavity might have gone,” said Jay Melosh, professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University.

“Our group at Purdue used the gravity data over that area to infer that the opening was part of a larger system. By using this complimentary technique of radar, they were able to figure out how deep and high the cavities are.”

At the first meeting of the US’ reintroduced National Space Council, vice president Mike Pence announced that the Trump administration will redirect America’s focus to travelling back to the Moon.

Pence’s declaration marks a fundamental change for NASA, which abandoned plans to send people to the moon in favour of Mars under President Barack Obama.

“We will return NASA astronauts to the moon – not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said.