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Huge lake of liquid water found on Mars



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A huge liquid water lake has been found on Mars, stretching 20 km (12.4 mi) and buried beneath 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of ice at the Red Planet's south pole(Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

A huge lake of liquid water has been found on Mars. The groundbreaking discovery comes after years of evidence of the Red Planet’s watery past and icy present, but this is the first time a significant amount of the life-giving liquid has been detected. Discovered through satellite radar readings, the lake lies beneath the ice caps at the south pole of Mars, and has profound implications for future missions and the search for extraterrestrial life.

According to its discoverers, the lake lies below 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of solid ice, and stretches 20 km (12.4 mi) wide. Although temperatures at that spot plummet to about -68° C (-90° F), the water remains in a liquid form thanks to the heavy presence of sodium, magnesium and calcium salts. This, along with the immense pressure of the ice from above, lowers the freezing point.

The discovery was made by astronomers using the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) onboard the Mars Express orbiter. This instrument beams radar pulses down to the planet’s surface and measures how the waves reflect back to the spacecraft, which can tell scientists what kind of materials lie down there, even below the surface.

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Credit: NASA/JPL

Using MARSIS to survey a region around the south pole of the Red Planet, the team collected 29 sets of radar samplings between May 2012 and December 2015. A section of this area returned very sharp changes in the radar signals, showing up as a bright spot in the image that’s consistent with a water interface. The radar profile, the researchers say, closely matches those of subglacial lakes here on Earth, beneath the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

Although it seems like “water found on Mars” headlines have been doing the rounds for years, this discovery is really what it’s all been building to. The majority of modern Mars is dry and barren, but plenty of evidence has been found that the Red Planet used to be a much wetter place. NASA studies suggest a vast ocean covered the planet’s northern hemisphere some 4.3 billion years ago, and lakes may have filled and emptied repeatedly over tens of millions of years in places like Gale Crater, the landing site of the Curiosity rover.

Nowadays, water exists on the Red Planet in the form of trace amounts of vapor in the atmosphere, or locked away in underground ice sheets and mineral compounds. Any liquid water was believed to be transitional, pooling in short-lived microscopic puddles or flowing down hillsides in the Martian summer.

The discovery of a large, stable reserve of liquid water on Mars is massive, giving us new potential targets for future missions and places to search for signs of past or present microbial life – although the sheer saltiness of it might kill those hopes.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: AAAS via Eurekalert


Green activists to build a Taj with plastic/polythene waste in Agra

Eco-bricks are made of plastic bottles that are stuffed with polythene bags and sealed.



Taj mahal

Agra, Jan 22 : Green activists will attempt to construct a Taj Mahal with plastic and polythene waste at the Etmauddaula viewpoint park on the Yamuna river here.

At a workshop here by NGO Unfold Foundation to train activists on making eco-bricks with plastic bottles, members of the River Connect Campaign announced they would work on putting together a model of the Taj Mahal with these building blocks. The efforts could take around six months.

Eco-bricks are made of plastic bottles that are stuffed with polythene bags and sealed.

“This is a highly cost effective waste-control exercise based on common sense. We collect used plastic bottles, pack them with packing material, gutkha pouches and polythene, make the bottles air tight and seal them. The bottles become rock solid and are good enough to last 500 years,” Dr Meeta Kulshreshtha, a surgeon, and coordinator of Unfold Foundation, told IANS.

“If one person can give us one bottle filled with waste material, in one year, we will have 20 lakh such eco-bricks to build any solid structure,” Programme Convener Harvijay Bahia said.

River Connect Campaign member Chaturbhuj Tiwari said: “Every week when we clean a patch of Yamuna riverbed, we gather heaps of polythene and used plastic material. If we can manage to fill all this in plastic bottles and jars, we could not only help solve a major urban problem, but have material ready for a structure to be used by the public. Tree guards, benches and stools are among the products that can be made.”

The Taj city daily generates around a thousand tons of civic garbage, most of it plastic and polythene waste.

“If each household starts filling up bottles with used polythene bags and sliced plastic, we could easily prevent pollution of rivers and water bodies and also avoid choking of drains and sewer lines,” social activist Shravan Kumar Singh said.

(Brij Khandelwal can be reached at [email protected])

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Marvelled at Moon, humanity’s Martian dream gets bigger in 2018 – 2018 in Retrospect

This year also marked only the second time in history that a human-made object reached the space between the stars as NASA’s Voyager 2 probe exited the heliosphere — the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.



elon musk

New Delhi, Dec 20 : Even as the debate heats up on whether we need a “backup” planet, as advocated by tech billionaire and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the resolve to take humans to Mars got stronger in 2018.

Musk told the media in November that there is “70 per cent chance that he will go to Mars”, despite a “good chance” of him not surviving either on the way or after landing. It is only very likely that only a few people might be willing to join Musk in this journey – either because of the risk or the cost involved.

But his “Starship” (formerly known as the BFR), a fully reusable vehicle designed to take humans and supplies to Mars and also to dramatically cut travel time within Earth, got its first reservation from a private passenger this year — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — who is scheduled to start a journey to the Moon in 2023.

This year, the US space agency NASA also firmed up its plans to return humans to the Moon and use its lunar experience to prepare to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

In February, NASA hosted a conference for scientists to discuss future exploration and research using the Gateway spacecraft that will orbit the Moon and support human and robotic missions. In the following months, the space agency announced several measures to take the mission forward.

“We created new US commercial partnerships to land back on the Moon. We made breakthroughs in our quest to send humans farther into space than ever before,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Boosting such ambition this year was a demonstration of a new nuclear reactor power system that could provide surface power on the Moon and Mars.

What excited the scientists even more was the discovery of a large saltwater lake under the ice near the South Pole on the Red Planet – raising the possibility of life being there on Mars in some form.

The discovery by a team of Italian researchers was made using an instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft.

While a manned-mission to Mars is still at least a decade away, NASA successfully launched this year a probe to “touch the Sun”. The mission broke records for fastest human-made object and closest approach to the Sun, and sent home its first light images – including a picture of Earth – in late October, NASA said, adding that the probe’s first flight through the Sun’s outer atmosphere was on November 7.

In 2018, NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission reached its destination after a two-year journey. The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft arrived at asteroid Bennu on December 3. Analysis of initial data from the mission revealed water locked inside the clay that makes up Bennu.

This year also marked only the second time in history that a human-made object reached the space between the stars as NASA’s Voyager 2 probe exited the heliosphere — the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

The year also bid farewell to two veteran scientific spacecraft – one of them NASA’s Kepler space telescope that ran out of fuel after nine years of searching for planets outside our solar system.

NASA, however, now has a probe to take forward Kepler’s job. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April, is continuing the search for planets outside our solar system.

NASA said its Dawn mission, which was launched in 2007, also ran out of fuel this year, but not before becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two separate bodies in the solar system – the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres.

The year also brought relief to space enthusiasts as Russian Cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and US astronaut Nick Hague escaped unhurt after their Soyuz spacecraft heading to the International Space Station (ISS) had to make an emergency landing due to a booster failure.

And even as the US remains at the forefront of space exploration, the world has learned to train its eyes on China, which is reportedly developing a new-generation manned rocket and spacecraft for its lunar explorations.

(Gokul Bhagabati can be contacted at [email protected])

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Is climate change apocalypse real? Practice is better than preaching

If the climate change apocalypse was imminent, as he noted in his article, why did he undertake that journey?



climate change

Is the looming climate change apocalypse real? In the clearly-demarcated battle lines, the good guys are those who believe it is and the bad guys, like US President Donald Trump, are the doubters as any progressive and most of the media would affirm.

Yet it is also the good guys, the warriors against climate change, who strain the credibility of the phenomenon’s reality – and it is for them to affirm its reality through their personal examples.

On Thursday, former US Secretary of State John Kerry published an op-ed in The New York Times headlined, “Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change.” While he had suggestions for US lawmakers on forcing Trump to act, he was silent on the personal responsibilities for fighting climate change.

At the time that leaders were grappling with climate change strategies at the United Nations conference in Katowice, Poland, he had been to India and danced at the wedding of a petroleum billionaire’s daughter.

On the round trip by air he would have been responsible for about 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, besides other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxides. (For comparison, a typical car in the US puts out 4.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide in a year.)

Here is a fair question: If the climate change apocalypse was imminent, as he noted in his article, why did he undertake that journey?

It’s easy to preach about fighting climate change to the government, lawmakers and countries like India and China (which are often hypocritically blamed for the greenhouse gas buildup by the progressives – though not this time by Kerry – and less hypocritically by the deniers).

Here’s the bottom line: An American emits nearly 15.53 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, which is nearly ten times that of an Indian’s 1.58 tonnes. (And Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the high priest of sanctimony, is not far behind Trump’s America: the per capita emission is 15.32 tonnes.)

And countries like France have a comfortable standard of living with a per capita emission of 4.37 tonnes, which is less than a third of an American’s.

So, realistically, action has to begin with appeals to individuals to cut down their greenhouse rather than looking to governments and lawmakers – or telling developing countries to do it for them.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 63 per cent of Americans believe that lifestyle changes are needed to combat climate change and 68 per cent of Democrats believe it is a serious problem.

Despite all that, it is easy to see why it is almost impossible to call for lifestyle changes.

Just look at France. A violent popular uprising drove President Emmanuel Macron to retreat from his daring attack on climate change in the name of the Paris Treaty with an with enhanced tax on petrol.

Forget about rousing individuals or society in the climate change war; the Democratic-run New York that riles against Trump and the deniers is not going to enrage its citizenry by banning the 30,000 lights on an eight-kilometre strand on the city’s Christmas tree in a country that produces about 30 per cent of its electricity from coal.

Meat diets are another glaring example of the hypocrisy. A study led by researchers at Linda Loma University concluded that because cattle farming for beef is greenhouse intensive, the US can right now reach about 50 to 75 per cent of its greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 by merely giving up beef for legumes as a protein source.

Not only would some of the activists not speak out against meat-eating in their own countries, but some of their Indian counterparts want to promote beef-eating in India.

As for Indian activists, greenhouse gas-generating trips to tell the British Parliament to stop mining in India is an ego trip, but not demanding the British do something about the 5.99 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas that each of them generates every year – especially the politicians who put out a lot more gas, literally and figuratively – than the average Brit.

So is the situation so hopeless and the apocalypse inevitable?

The Pew survey found that 24 per cent of Indians believe that technology can solve the climate change problem – and definitely that’s the way forward as technology is bringing down the price of green energy. And China and India can make the most significant contributions as they leap-frog to greener technologies – and no thanks to preaching from the activists of the industrialised West. So can the other developing countries.

In the industrialised nations (as elsewhere), the greenback is more powerful than greentalk: As technology advances, corporations are seeing the monetary benefits of adopting a greener way of doing business.

Meanwhile, may be the generals of climate warriors could tone down their holier-than-thou sermons on the climate change apocalypse and instead lead by example – and try to mobilise their armies of believers to adopt drastic lifestyle changes.

(Arul Louis, who pleads guilty to contributing to greenhouse gas pollution, covers the United Nation from New York. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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