A European orbiter has confirmed Monday that there has been increased production of methane – a gas that is typically produced by living organisms on Earth – in Mars and raised the possibility that living organisms could have produced them in another planet.
The possibility of an alien life form in Mars has been a subject of multiple operations by the different space programs around the world. In Nature Geoscience on Monday, scientists working with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter reported that in the summer of 2013, the spacecraft detected methane within Gale Crater, a 96-mile-wide depression near the Martian equator.
“Our finding constitutes the first independent confirmation of a methane detection,” said Marco Giuranna, a scientist at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy, in an email. Dr. Giuranna is the principal investigator for the Mars Express instrument that made the measurements.
According to researchers, the methane gas in the Martian atmosphere is most likely to have been created recently because gas decays quickly and have relatively low half lives. Calculations indicate that sunlight and other chemical reaction in the thin Martian atmosphere would break up the molecules within a few hundred years.
The researchers suggest that methane gas in Mars could have been created by a geological process called “serpentinization.” Or it could be a by-product of life – specifically methanogens. Methanogens are microbes that release methane as waste and thrive in places with low oxygen, such as underground rocks and digestive tracks of animals.
The hopeful scientists argue that even if the methane were not produced by life, the hydrothermal systems in a geologic process that created the methane emissions would still be a prime location to search for signs of life.
Interestingly, the data confirmed by ESA coincided by the data reported by NASA’s Curiosity rover that has been exploring that region since 2011. NASA has noted a significant rise of methane in the air in the summer of 2013, too, that lasted for about two months.
“It reaffirms the hypothesis that Mars is presently active,” said Sushil Atreya, a planetary scientist at the University of Michigan and a member of the Curiosity science team.
Only recently, a new European Mars spacecraft, the Trace Gas Orbiter, with a more sophisticated methane detector has been in orbit since 2017, but no results have been reported by far.
The search for life in Mars had also seen a fresh hope when a group of scientist also discovered what they thought is micro-organism in Mars. A group of researchers has published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science Reviews a paper saying that they may have found evidence of life currently living in Mars.
The researchers argue that a fungus-like ‘growth’ found on Mars is indicative of a microbial life that could have been existing in the planet. The paper cites their observations of the photos taken by the retired Opportunity Rover. The left panoramic camera captured the image below on Sol 37 (37th Martian day), showing lobes that may be lichen growing on Mars.
According to the co-author of the paper, Dr. Regina Dass of the Department of Microbiology, School of Life Sciences in India, the suspected microorganism has spores on the surrounding surface. “There are no geological or other abiogenic forces on Earth which can produce sedimentary structures, by the hundreds, which have mushroom shapes, stems, stalks, and shed what looks like spores on the surrounding surface,” she said.
The authors of the paper offer the varying amount of methane in Mars as additional proof to their discovery. They said that the fact that there are measurable differences in the amount of methane in the atmosphere based on the season adds credibility to the claims of microbial life’s existence on Mars.
They explained: “On Earth, 90% of methane is produced biologically by living and decaying organisms and released as a waste product by prokaryotes certain species of fungi. Terrestrial atmospheric methane levels also vary with the seasons and are directly attributed to biological activity.”
The researchers hypothesized that this phenomenon is like “breathing” for the planet. It exhales methane when things warm up, and the supposed life wakes up; and when it gets cold in the fall/winter, life ‘goes to sleep’ or is otherwise less active, resulting in lower methane. Nonetheless, the researchers admit that their study was inconclusive and more discoveries should be made to confirm their hypothesis.
Biofabrik Wants To Convert The Worlds Plastic Waste Into Fuel
Biofabrik created WASTX Plastic that will enable it to turn trash into cash
As the turn of the century saw an increasing demand for plastic from industries such as consumer packaging, healthcare, textiles, food, and beverages, among others, the plastic waste that follows it has multiplied to proportions that are significantly causing worldwide detrimental effects on the environment.
This, in turn, has prompted conversations among environmental activists and governments to implement stringent policies and regulations for effective management of plastic waste.
One of the most significant companies that are creating strides against plastic pollution is Biofabrik Technologies—a Berlin-based waste management company.
Its founder and director, Oliver Riedel, made a big claim that his company will transform the plastic obtained from the sea into marketable fuel through technology that he and his team of researchers have been developing in the past six years.
Currently, a prototype called WASTX Plastic has been developed, and production will begin soon, Riedel said.
Particularly, Riedel said that his WASTX Plastic plant, located near Dresden, will process up to 1,000 kilograms of non-reusable plastic with his prototype which can convert “1 kilo of plastic [into] approximately 1 liter of fuel.”
The company is said to involve the process of pyrolysis, a thermo-chemical cleavage process where plastics are converted to gas or liquid at high temperatures.
Specifically, the team of about 25 scientists and mechatronics engineers from Biofabrik have developed special reactors that can produce heat up to 500 degrees celsius of heat that will remove oxygen and other wastes such as sand and salt from the shredded plastic waste.
After the intense heating process and pressure from the unique reactors, a jelly-like product is formed, which Riedel likes to call “Royal Jelly.” He also noted that other than the benefit of upcycling the plastic waste, he can also earn money from selling the by-product.
Other than that, Riedel also sees his invention as a way to help other poor communities, such as refugee sites in Bangladesh. “The refugees will then be able to convert the plastic packaging of the relief supplies into fuel for the power generators directly on-site, so that they can load cell phones, for example,” Riedel said.
For the founder, “WASTX Plastic”, in which it booms and stinks of oil, is a “heart project”: “With our technology, people may start collecting more plastic on the beach or in the sea.”
From a perspective, there is more than enough of the garbage that he can source for his endeavors. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide per year, where only a small portion gets recycled in waste management facilities.
Sadly, most of which finds its way to a landfill or into the environment where it will take hundreds of years to decompose and kill all manner of wildlife in the meantime.
Between 1950 and 2015, global waste was altogether 8.3 billion tons. Every German, for example, generates an average of 38 kilograms of plastic waste per year.
The idea of converting plastic into fuel is not a breakthrough discovery. Recently, a team of chemists at Purduehave also conducted their own research and development in attempting to create the same result, as reported in Vice.
As detailed in a paper published in Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, the chemists discovered a way to convert polypropylene—a type of plastic commonly used in toys, medical devices, and product packaging like potato chip bags—into gasoline and diesel-like fuel. The researchers said that this fuel is pure enough to be used as blendstock, the main component of fuel used in motorized vehicles.
To turn polypropylene into fuel, the researchers used supercritical water, a phase of water that demonstrates characteristics of both a liquid and a gas depending on the pressure and temperature conditions. Purdue chemist Linda Wang and her colleagues heated water to between 716 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit at pressures approximately 2300 times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level.
When purified polypropylene waste was added to the supercritical water, it was converted into oil within in a few hours, depending on the temperature. At around 850 degrees Fahrenheit, the conversion time was lowered to under an hour.
The byproducts of this process include gasoline and diesel-like oils. According to the researchers, their conversion process could be used to convert roughly 90 percent of the world’s polypropylene waste each year into fuel.
“Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story,” Purdue Chemist Linda Wang said. “Plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water. This is a catastrophe because once these pollutants are in the oceans, they are impossible to retrieve completely.”
Dropping ‘Artificial Snow’ Could Stabilize Glaciers In Antartica, Study Suggests
However, the geoengineering project is very expensive and could take up to 10 years to complete.
The sad reality is that the ice sheets in Antartica are melting, but a group of scientist has proposed an ingenious but costly and rather ambitious solution to the problem — they want to dump tons of “artificial ice.”
A group of three scientists has recently published a study in the journal Science Advances on July 17 and proposes that we should dump 7.4 trillion tons of snow on Antarctica, suggesting that it could “stabilize” the runaway in the region’s glaciers.
Recent studies have revealed that warmer waters are being pushed to the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS), destabilizing it, and speeding up the melting process of the ice sheets and glaciers in Antartica. Because of this “unnatural” rate that the ice in the region is melting, scientists estimate that it would raise sea levels by approximately 10 feet (3 meters) or more. If this happens, many cities will be endangered.
“The associated sea-level rise of more than 3m would pose a serious challenge to highly populated areas including metropolises such as Calcutta, Shanghai, New York City, and Tokyo,” read the abstract of the study.
“The real concern is that many of these glaciers have a reverse bed slope, meaning that as they retreat, it exposes deeper and thicker ice to the ocean,” explains Sue Cook, a glaciologist at the University of Tasmania. “That is a very unstable position, and causes a positive feedback effect which accelerates the retreat (and hence [contributing] to sea-level rise).”
The new geoengineering project lead by Cook and her colleagues proposes to add 7,400 gigatons (7.4 trillion tons) of “artificial snowfall” to reverse the glacier decline. The project aims to simulate real ice and snowfall and if proven successful, could potentially stabilize the temperature in the region, as well as prevent the rapid melting of glaciers.
However, this project needs an “unprecedented effort for humankind,” and estimated costs reach boundaries that make government and institutions think twice before approving it.
According to the researchers, the biggest problem that could be faced by the project is how to pump out an immense amount of water from the ocean to be used for artificial snow. The study suggests constructing a series of 12,000 wind turbines to enable this process to take place and then pumping artificial snow into two glaciers on the West Antarctic coast.
This process alone could significantly cause a two to five-centimeter drop in the water level of the oceans. The mass that will be added to the glacier would be enough to stabilize and correct the drop.
“The other part of simulations reveals a stabilizing ice sheet, which we define as being characterized by grounding line equilibration and a loss in long-term ice volume by less than 5%. Whether stabilization takes place or not depends on whether the amount of added ice is sufficient to stop the previously initiated grounding line retreat,” they added.
But aside from budgetary and technical constraints, the entire project will also take a long time to be completed. Researchers estimate that it could take them at least ten years to completely stabilize the glaciers and solve the WAIS problem.
“Here, we show that the WAIS may be stabilized through mass deposition in coastal regions around Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. In our numerical simulations, a minimum of 7400 Gt of additional snowfall stabilizes the flow if applied over a short period of 10 years onto the region (−2 mm year−1 sea-level equivalent),” penned by the researchers.
Nonetheless, there is still a lot that needs to be ironed out in the project. The researchers are yet to explain who the project would affect the ecosystem in the West Antartic Ice Sheet, as well as how artificial snow would impact global water and ocean currents.
The researchers believe that there are other ways to mitigate the impacts of global warming and said that their proposal is just one way to do it. They encouraged people to continue their efforts in trying to stabilize the sea levels and fighting against climate change and global warming.
“Even if a geoengineering project such as this were possible, it certainly shouldn’t detract from the other urgent action which is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Cook notes.
Note: All images and diagrams used are taken from the study manuscript
Neuralink Will Allow You To Control Things With Your Mind
Neuralink is a 100-man team of researchers that are developing cutting-edge brain implants that will ultimately allow paralyzed patients to perform everyday tasks just by simply thinking about it.
The startup company is another project by Elon Musk, who continuously breaks the ceiling on how technology can be pushed farther. Now, he’s aiming to accomplish tasks such as typing on a computer, scroll through a smartphone, and even send emails through a sensor attached within a person’s brain.
“This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk says at a news conference Tuesday night in San Francisco. “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”
The year is literally 2077, like Microsoft’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 featuring Keanu Reeves, where people can now have the option to enhance their physical capabilities technologically. However, we’re not jumping into anything too complex. The idea, for now, is to help paralyzed patients be more adept in everyday life.
Furthermore, Neuralink won’t function as instantly as one would think. “All of this will occur actually quite slowly,” Musk says. “It’s not going to be like suddenly, Neuralink will have this incredible neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and you will see it coming.”
How will Neuralink allow people to control things with their mind?
The basic idea of Neuralink is by attaching sensors within a person’s brain, where they can effectively pick up brain signals compared to non-invasive devices. The sensor will then send the message that the brain signals are trying to perform over to the desired device, and voilá, the paralyzed is now casually scrolling through his or her phone’s web pages.
Primarily, the brain sensors are equipped with 3,072 electrodes per array that constantly picks up signals in the brain’s neurons and synapses. The device is called “threads,” according to Neuralink. Furthermore, the “threads” are thinner than a human hair at only one-third of which in width and are barely perceptible with the human eye.
Significantly, “threads” is a breakthrough technology because similar devices have tried to achieve similar results. However, others are far larger compared in size and diameter—requiring more invasive procedures to implant in the brain. As a result, most of these devices are prone to causing more detrimental side effects in a person’s brain function, which made it achieve little success in the past.
Additionally, another key factor that allowed Neuralink to achieve its success is the development of their robotic arm that provides the extreme precision and care needed to implant this extremely small device.
Particularly, the robot is about the size of a barbecue grill, and it uses high-end optics to drill 8mm holes in the skull and then place the wires precisely.
The lenses and computer vision software help the robot avoid hitting blood vessels, reducing damage to the brain and formation of scar tissue. “Because these things are so thin and flexible, the idea is that they move with the tissue instead of tearing the tissue,” says Neuralink researcher Philip Sabes.
When will Neuralink be available for public use?
As of the moment, the device Neuralink has created only been found effective in mice and even primate subjects. In a research paper released on Tuesday evening, Neuralink said it has performed at least 19 surgeries on animals with its robots, and successfully placed the “threads” about 87% of the time.
In the experiment, the test rat was able to move around a large rectangular plastic cage filled with wood shavings and Parmesan cheese. “We definitely need to address the monkey in the room,” Musk says. “This is a sensitive subject. A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain.”
Sabes says the amount of data being gathered from the rat was about ten times greater than what today’s most powerful sensors can collect.
However, Neuralink’s scientists told The New York Times in a briefing on Monday that the company still has a “long way to go” before it can get anywhere near offering commercial service, but as early as now, Neuralink is trying to secure approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in order to allow them to conduct human clinical trials as early as next year.
“We will painlessly laser-drill the holes into the skull, place the threads, plug the hole with the sensor, and then you go home,” Max Hodak, the President and co-founder of Neuralink say. “It’ll basically be an experience like getting Lasik.”
Shortly, the company is eyeing for the technology to help not only the paralyzed but also amputees by attaching the sensor receiver to prosthetics, or it could be used to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and even provide “rich visual feedback to the blind.” They also went as far as to be able to insert new languages into the brain, but then again, the technology is still has a long way to go.
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