Scientists on Thursday confirmed the presence of methane on Mars, raising two possibilities: volcanos, or life on the red planet. \n"Methane should be short-lived in that atmosphere. It should last for less than a few hundred years," Andrew Coates, of the Mullard space science laboratory at University College London, told the British Association science festival in Exeter, England. \n"So there must be a very recent source, perhaps even a current source. The two possible sources could be volcanism -- very recent or current volcanism -- or life. All life as we know it on Earth, even down to the tiniest microbe, produces methane as a byproduct." \nMars was once an active planet: Mons Olympus on Mars is the biggest volcano in the solar system. But the planet has not been volcanic on any large scale for at least 3.8 billion years. So even if the source of the methane is geological rather than biological, the discovery is enough to set pulses racing in planetary science laboratories. \nEither way, the red planet can no longer be considered a dead planet. \nThere is tentative evidence of relatively recent, small-scale volcanism. \n"So there is certainly a good chance that it could be volcanism," Coates said. "But we have to admit a second possibility, that life is producing it. I think that it is a long shot. What we have to do is look at the evidence, look at the Mars Express data in particular, and this is what people are trying to do at the moment." \nThe concentrations of methane are tiny: no more than ten parts per billion in the wispy Martian atmosphere. But if Mars is a dead planet -- the assumption when the Viking landers first touched down on its cold, arid surface in 1976 -- then there should be no methane at all. \nSince 1996, after the tantalizing discovery of what looked like strange fossil bacteria in a meteorite known to have come from Mars, European and US scientists have hoped for evidence of bygone life. \nIn the past year four spacecraft have arrived at the planet, including Britain's ill-fated Beagle 2, the only mission specifically designed to look for life on Mars. \nScientists have also recently confirmed that Mars was once washed by huge rivers, lakes and ancient seas, that it is losing up to 100 tonnes of atmosphere every day, so that its atmosphere must once have been as dense, or even much denser, than Earth's, and that it would once have been a warm, active planet. So the conditions for life would have existed 4 billion years ago. \nThe requirements for life are water and warmth. Volcanic activity could be evidence of enduring warmth, and the presence of surviving water on Mars has also been confirmed again and again in the latest round of exploration. \n"There is a possibility it is volcanism. There is a possibility again that it is life. So it is a key discovery," Coates said.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
Australia is notorious for its venomous spiders, snakes and sea creatures, but researchers have now identified “scorpion-like” toxins secreted by a tree that can cause excruciating pain for weeks. Split-second contact with the dendrocnide tree, a rainforest nettle known by its Aboriginal name gympie-gympie, delivers a sting far more potent than similar plants found in the US or Europe. A team of Australian scientists said that they now better understand why the gympie-gympie’s sting haunts those unlucky enough to brush up against its leaves. Victims report an initial sting that “feels like fire at first, then subsides over hours to a pain reminiscent