New island offers clues in search for life on Mars: NASA

In this picture dated June 5, 2017 and received from NASA on December 13, 2017 shows a view of a recently-formed Tongan island, unofficially known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, which had formed from a Pacific Ocean submarine volcano which erupted in late December 2014. (NASA/AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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New island offers clues in search for life on Mars: NASA

WELLINGTON: The world’s newest island — formed during a volcanic eruption in the remote Pacific four years ago — may offer clues to how life potentially developed on Mars, NASA said Wednesday.
The island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai rose from the seabed about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa in late 2014-early 2015.
Scientists initially expected the island — created when vast quantities of rock and dense ash spewed from the Earth’s crust — to wash away within a few months.
But NASA said it had proved more resilient than expected, possibly because warm sea water combined with ash during the volcanic explosion to create a concrete-like substance known as “tuff.”
While the island — which initially measured one kilometer wide, two kilometers long and about 100 meters high — has undergone significant erosion, it is now expected to last anywhere from six to 30 years.
Jim Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said it was a rare chance to study the life cycle of a newly created island.
He said Mars had many similar volcanic islands that appeared to have been surrounded by water when they were created.
Garvin said such spots may be prime locations to look for evidence of past life because they combined a wet environment with heat from volcanic processes.
Examining how life gained a foothold on the Tongan island could help scientists pinpoint where to look for evidence of life on Mars, he said.
“Islands like this might have worked on Mars two or three billion years ago — lakes and small seas filling depressions, persistent surface waters,” he said.
“(It’s) stuff we really strive to understand because it could have produced the conditions necessary for microbial life.”
NASA’s studies on the island were presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans this week.
It comes after US President Donald Trump on Monday directed NASA to send Americans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, in order to prepare for future trips to Mars.


Father of boy saved in Paris ‘Spiderman’ drama in court

This file photo taken on June 18, 2018 shows Malian immigrant in France turned hero, Mamoudou Gassama addressing the media within a meeting with Mali's president in Bamako. (AFP)
Updated 26 min 47 sec ago
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Father of boy saved in Paris ‘Spiderman’ drama in court

  • The man’s lawyer Romain Ruiz said prosecutors had taken “particularly reductive” elements of the story out of context, but added that the 37-year-old father admitted he had “done something really stupid”

PARIS: When a Malian illegal immigrant rescued a child dangling from a Paris balcony, he was hailed worldwide as a hero — but the little boy’s father will appear in court Tuesday charged with negligence. Mamoudou Gassama, the migrant nicknamed “Spiderman” after footage of his daring rescue went viral in May, has since been rewarded with French citizenship and a job in the fire service. But the four-year-old’s father, who has not been named, faces a potential criminal conviction for leaving the child unattended in their 6th-floor apartment, popping out to buy groceries. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said at the time of the incident that the father also delayed his return because he wanted to play the popular Pokemon Go game on his phone. The man’s lawyer Romain Ruiz said prosecutors had taken “particularly reductive” elements of the story out of context, but added that the 37-year-old father admitted he had “done something really stupid.” “He is leaving his fate up to the court,” Ruiz said.
He added that the father had left home “for between 30 minutes and an hour” and had taken “precautions” to keep the child safe in his absence. The little boy clambered onto the balcony and appears to have fallen, before miraculously managing to grab the rail of a balcony lower down. Footage of the incident, filmed by a bystander below, shows him hanging over the edge, a neighbor on the adjoining balcony desperately trying to hold onto him. Gassama, 22, then scales the building Spiderman-style and pulls him to safety.
In theory, parental negligence carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison under France’s penal code, and a fine of up to 30,000 euros ($35,300).
But such a sentence is thought unlikely in the case of this father, who has been allowed to keep custody of his son. The boy’s mother was away at the time of the May 26 incident on a trip to France’s Reunion island in the Indian Ocean. Both parents were said at the time to be extremely shaken by the incident but hugely grateful to Gassama.