More building blocks of life found on Mars

This NASA photo released June 7, 2018 shows a low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill into a rock target called "Buckskin" on lower Mount Sharp. (NASA handout via AFP)
Updated 09 June 2018
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More building blocks of life found on Mars

  • The unmanned Curiosity rover has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variations of methane on Mars, indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself.
  • The rover drilled samples from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake.

TAMPA, US: A NASA robot has detected more building blocks for life on Mars — the most complex organic matter yet — from 3.5 billion-year-old rocks on the surface of the Red Planet, scientists said Thursday.
The unmanned Curiosity rover has also found increasing evidence for seasonal variations of methane on Mars, indicating the source of the gas is likely the planet itself, or possibly its subsurface water.
While not direct evidence of life, the compounds drilled from Mars’ Gale Crater are the most diverse array ever taken from the surface of the planet since the robotic vehicle landed in 2012, experts say.
“This is a significant breakthrough because it means there are organic materials preserved in some of the harshest environments on Mars,” said lead author of one of two studies in Science, Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center.
“And maybe we can find something better preserved than that, that has signatures of life in it,” she told AFP.
NASA’s Curiosity rover has previously found organic matter on Mars. A smaller discovery was announced in 2014.
“This is the first really trusted detection,” co-author Sanjeev Gupta, a professor of Earth science at Imperial College London, told AFP.
“What this new study is showing in some detail is the discovery of complex and diverse organic compounds in the sediments. That doesn’t mean life, but organic compounds are the building blocks of life,” he added.
“This is the first time we have detected such a diverse array of these sorts of things.”
The compounds might have come from a meteorite, or from geological formations akin to coal and black shale on Earth, or some form of life, Eigenbrode said.
Their precise source is still a mystery.
“We have detected the bits and pieces of something bigger,” said Eigenbrode.
The samples were drilled from the base of Mount Sharp, inside a basin called Gale Crater that is believed to have held an ancient Martian lake.
“That is a good place for life to have lived if it ever existed on Mars,” she said.
The mudstone rock was drilled from the top five centimeters (two inches) of the Martian surface and heated in a miniature analysis lab located on board the rover.
A French-built instrument revealed “several organic molecules and volatiles reminiscent of organic-rich sedimentary rock found on Earth, including: thiophene, 2- and 3-methylthiophenes, methanethiol, and dimethylsulfide,” said the Science report.
The other paper in Science reported on new details in the search for the source of methane on Mars, which has wide spikes and dips according to the seasons.
Methane, the simplest organic molecule, ranges “between 0.24 to 0.65 parts per billion, peaking near the end of summer in the Northern hemisphere,” said the report, based on three years of data.
The source is still unclear, but it may be stored in the cold Martian subsurface in water-based crystals called clathrates, researchers said.
“Both these findings are breakthroughs in astrobiology,” wrote Inge Loes ten Kate, of the University of Tübingen in Germany, in an accompanying commentary in Science.
“The detection of organic molecules and methane on Mars has far-ranging implications in light of potential past life on Mars,” she said.
“Curiosity has shown that Gale crater was habitable around 3.5 billion years ago, with conditions comparable to those on the early Earth, where life evolved around that time.
“The question of whether life might have originated or existed on Mars is a lot more opportune now that we know that organic molecules were present on its surface at that time.”
According to Ariel Anbar, a professor at Arizona State University who directed the college’s NASA-funded astrobiology program from 2009 to 2015, the work “definitely moves the ball down the court in important ways.”
It “defines how questions will be asked and pursued in the next stage of Mars exploration,” Anbar, who was not involved in the study, told AFP by email.
Scientists hope to further the search for signs of life on Mars with the European and Russian rover, ExoMars, scheduled to land in 2021.
It will drill even deeper than any prior instrument, up to two yards (meters) deep.
NASA also has another rover in the works with its Mars 2020 mission, which plans to drill cores and set them aside for a possible future pickup and return to Earth.
 


Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

Updated 18 November 2018
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Pakistan is rapidly becoming a “digital-first country”, Google

  • Pakistan digital growth is supported by population and increasing penetration of internet, IT experts
  • Prime Minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom to meet next week to draw comprehensive policy

KARACHI: Destine to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030, Pakistan, supported by a growing population, fast growing business and increasing penetration of Internet, is poised to grab first position among the digital economies, Information Technology (IT) experts say.
US technology giant, Google, says Pakistan is quickly becoming a “digital-first country”, which means there are new opportunities for brands to reach and engage with consumers that may have previously been overlooked.
“It shows that Google has realized the marketing potential of the country and they are now encouraging businesses to focus on Pakistan as a potential market,” Badar Khushnood, vice president of growth at Fishry.Com and vice chairman of [email protected], commented.
According to Google, there are five reasons for “considering expanding your digital campaigns into Pakistan”.
Pakistan’s growing population is the first reason that makes the country attractive for the foreign and local investors to venture into the IT sector.
“Pakistan has a population of more than 202 million people, which means there are lot of potential consumers coming online every day. And the country is even more urbanized than neighboring India, with nearly 40 percent of total households living in cities,” writes Lars Anthonizen, head of large customer marketing, South Asia, Google.
Pakistan’s economy grew by 5.7 percent in fiscal year 2018. HSBC in is recent report published in September 2018 has projected Pakistan to become the fourth fastest growing economy by 2030.
Around 90 percent of the companies in the country are SMEs which are contributing more that 40 percent to the country’s 313 billion economy, according to the State Bank of Pakistan.
Third attraction, according to Google, is the country’s growing smart phone users. Pakistan has 152 million cellar subscribers, and 60 million 3G/4G subscribers, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
This number will likely grow quickly as smart phone prices have dropped over the last few years. Pakistan also has some of the cheapest data prices in the world, which is helping to grow mobile app usage, according to Google.
However, experts say more work is needed to be done to fully utilize the existing potential. “We need to work on optic fibers, penetration of 4G, creation of data centers, telecom infrastructure and most importantly creation of awareness among masses,” Pervaiz Iftikhar, a member of the newly formed prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s overall Internet penetration stands at 29.9 percent with 62 million broadband subscribers, a fourth attraction for the investor, as per Google. In spite of this, digital consumption in the country continues to grow quickly. YouTube watch time, for example, has seen over 60 percent growth over the last three years.
The Chinese-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the largest Chinese investment venture in Pakistan with around $62 billion, a fifth reason to look toward Pakistan.
The mega project under BRI is not only limited to the infrastructure and energy sector but it is also contributing to the growth of the IT sector in Pakistan.
“One of the first CPEC projects is to lay 820 kilometers of fiber-optic cable, connecting more Pakistanis to the Internet. This is in addition to ongoing investments in 3G and 4G network expansions from China Mobile, and the company has already announced plans to invest another $225 million in 4G expansion (bringing its total investment to $2.4 billion),” writes Lars Anthonizen.
“We have to connect every village through fiber optics that will not only create thousands of jobs but would multiply opportunities for the IT business countrywide,” Pervaiz Iftikhar added.
“A lot of potential exists in the IT sector of Pakistan with the young population turning to computers, smart phones and other digital means, and the country offers big market for local and foreign investors”, Jehan Ara, another member of the prime minister’s Taskforce on IT and Telecom and president of [email protected], commented.
Badar Khushnood, who is also former consultant of Google, Facebook and Twitter, called for comprehensive policy for the growth of the IT sector.
“Taxation systems should be rationalized, simplified, and encouraging for startups. The country also needs data protection laws, and broader cyber laws,” he added.
The first meeting of the prime minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom is expected to be held next week in Islamabad. “Comprehensive strategy including short term and long term measures would be discussed in the upcoming meeting of taskforce because country needs a policy for the persistent growth of IT and Telecom sector”, Pervaiz Iftikhar informed.