Underground lake found on Mars, raising possibility of life

A massive underground lake has been detected for the first time on Mars, marking the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet, scientists said on July 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2018

Underground lake found on Mars, raising possibility of life

  • The reservoir detected represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars
  • Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface

WASHINGTON: Using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, scientists have spotted what they said on Wednesday appears to be a sizable salt-laden lake under ice on the southern polar plain of Mars, a body of water they called a possible habitat for microbial life.
The reservoir they detected — roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface — represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.
Whether anywhere other than Earth has harbored life is one of the supreme questions in science, and the new findings offer tantalizing evidence, though no proof. Water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life.
The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a subglacial lake on Earth, perhaps with a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below.
“This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist,” said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science.
“This kind of environment is not exactly your ideal vacation, or a place where fish would swim,” Orosei added. “But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments. There are microorganisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.”

The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.
“This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water,” said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency during the research.
The location’s radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth’s Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface. There had been some signs of liquid water currently on Mars, including disputed evidence of water activity on Martian slopes, but not stable bodies of water.
Orosei said the water in the Martian lake was below the normal freezing point but remained liquid thanks in large part to high levels of salts. Orosei estimated the water temperature at somewhere between 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) and minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 degrees Celsius).
It remains to be seen if more subsurface reservoirs of water will be found or whether the newly discovered one is some sort of quirk, Orosei said.
If others are detected and a network of subglacial lakes exists like on Earth, he said, that could indicate liquid water has persisted for millions of years or even dating back to 3-1/2 billion years ago when Mars was a more hospitable planet.
The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now.
“Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form,” Orosei said.


Russia to send ‘Fedor’ its first humanoid robot into space

Updated 22 August 2019

Russia to send ‘Fedor’ its first humanoid robot into space

  • Fedor was to blast off in a Soyuz rocket at 6:38 am Moscow time (0338 GMT) from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome
  • Fedor is not the first robot to go into space

MOSCOW: Russia was set to launch on Thursday an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.
Named Fedor, for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research with identification number Skybot F850, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia.
Fedor was to blast off in a Soyuz rocket at 6:38 am Moscow time from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, dock with the space station on Saturday and stay till September 7.
The Soyuz spacecraft is normally manned on such trips, but on Thursday no humans will be traveling in order to test a new emergency rescue system.
Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor will sit in a specially adapted pilot’s seat.

The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands one meter 80 centimeters tall (5 foot 11 inches) and weighs 160 kilograms (353 lbs).
Fedor has Instagram and Twitter accounts that describe it as learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the station, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.
“That’s connecting and disconnecting electric cables, using standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher,” the Russian space agency’s director for prospective programs and science, Alexander Bloshenko, said in televised comments.
Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth carry out tasks while they are strapped into an exoskeleton.
Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, Bloshenko told RIA Novosti state news agency.
On the website of one of the state backers of the project, the Foundation of Advanced Research Projects, Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments, de-mining and tricky rescue missions.
On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who joined the ISS last month, and will wear an exoskeleton in a series of experiments scheduled for later this month.

Robonaut 2, Kirobo
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to President Vladimir Putin this month, saying it will be “an assistant to the crew.”
“In the future we plan that this machine will also help us conquer deep space,” he added.
Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.
In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors and a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.
It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.
In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations — albeit only in Japanese.