Mars Breakthrough: Water Discovered Beneath Surface
Scientists have found evidence that liquid water exists on Mars, raising questions about the possibility of life on our neighboring planet.
The discovery, announced Wednesday, was made using the MARSIS radar instrument onboard the European Space Agency's (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft.
The researchers found a 12-mile-wide body of water buried under layers of ice and dust on the planet's southern pole region, the space agency said.
The scientists spent at least two years examining their data to make sure it was liquid water, not ice or another substance, according to the Associated Press.
"I really have no other explanation," Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the MARSIS experiment, told the AP.
The #Mars Express radar investigation finds a subsurface feature spanning about 20km across under a 1.5km thick lay… https://t.co/NglyhHPK6T— ESA Science (@ESA Science)1532528480.0
Orosei, who is also the lead author of the findings published in the journal Science today, suggested that there may be more hidden pools of water on Mars.
"This is just one small study area; it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered," he said in a press release.
Previous findings have showed evidence of Mars' watery past, due to a vast presence of dried out river channels. NASA confirmed in 2015 that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars. But today's announcement reveals there is an existing body of liquid.
The finding has fueled speculation that there could be, or was, life on the red planet, as water is essential for life. But as Manish Patel from the Open University told BBC News, "We are not closer to actually detecting life."
The underground Martian water is likely extremely cold, salty and sediment-rich, making it challenging for life to survive.
However, Patel continued, "What this finding does is give us the location of where to look on Mars. It is like a treasure map—except in this case, there will be lots of 'X's marking the spots."
The researchers are eager to further explore the planet.
"The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential," said Dmitri Titov, ESA's Mars Express project scientist, in the press release.
"This thrilling discovery is a highlight for planetary science and will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of Mars, the history of water on our neighbor planet and its habitability."
Elon Musk: We Must Colonize Mars for Humanity to Survive the 'Dark Ages' https://t.co/yWq68u2AFM @Greenpeace @ScienceNewsOrg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520888709.0
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Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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