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Mars researchers confirm potential for breathable air
This week a paper published in Nature Geoscience showed the potential for a whole lot of oxygen on the planet Mars. Within the salty waters under the surface of the planet, Mars may well have enough oxygen to support life, planet-wide. These scientists suggested that “our findings suggest that there can be near-surface environments on Mars with sufficient O₂ available for aerobic microbes to breath.” That’s “even at the limits of the uncertainties” they calculated in time and space – the possibility is there.
“Little attention has been given to the role of O₂ on Mars, due to its scarcity,” said the research paper this week. “However, geochemical evidence from Martian meteorites8 and manganese-rich rocks points to highly oxidizing aqueous environments on Mars in its past, implying that O₂ played a role in the chemical weathering of the Martian crust.”
HERO PIC: Aram Chaos, a 280 kilometer-diameter ancient impact crater that lies within in the Southern Highlands of Mars. NASA/Mars Exploration
Of note is the fact that the calculations this team ran were only on surface and shallow subsurface liquid brines. That’s where brines “are assumed to communicate with the atmosphere.” Basically they’re assuming there’s no 3rd-party in play, like a human-made machine that pulls water from the lower layers of the planet and disperses in a manner that’d allow habitability for the planet. That’s science fiction stuff, for now.
ABOVE: This May 22, 2023, view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the “Marias Pass” area where a lower and older geological unit of mudstone — the pale zone in the center of the image — lies in contact with an overlying geological unit of sandstone. NASA/Mars Exploration
This team focused on the masses of salty water that might well be on the surface or near-surface on Mars. “We find that, on modern Mars—accounting for all uncertainties, for our best estimate and the worst case, both with and without super-cooling and also for temperatures above 273 K where our solubility model has been validated—the solubility of O₂ in various fluids can exceed the level required for aerobic respiration of ~10⁻⁶ mol m⁻³ for microbes by ~1–6 orders of magnitude,” said the researchers.
“In Ca- and Mg-perchlorate brines, O₂ solubilities can reach values comparable to the concentrations of O₂ in Earth’s oceans today”
They suggested in the paper that here on Earth, before the Great Oxygenation Event around 2.35-billion years ago, the solubility of O₂ in seawater (assuming modern salinity and 293 K) was “probably ~10⁻¹³–10⁻⁶ mol m⁻³”. As such, “the dissolved O2 levels on early Earth were primarily below the minimum concentration of dissolved oxygen needed to support aerobic life.”
Because temperatures on Mars are colder than that of early Earth, Mars enables greater O₂ solubilities. Mars also has trace amounts of O₂ in its atmosphere that we’re already aware of. “Thus, in principle, Mars could offer a wide range of near-surface environments with enough dissolved O2 for aerobic respiration like that seen in diverse groups of terrestrial microorganisms.”
So, even if we don’t find enough oxygen in the brine on Mars, we could potentially find a way to bring our own from home. Or something along those lines. We can dream!
ABOVE: This close-up image is of a 2-inch-deep hole produced using a new drilling technique for NASA’s Curiosity rover. The hole is about 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter. This image was taken by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) on Sol 2057. NASA/Mars Exploration
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NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity can’t yet confirm any organic compounds on the Red Planet, NASA scientists said today–but the rover is seeing some intriguing chemicals, which will lead to further careful analysis about whether its home in Gale Crater could have played host to life.
“SAM has no definitive detection to report of organic compounds,” said Paul Mahaffy, the principal investigator for the SAM instrument, which stands for Sample Analysis at Mars. The instrument did see some carbon-containing material–it’s just not clear whether the carbon in it comes from Mars, or whether Curiosity toted it from Earth. What’s more, at least some of the detected material was most likely created in chemical reactions inside Curiosity’s belly, as the SAM instrument’s oven baked sand samples.
The results mark the first soil sample analysis from the SAM lab suite, the most complex chemistry lab ever sent to another world. “We really consider this a terrific milestone,” Mahaffy said at a news conference Monday.
The presence of perchlorate may be the biggest news from the press conference, which kicked off the day at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. The Mars Phoenix lander also saw evidence of this chlorine-oxygen compound, which could conceivably be used as an energy source by Martian microbes. The analysis of these chemicals–which involves baking samples inside SAM’s oven and measuring the vapors that come out–in and of itself created new chemicals which the sensitive instruments picked up. Among those newly formed chemicals were some chlorinated methane chúng tôi chlorine is from Mars, Mahaffy said. The carbon’s origin is still unclear. Scientists will try to figure it out by measuring isotope ratios and making other measurements.
Other results from Curiosity’s first few months on Mars include some analysis of the soil and rocks, which are apparently very similar in both chemical composition and appearance to rocks in other spots on the planet. The Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers saw very similar soil in different locations. At Curiosity’s present location, a site in Gale Crater called Rocknest, the soil is about half volcanic material and half crystalline materials, like glass. Interestingly, the water bound up in this soil is much, much heavier than water in Earth’s oceans, Mahaffy said.
Scientists, Curiosity followers and Marsphiles around the world eagerly awaited Monday’s announcement because of earlier rumors and speculation that the rover team was about to share something “Earth-shaking.” Curiosity is not designed to find life, just evidence of environments that could have played host to it at some point. Finding organic molecules would be an interesting step toward an eventual life-finding experiment. Organic compounds in this case means carbon-containing complex molecules, not something alive (or formerly alive). These compounds rain down on all terrestrial planets and are found throughout space, and they do not necessarily indicate the presence of life.
For one small drift of sand, the SAM and CheMin (for Chemistry and Mineralogy) instruments did a whole lot of work, said Curiosity’s project scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “We used almost every part of our science payload examining this drift,” he said in a statement.
A couple weeks ago, Grotzinger was quoted in a story by NPR saying some freshly downloaded data from SAM would be “one for the history books.” This fed speculation about what the results could be, although the agency tried to tamp down expectations. Grotzinger said today he was misunderstood, and that he meant that the continuity of data from SAM, and the mission as a whole, would be historic in its breadth and depth.
“I’ve learned that you have to be careful about what you say and even more careful about how you say it,” he told reporters Monday. “We work at the speed of science. The rest of the world works at the speed of Instagram.”
Chlorinated Compounds On Mars NASA/JPL-Caltech
BU Researchers Receive NSF CAREER Awards Prize supports research, education
Winners of the NSF CAREER awards are Lorena Barba (clockwise from top left), Pamela Templer, Michael Smith, Ajay Joshi, Lucy Hutyra, and Ayse Coskun. Barba and Coskun photos by Vernon Doucette. Joshi and Smith photos by Kalman Zabarsky. Templer photo by Melody Komyerov. Hutyra photo courtesy of Lucy Hutyra
The United States, China, Japan, and others are racing to build the first “exascale” computer, a super-machine able to perform as many operations in a second as 50 million laptops. Lorena Barba’s research tackles two parts of this quest: researching the necessary algorithms and software, while pondering how to educate future computer scientists about the technology.
Exascale computing will enable science to improve such things as climate modeling, predicting natural disasters, and simulating proteins essential to life. “The current worldwide race to reach exascale computing is really about maintaining growth in computer performance,” Barba told an interviewer. Noting that a 1944 computer, the Harvard Mark I, was a tortoise at three operations per second, she said ever-faster computing has become essential to society, and educating computational scientists is “crucial for success in exploiting computer performance for scientific discovery.”
CAREER awards recognize “innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology” as well as the winners’ commitment to community service, according to the NSF. That BU collected six awards amid stiff competition “testifies to the breadth and depth of research talent we have here,” says Jean Morrison, BU provost. “We’re all excited to see what these talented researchers are able to achieve through their project awards and wish them the best of luck.”
The other BU winners, besides Lorena Barba, are:
Ayse Coskun, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is also researching energy efficiency in a type of computing system, so-called 3D stacked systems. “A realizable target for this project in the next decade is a significant reduction in overall energy consumption for computing infrastructure,” his project abstract says.
Lucy Hutyra, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of geography and environment, researches what her abstract calls the understudied effects of urbanization on carbon dioxide emissions, a key contributor to global warming. She’ll map ecosystem changes across an urban-to-rural spectrum and historical land patterns to assess “the carbon consequences of increasing urban lands,” among other things. The research is important to develop policies for environmental protection and food and energy production as humans multiply in urban areas, says the abstract.
Ajay Joshi, an ENG assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is researching how to make computing more energy-efficient, in particular by improving silicon-based data-sharing systems within and between computers. The abstract to his research says that with computers’ energy gobbling growing, it’s “absolutely critical to develop energy-efficient solutions for computing systems.”
Michael Smith, an ENG assistant professor of biomedical engineering, studies multicellular cultures to learn about cell mechanics and how cells communicate. “The coordination of multicellular behavior is critical to numerous physiological processes such as morphogenesis”—the development of structural features—“and wound repair,” according to his abstract. His project also seeks to develop a one-hour lesson on cell mechanics for local high school students and a new graduate course on the topic.
Pamela Templer, a CAS assistant professor of biology, is working on the varying effects of climate change in northern American forests. “For example,” her abstract says, “soil warming in summer may increase root growth, but warming in winter may increase the frequency of freeze/thaw cycles and damage plant root systems.”
The NSF, Uncle Sam’s science-incubating agency, has a $7 billion annual budget and funds one-fifth of all federally supported research in American academia. It is the major federal grantor of research money for mathematics and computer science.
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The actual modification itself is easy, and it just involves putting a cheap thermal pad inside the laptop. This provides thermal conduction between the M2 chip and the metal bottom of the laptop, keeping the chip cooler for longer and allowing it to perform better. But while the mod itself is simple, you should consider the associated risks before doing so yourself.Improve your M2 MacBook Air’s performance [Video] Adding the thermal pad
Actually modifying the MacBook Air to get the improvements is fairly straight forward and just involves four screws, but before you attempt this read the safety section. With your device turned off and unplugged, on the bottom of the M2 MacBook Air, there are four P5 Pentalobe screws holding on the bottom of the chassis. A compatible screwdriver can be picked up fairly cheaply or as part of a larger electronics repair kit. With all the screws out, you’ll want to lift up the panel at the front, left, and right sides to disconnect internal clips, and then pull the panel toward the front to remove it from the hooks at the rear of the device.
I personally used a 1mm thick thermal pad during my testing and saw decent improvements in performance, but others have used a 1.5mm thermal pad to get even better thermal transfer; that thicker thermal pad makes it a bit more challenging to reattach the bottom panel. Cut the thermal pad to size and apply it, carefully, underneath the ribbon cable.
As you go to put the screws back in, make note of the threading. The two screws with shorter threading go at the back of the laptop nearer the hinge, while the screws with more thread go near the front of the laptop.Performance improvements
*With the second run, the unmodified M2 Air had a bit more time to cool off, but the future runs were all started immediately after the previous one finished.
After running these tests and seeing the improvements, I wanted to see if a 1.5mm thermal pad would provide even better contact and performance. While it took a bit more effort to reattach the bottom panel, with that thicker thermal pad the M2 MacBook Air received an initial Cinebench score of 8535. That’s 930 points better than an unmodded M2 MacBook Air and almost 500 points higher than the M2 Air modified with the 1mm thermal pad.Potential issues
While many of us always want to get the most out of our hardware, there are some issues that can result from the mod.
It will lead to the bottom of the laptop getting hotter than is recommended. This can make it uncomfortable to use on your lap when running at full power – there’s a reason Apple didn’t design the M2 MacBook Air to do this. Additionally, while just taking apart an electronic device like this may not void your warranty, any damage you cause by taking it apart and making changes will likely not be covered.
There is also the risk of fire should you damage the battery. None of the installation of the thermal pad requires you to mess about with the battery, but as you have the laptop open, be sure not to apply excessive pressure to or puncture the battery cells. This could cause a lithium fire – which is extremely difficult to put out. As Apple explains in their own repair manuals, in the event of a battery fire, you need a bucket of sand nearby to smother it. Read up on, and be familiar with, proper battery safety procedures.
M2 MacBook Air internals, with battery outlined in red.
I have also seen several people worried about degradation to the SSD and battery that could result from the extra heat transfer of the thermal mod. In my testing, the computer’s SSD and battery sensors didn’t seem to show excessive heat as a result of the modification – but that’s not to say it couldn’t be the case. Apple likely throttles the chip to slow it down and reduce heat if other components – not just the CPU – are getting too hot. So while it’s important to be aware of this potential, I don’t think it will truly become a problem.Should YOU mod your MacBook Air?
For 95% of people, doing this would be a complete waste. If you’re just doing general web browsing, document editing, and media consumption, you won’t need or use that extra power. The other 5%? Well, most of those people should probably go with a more powerful laptop or desktop with active cooling instead – something like the 14-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro.
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Not so long ago, most scientists thought of Mars as dead and cold. But, as we previously reported, microbial life could be hiding beneath the red planet’s surface, kept warm by its core and fed by radiation from rocks. Now, another study shows that Mars might have hosted volcanic explosions as recent as 50,000 years ago—practically last week in geologic time.
Such recent activity raises the possibility that, volcanically, Mars “may still be active, even today,” says David Horvath, a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, who led the study while at the University of Arizona.
What’s more, NASA’s InSight mission has picked up Marsquakes coming from the area Horvath studied. The quakes suggest there could still be molten magma below the surface, warming the frozen underground and making make liquid water possible around volcanic hotspots, Horvath says. That could create a subterranean haven for life under Mars.
The team, based out of the University of Arizona, looked at a single fissure, one of several splits in the ground known collectively as the Cerberus Fossae. They found it surrounded by a dark region which they think is ash and debris from a volcanic eruption. The fissures stretch across the Martian surface for miles, although they’re fairly shallow. The one in question is only about 20 meters deep, Horvath says.
[Related: Life could be hiding deep under Mars]
They focused on this particular fissure because it stands out. It’s surrounded by visibly dark material which retains heat well, according to thermal imaging, Horvath says. The researchers think lava flowed out of the fissure, creating the dark patch. The spot isn’t too far from the volcano Elysium Mons in the equatorial region of Mars known as the Elysium Planitia.
They dated the feature by counting the craters in the dark layer that coats it. With basically no weather on Mars, impact craters stick around on the surface for eons. By counting the number per area, you can estimate the age of the area—the older it is, the more craters you should find.
Some of the craters were dark—the same color as the surrounding zone—and some lighter craters peeked through. The team interpreted this as a sign that the old craters got filled in with the darker lava and ash and the new craters broke through that dark layer, revealing the rock underneath.
They estimated that the site formed between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago.
The crater counting technique they use to estimate the age is “pretty standard,” says Erika Rader, a volcanologist at the University of Idaho who wasn’t involved with the study. But their age estimate relies on the assumption that the feature is the result of volcanism, she says. It’s possible the features aren’t volcanic at all, though we’d need a closer look at them to be sure—ideally a microscopic look.
“There’s a ton of sediment and there’s a ton of wind on Mars,” she says. Seen from afar, these moving particles can create similar patterns to volcanic processes.
If Mars was volcanically active, though, it’s not impossible that life could be hanging out in little underground islands around the larger Martian volcanoes. If Mars volcanoes are similar to those on Earth, they could have been active for millions of years, preserving those habitable pockets, Rader says. But it’s still a very extreme environment. By contrast, one deep underground and fed by radiation would probably be more stable, she says.
As for the possibility of current volcanic activity on Mars? “I want it to be true,” Rader says. “But … this paper alone would not convince me of that.”
Between InSight’s findings of Marsquakes and heat measurements on Mars, Rader says there’s “clearly enough evidence” to warrant a Mars mission dedicated to finding out whether the red planet still has a molten core.
LAS VEGAS—Two security researchers at Defcon 21 here on Friday revealed the methods they used to hack into car computers and take over the steering, acceleration, brakes, and other important functions.
Charlie Miller, a security engineer at Twitter, and Chris Valasek, director of security intelligence at IOActive, spent ten months researching how they could hack into the network of embedded computer systems called electronic control units (ECUs) used in modern cars and see what they could do once they gained access to it.
Their test cars were a 2010 Ford Escape and a 2010 Toyota Prius.
Some of the things they were able to achieve by hooking a laptop to the ECU communications network and injecting rogue signals into it included disabling the breaks while the car was in motion, jerking the steering wheel, accelerating, killing the engine, yanking the seat belt, displaying bogus speedometer and fuel gauge readings, turning on and off the car’s lights, and blasting the horn.
The researchers also found a way to achieve persistent attacks by modifying the ECU firmware to send rogue signals even when they were no longer physically connected to the control units.Tipped off car manufacturers
A research paper explaining how the hacking was done was shared with Ford and Toyota a few weeks before the Defcon presentation, the researchers said.
Toyota responded that it didn’t consider this to be car hacking and that the company’s security efforts are focused on preventing remote attacks from outside the car, not those that involve physically accessing the control system, Miller and Valasek said.
The goal of the research was to see what could be done when hackers gain access to the ECU network, known as the controller area network bus, the researchers said. It doesn’t matter if it’s done locally or remotely; access to a single ECU provides access to the whole network and gives the ability to inject commands, they said.
Miller is certain that other researchers will find ways to remotely attack the systems in the future. The software industry hasn’t figured out how to write secure software yet, so there’s no reason to believe car makers have figured it out either, he said.
The code in systems that can be accessed remotely—telematics units, tire sensors, those using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi—might have a lot of vulnerabilities, he said. “I’m sure that if people start looking, they would will start finding vulnerabilities.”
That’s part of the reason Miller and Valasek decided to make the details of their research public, including what kind of equipment, cables, and software they used.
The full research paper and the custom software tools that were written to interact with the ECUs, as well as the code used to inject particular commands, will be released this weekend, Miller said.
“We want other researchers to keep working on this; on other cars or on the same cars,” Miller said. “It took us ten months to do this project, but if we had the tools that we have now, we would have done it in two months. We want to make it easy for everyone else to get involved in this kind of research.”More malicious hacks ahead?
Concerns that the tools could enable people to hack car systems for malicious purposes are valid, the researcher said. However, if it’s that easy to do, then they could do it anyway; it would just take them a bit more time, he said.
“If the only thing that keeps our cars safe is that no one bothers to do this kind of research, then they’re not really secure,” Miller said. “I think it’s better to lay it all out, find the problems and start talking about them.”
However, fixing the issues won’t be easy because most of them are there by design, according to Miller.
Car manufacturers won’t be able to just issue a patch, the researcher said. “They’ll have to change the way these systems are made.”
Right now, there’s no authentication when car computers communicate with each other, because they need to react and send signals quickly in potentially dangerous situations, the researcher said. Adding authentication will introduce latency, so the systems will need faster processors to make up for that. Those processors would cost more, so car prices would rise, he said.
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