Oceans away

first_img Twins in space A new NASA program will combine the study of sea and sky as part of the search for life in the outer solar system.The $7.6 million Exploring Ocean Worlds research program will be headquartered at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The project will pull together some of the nation’s leading experts in ocean and space research, and create a Network for Ocean Worlds to advance research nationwide by helping teams of investigators share information.Scientists have come to view ice-covered astronomical bodies with ocean-like features, so-called ocean worlds, as the best bets for finding life elsewhere. But deep-sea microbiologist Peter R. Girguis says this begs a fundamental question: What is life? It could be that life developed differently on other planets than it did on Earth, so understanding as much as possible about various life forms here may offer insight into what we find elsewhere.“My role in this project is taking a hard look at how microorganisms make a living in some of the most extreme environments on Earth,” said Girguis, a Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and one of five founding investigators on Exploring Ocean Worlds. The others include: Christopher German, lead investigator and WHOI senior scientist, Tori Hoehler of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Donna Blackman of the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Kevin Peter Hand of the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Lab.“We are going to be visiting some of Earth’s most extreme environments to really understand the limits of life: deep-ocean underwater volcanoes, where microbes live that are Earth’s most heat-tolerant organisms; deserts; and also the polar regions. Coldest, hottest, driest. Those are Earth’s best facsimiles for some of these potential environments beyond Earth,” he said.The initiative’s trajectory is twofold. “Let’s look for places that look very similar to Earth,” said Girguis. “And let’s look for life that may be nothing like what we have on Earth.”Scientists have centered the search for life in outer space on the search for water. As WHOI’s German said when announcing the project, “If we hope to find evidence of life beyond Earth within the next human generation, then our best bet is to look toward the growing list of ice-covered ocean worlds right here in our own solar system.”Indeed, Exploring Ocean Worlds aims to accelerate research on planetary bodies with liquid water oceans that may harbor life or conditions that could support it by coordinating studies nationwide that advance our understanding of ocean worlds. Beyond the search for water, said Girguis, it may be useful to look for life in any environment that has sources of energy and where conditions aren’t too extreme. This rules out, for example,  places that are too hostile to support life, such as Jupiter, which is thought to be very radioactive. “Radiation is good at shredding complicated cells,” he explained.Girguis notes that the building blocks of life — such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur — are found throughout the solar system. Even on Earth, these elements were sustaining life long before oxygen came to dominate our atmosphere. And many of these life forms, he added, are still with us. Launching a space mission from the deepest ocean NASA-backed scientists hope project advances plans to search moons for extraterrestrial life “The so-called anaerobic microbes on Earth are able to harvest energy from chemicals to make a living in ways that we can’t do,” he said. “These microbes live off volcanic gases. Volcanoes make hydrogen and also carbon dioxide, and some microbes can take these and make methane. The vast majority live in the mud in the deep ocean where there is no oxygen or they live in underwater or land volcanoes.“Those microbes are in many ways our inspiration for ways of thinking about how organisms might live on other planets,” he continued. “We are trying very hard to be open-minded about where life might persist and where life might have evolved that is unlike Earth life. By bringing together our various perspectives and really pushing ourselves to think broadly and deeply, we are trying to tackle one of science’s grand questions.”The implications, he pointed out, could not be more vital to our own continued existence. “This is our Earth and to understand our Earth, we have to understand the fundamentals,” he said. “This project allows us to think about what it is we need to keep a planet habitable.” Researcher sketches findings of NASA study of how zero gravity affects the body Relatedlast_img read more

Near-flawless CHAN boosts Morocco World Cup bid

first_imgCentral city Marrakech and Agadir in the south on the Atlantic coast were the other venues used during the 23-day tournament.Cold northern hemisphere winter weather was one deterrent to Moroccans with many who did attend wearing clothing more familiar with Europe than Africa.An encouraging sign, though, was the number of families who came to watch some of the best domestic football talent in Africa.Matches kicked off at 1630 and 1930 local/GMT time and many crowds decreased noticeably after the first game as temperatures dropped significantly.Weather will not be an issue should Morocco be awarded the 2026 World Cup as the tournament is traditionally staged during June and July — hot months in the kingdom.Morocco have not officially named their proposed World Cup venues, but the four CHAN stadiums are sure to be in the list.At least one venue in capital city Rabat would certainly be included too.Share on: WhatsApp Casablanca, Morocco | AFP | Morocco were near-flawless hosts of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN), which ended at the weekend, confirming they are creditable candidates to stage the 2026 World Cup.FIFA member nations will this June select the kingdom or a Canada/Mexico/United States alliance to host the global football showpiece after Russia this year and Qatar in 2022. “Since the first World Cup in 1930, Africa has organised the tournament only once,” he said, referring to the 2010 finals in South Africa.Pre-CHAN tournament favourites Morocco whipped 10-man Nigeria 4-0 to win the competition, which has full international status despite being restricted to home-based footballers.Their six matches attracted near-capacity crowds to the 65,000-capacity Stade Mohammed V in commercial capital Casablanca.However, apart from the group game between Nigeria and Libya in northern city Tangiers, matches not involving the host nation drew paltry crowds.center_img The 2026 World Cup will be the first featuring 48 countries — up from the current 32 — and any serious slip-ups by Morocco in the 16-nation CHAN would have sent damaging signals.However, apart from the decades-old African problem of luring crowds to fixtures not involving the host nation, Morocco emerged with flying colours.Morocco could argue that the crowd-pulling appeal of home-based Africans, however talented, cannot be compared with world superstars like Lionel Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo.“The organisation of this tournament has been exceptional,” Germany-born Rwanda coach Antoine Hey told AFP.“Morocco has provided infrastructure that meets the highest international standards. I am extremely impressed.”Libya goalkeeper and captain Mohamed Nashnush also hailed the organisation by Morocco, who are bidding a fifth time to host the World Cup.“Morocco pulled out all the stops and the Libyan footballers, coaches and officials were very comfortable wherever they went in the country.“The organisation and infrastructure were superb and I hope Morocco win the right to host the 2026 World Cup.”Morocco national football federation head Fouzi Lekjaa, who is also a Confederation of African Football (CAF) vice-president, says his country has a compelling case.last_img read more