SMC: Mars' building blocks for life

Published: Fri 8 Jun 2018 03:20 PM
Mars' building blocks for life
The Curiosity rover has found new evidence that Mars could have supported ancient life, and NASA's scientists say their findings show they’re on the right path in the search for evidence of life.
A series of papers published today in Science detail the findings, which include seasonal variations in methane in Mars’ atmosphere over the span of nearly three Mars years (about six Earth years).
Organic molecules were found near the surface in three-billion-year-old rocks from the Gale Crater, which the findings suggest used to house a lake.
University of Auckland physicist Dr Nicholas Rattenbury told TVNZ’s Breakfast the discovery was a “huge step forward along the path to answering the question: is there life on Mars?”.
“Life is based on these organic chemicals and it also produces these organic molecules,” he said. “So if there was life on Mars, then we would expect to see those organic molecules on its surface.”
However, geological processes could also be behind the production of these organic molecules.
University of Auckland astrobiologist Professor Kathy Campbell, whose research includes looking at ancient terrestrial life as examples for where to search for life on Mars, told The AM Show the methane could be leaking out from some storage. “What’s key about that methane, though, is it might warm up the atmosphere, make lakes sometimes, and then you might be able to have more habitats for life.”
The European Space Agency’s next rover mission would include drilling into the surface of Mars, which Prof Campbell said might find subterranean water.
Quoted: RNZ
"We spend a lot of time talking about: how do we create entrepreneurs or how do we inject great experiences into the school system, and something that costs no money at all is being enthusiastic about the things that kids actually want to do."
University of Auckland's Professor Richard Easther
on what we should say to children who have ambitious dreams like going into space.
Zero Carbon (and methane?)
As consultation opens on the proposed Zero Carbon Bill, some researchers say gases like methane need to be treated separately to carbon.
Published this week in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science, the study argued against treating all greenhouse gases as "CO2-equivalent", instead adjusting the global warming potential metric to account for differences between short- and long-lived gases.
Victoria University of Wellington's Professor Dave Frame, a co-author on the study, told the NZ Herald the way methane was currently accounted for exaggerated the long-term effects of methane on the climate.
"We think we have a better way of making this comparison, that uses the same basic principles used today, but applies them differently to take account of the fact that methane has a vigorous heating effect, but is short-lived, while CO2 has a weaker but near-permanent effect on temperatures."
"If we make trade-offs that favour reductions in agricultural methane instead of fossil carbon, then we will be making a mistake from a climate change perspective," Prof Frame said.
Zero Carbon consultation
Public consultation has opened on the proposed Zero Carbon Bill, which includes specific questions around what the 2050 targets should include: net-zero carbon dioxide only; net-zero long-lived gases (e.g. CO2, nitrous oxide) and stabilised short-lived gases like methane; or net-zero emissions for all greenhouse gases.
The Zero Carbon Bill will also formally establish the Climate Change Commission and the consultation is seeking views on what powers and functions the commission should have when it is set up in May next year.
An interim climate committee has been set up in the meantime and one of the committee's roles is to consider how agriculture might enter the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Submissions on the Zero Carbon Bill close on 19 July and the Bill is expected to be introduced in October before going to Select Committee and coming into force in April 2019.
Policy news & developments
New Ministry: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development will be established from 1 August, with the aim of helping to make housing more affordable and our cities more liveable.
Tourists pay more: Overseas visitors to four of the popular Great Walks will pay more than locals for DOC huts and campsites for the 2018/19 season, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced.
New clinical chief advisor: Public health physician and epidemiologist Dr Juliet Rumball-Smith has been given the Ministry of Health appointment, with a focus on primary health care.
M.bovis in Wairarapa: A sheep and beef farm near Masterton is under legal controls after stock tested positive for Mycoplasma bovis.
Aquatic weed wipe-out: MPI has begun work to eradicate salvinia, one of the world's worst aquatic weeds, from a Papamoa stream.
Osteoporosis drug funded: Pharmac has agreed to fund denosumab (Prolia) for the treatment of severe, established osteoporosis, subject to certain clinical criteria.
More threatened plants: A new DOC report has shown 113 more native plants are classified as ‘threatened’ compared to the last assessment in 2012.
Proposed forestry regulations: Forestry Minister Shane Jones and Climate Change Minister James Shaw have released 12 proposed improvements to forestry regulations in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS) for public consultation.
ED violence under-reported
A Christchurch nurse's study has revealed violence has become so commonplace in emergency departments that staff have become apathetic about reporting it.
Led by ED nurse researcher Sandra Richardson and published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, the study found there were 107 reports of violence in May 2014 in Christchurch Hospital, including 19 physical assaults, but no incident forms were submitted that same month.
Dr Richardson said staff felt reporting violence was often a waste of time as they didn’t think anything would change, Newshub reported.
She told the NZ Herald she had been struck, swung at, and vomited on by patients during her 30 years in the profession. “You wouldn’t work in a bank or supermarket and know that people are going to come in a swear at you, spit at you, threaten to kill you or follow you home,” she said.
The study resulted in ED staff from other parts of the country, including Wellington and Auckland, speaking up about violence they had experience in the job.
Hospitals responded to say security and staff training had increased and several had attempted to make reporting easier in recent years.
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