Microbes on Mars

Constant efforts are being made to find out whether there are signs of life on Mars, and a lot more is being uncovered about this intriguing planet. The reason astrobiologists and researchers are so interested in finding out more about whether there ever was or are life forms on Mars is due to the similarity between Mars and the Earth. Earth and Mars both have seasons, except Mars has seasons that last twice as long as seasons on Earth. Also, the conditions on Mars indicate that it is the most hospitable astronomical body after planet Earth. Thus, space missions have been and still are being sent in order to understand whether Mars may have extra-terrestrial inhabitants and whether human settlements can actually be established there.

Sign of Life on Mars

According to the most recent news, evidence has been found that shows signs of microbes and even fossils on Mars. However, only photographic evidence has been sent as yet; more cannot be found out until samples from Mars are brought back to earth for examination. However, this has made it certain that there is some presence of life, or at least the precursor of life in the form of microbes, on Mars.

Also, scientists have discovered that microbes even found a way to inhabit Atacama Desert in Chile, which is similar to Mars in terms of condition. Atacama Desert does not receive any rain or moisture, and is highly arid, which is quite similar to the Mars landscape. It is already proven that there is frozen water on Mars, and recent research also concluded that there are moisture events that take place near Mars’s surface, like nightly snowfall, which signals the potential for life.

Why There Should Be More In Depth Exploration

Before landing human missions or having samples brought to earth, scientists need to determine if there is extra-terrestrial life present on Mars or not. There is no telling what astronauts or robots may encounter there and bring back to Earth. Rather than worrying about contaminating Mars, as the strict planetary protection protocols state, it should be known whether samples could endanger our biosphere and humanity. These protocols are not considering the fact the human missions are set to go in merely a decade or two.

Why Contaminating Mars Should Not Be A Worry

Tersicoccus phoenicis is a bacteria that has only been found where space crafts are assembled and can be used as a key technique by explorers to differentiate between Mars and Earth organisms. The microbes present in the space crafts can be used in order to monitor contamination levels. If there is a sample from Mars that contains the same or similar microorganisms to the spacecraft assembly rooms, then it can indicate contamination rather than sign of life on Mars. Technology can also help distinguish between Alien matter and Earth matter, and even if both come out as similar, genomes sequencing can be done in order to confirm that it belongs to Mars.

Since it has been proven that there are microbes present on Earth, the organic microorganisms that have been found could turn into building blocks for potential Martian life in the future. The possibilities this research and future plans pose are limitless.


Turning Waste Into Fuel

Hearing about greenhouse gases, ocean dumping, and full landfills has become the norm over the last few decades. With the current growth in human population, which of course leads to more industry and more waste, it’s no wonder that we are now facing one of the biggest challenges of our day – what to do with all that garbage? Luckily, there are many people and companies taking on this challenge and coming up with new ways to use waste, by turning it into usable biofuels, instead of filling up the oceans or landfills with it.

The process of converting solid waste, things like plastics and food waste, into usable fuel is complex and attempts in the past have proven to be costly and inefficient. The transformation process requires gasifying the solid waste and in the midst of that process, other unusable, even toxic, compounds are created.

The benefits of being able to efficiently convert our solid waste into usable biofuels are tremendous, from powering vehicles and creating heat sources to the obvious – cleaning up our world oceans and landfills. Not to mention that our current fossil fuel system contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every step of its production and use, from extracting it, to processing and shipping and burning it as fuel. Already we can see that this gasification process for solid wastes is contributing more positively than the harm caused by utilizing fossil fuels, and the hope is that plants built and run in certain locations across the globe (those most affected by trash build-up) will lead to more plants being built, thus a clean energy cycle can begin to perpetuate itself, instead of the wasteful fossil fuel/combustion system we are currently stuck in.

And that’s not even the end of it. Not only do these waste conversion plants create renewable, clean energy sources, but they turn a profit as well. Companies like Synova, Fiberight, Harvest Power, Sierra Energy, UrbanX Renewables Group and Plastic2Oil are all providing a service that is truly necessary while at the same time, helping local communities to boost their economies.

The biofuel created through the gasification process is called syngas and can be used for a variety of things. The most common use is as a fuel additive. By combining it with regular gasoline it acts as an ethanol mix. Many cars are now able to use gasoline with added ethanol and some vehicles even run on up to 85% ethanol mixes.

With these new advances in waste conversion, and so many people and companies around the world taking a hard look at the concerns of growing landfills and ocean dumping it will be no time at all until we are seeing the vast improvements in air quality and cleaner oceans, not to mention smaller landfills. It likely won’t be that far off that your vehicle is making a positive difference in the fight against CO2 buildup and greenhouse emissions as well. Recycling and reusing was a great first stab at cleaning up our planet, but it’s become evident that this push towards using waste as fuel will only further the efforts and help us all to leave a cleaner world behind for future generations to come.

Space Exploration

Man has been looking to the stars since before recorded history. Most of our exploration has been through the use of telescopes and simple observation, but in the last hundred years, we have collectively begun to explore through manned spaceflights and with the use of unmanned satellites.

There are space programs in many countries around the world today, with perhaps the most well-known being NASA in the US, the ESA in Europe (run and funded by a conglomerate of European countries), the CNSA in China, JAXA in Japan, the ISRO from India and Roscosmos in Russia.

Historically, the Russians have a lot of ‘firsts’ under their belt in the space exploration arena. The first living Human Being to orbit Earth in 1957, the first manned spaceflight in 1961, the first spacewalk in 1965, the first unmanned landing on a celestial body other than Earth in 1966, and the first space station in 1971 can all be attributed to Russia.

But with Russia’s advancements came a push on the part of the US to excel in space exploration and knowledge. Since those early days of our reach to the stars, the world as a whole has seen a change in the race for knowledge of the galaxy into a cooperation of many nations that wish to have a hand in furthering humankind’s influence in our corner of the universe.

Currently, in the US, Donald Trump has proposed new goals for NASA and space exploration programs that would further propel the US into a state of power in the reaches of space. Proposing to have a new manned mission to the moon, including plans for a permanent moon base, NASA has been careful to provide dates that are flexible to account for finding resolutions to unknown obstacles that may present themselves.

Even private organizations and corporations are now taking part in the exploration of space and space-related technologies. Blue Origin and SpaceX are both private companies that seek to become forerunners in the privatization of space flights and space tourism.

Most people support the funding of space programs, while the exploration and colonization of nearby celestial bodies are seen as necessary by many scientists and astronomers. Stephan Hawking himself was known to have believed that without the expansion of humans into space we would certainly face our demise due to a lack of resources on Earth that can continue supporting our fast-growing population.

Space tourism has become a recent addition to our knowledge and use of the outer atmosphere as well. Many people dream of going to space and a handful of companies have recently unveiled plans for luxury hotels, spaceflights, and private space stations.

Space exploration has introduced so much into our knowledge of the physics of the universe and even our own planetary functions. We have sent many unmanned missions to various planets and comets which have sent information back to scientists here that are able to extrapolate data that will further our future missions to colonize the planets around us. It will be a wonder to see what the next big discovery is, not only for us but for the future of mankind as well.

Fossil Fuel Phase Out

Humans have been using fossil fuels for heat and light since before recorded history. For a very long time, it was only coal that we used. In the middle of the 19th century, however, petroleum oil began to replace animal oil in lamps, bringing about the first commercial uses of fossil fuels. Prior to this, windmills and watermills were the main source of energy for industry (milling, metal working, etc.) at the time.

With the advent of the Industrial Age however, we have seen a very consistent rise in the need for fossil fuel. Used for shipping and transportation, oil and gasoline in machines and automobiles, and plastic production fossil fuels have become the go-to source for so many of our modern day technologies.

Recently though, there have been advancements made in renewable energy resources, solar and wind power particularly, and these new sources of energy are causing fossil fuels to be less necessary.

One company, Carbon Tracker, predicts that fossil fuel demands will peak in the 2020’s, while research from Oxford University predicts that we will see the peak happen as soon as this year. Previous estimates had put the peak somewhere around 2050 and oil and gas companies seem unfazed by the rapid growth of the renewable energy resource industry itself, despite the fact that coal already saw its peak happen in 2014.

Currently, the fossil fuel industry carries about $25 trillion in assets, but markets are expected to take a large hit as renewable resources become less expensive and more popular. Some countries coming into their industry phases are even foregoing fossil fuel systems entirely and setting themselves up with renewable resource energy sources right from the start.

Old technologies are often eclipsed by up and coming ideas and are often deemed obsolete after a time when more efficient means of producing results are generated. The fossil fuel industry is likely headed in this direction given the popularity of renewable resources and the fight on carbon pollution.

With so many people, companies and countries looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, it is no wonder that there has been a boom in the renewable resource sector and a subsequent decline in the fossil fuel industry. Even with the US backing out of the Paris climate agreement, and some other countries threatening to follow suit, there is an estimate that by 2050, renewables will have overtaken fossil fuels in so many applications.

Nothing lasts forever, so they say, and those people and countries who have been so dependent on oil and gas for so long will see the day when fossil fuels become outdated. Just because oil and gas have reigned supreme in the energy industry for so long does not mean that they will be protected against these cleaner technologies now making appearances in the world market.

Cleaning the Plastic From Oceans

Since the advent of man-made plastics in the mid 19th century, the world has seen the rise of plastic products in almost every industry. Everything from milk cartons to cars to the International Space Station include plastic on some level. Incredible advancements in medical technology are owed to the simple existence of this miracle material. People make use of it every day, particularly in ‘single-use’ applications like straws, plastic bags at grocery stores and packaging material.

But plastic doesn’t biodegrade in any feasible time frame. In a landfill, plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. A plastic water bottle alone needs 450 years to break down. And with the ‘single-use’ plastic products so widely utilized today, we now face a major ecological issue.

Merchant ships, private boaters and even whole countries began dumping trash into the oceans beginning in the Industrial Revolution and continuing to today. In 1975 it was estimated that a whopping 14 billion pounds of trash were being dumped into the world’s oceans every day.

But plastic doesn’t break down and soon scientists began to see elevated levels of man-made plastics, even microscopic particles of it, particularly in the Pacific. Deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is made up of an undetermined area between California and China. Despite its scary name, the Patch is not visible in the traditional sense. It is merely a part of the Pacific Ocean where currents have caused the plastic and plastic macroparticles to gather into a somewhat cohesive mass.

In recent years, there have been many people who have attempted to come up with ways to clean the plastic from the world’s oceans. Among the inventions and ideas that have been presented is the SeaBin (designed by two surfers from Australia), a simple bucket and water pump system. This invention is employed in only a few marinas around the world and is still in its development stages, but plans are being made to build larger scale models that could tackle larger areas.

Let’s not forget to mention the Ocean Cleanup project, started by an determined teen in the US, which has raised more than $30 million dollars to develop a system to clean the Patch.This apparatus consists of V shaped floats that ‘sweep’ up debris floating on the surface as ocean currents push it along. This project was officially launched in September of 2018 off the coast of California and claims that it will clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in its first 5 years.

Amidst these wonderful new technologies to begin cleaning our precious world oceans, there are also new ways to keep plastic from entering the oceans to begin with. Turning plastic waste into useable products again is just one way to tackle the ecological disaster that we now face. Even movements like banning the use of plastic bags in some states in the US have gone a long way toward creating a cleaner environment for our marine life and the future inhabitants of Earth.

Tesla and South Australia Collaborate – Constructing the World’s Largest Virtual Solar Power Plant

The government of Australia plans to increase the amount of energy the country gets from renewable sources. With the help of Elon Musk’s company, Tesla, they plan on building the largest virtual power plant in the world. It will be made up of 50,000 households that will be provided with power from Tesla batteries and solar panels. The project is currently underway with installation scheduled to take place over the next four years. The solar panel will generate energy to be stored in the batteries, with the excess being sent back to the centrally controlled grid to help power the rest of the state.

A statewide blackout in 2016, blamed on the failure of renewable energy to cover the usage during peak periods and severe weather which caused transmission towers to topple, initiated the start of the project. To create a solution to the country’s energy problems Tesla gave themselves a 100-day deadline, to build the world’s biggest battery. Alongside Tesla’s installations, the government has created their own mission which will subsidize AU$2500 of the initial costs for each system.

A trial has begun, with 1100 public housing properties expected to have a 5kW solar panel system and a 13.5kW Tesla Powerwall 2 battery installed. This will be followed by another 24,000 public houses receiving the same system. The expansion into supplying private homes will begin in 2019. The company expects the system to provide as much energy as a large coal power plant or gas turbine. Once power has been stored in the battery, it will be able to restore energy to homes in a fraction of a second following an outage.

The funding for the program will come from a grant of AU$2,000,000, plus a loan of AU$30,000,000 from a state technology fund. The project’s total cost is expected to be AU$800,000,000, with the remaining funding provided by investors. Interest in the program has already been expressed by 6500 investors, and its scale may be increased if this number grows. The government expects that the virtual power plant will provide 20% of the state’s average daily requirements, as well as cut the costs of power by 30%. The project’s success will also prove South Australia as a leader in the use of renewable energy and could encourage more countries to invest in the same layout.