Life Exists in the Driest Desert on Earth. It Could Exist on Mars, Too.

Atacama Analogue

When we think of the potential for life on planetary bodies besides Earth, we automatically look for water. Whether it be growing at the bottom of Europa’s ocean or swimming in Titan’s methane lakes, we look for liquid because we understand the origins of life on Earth likely hinged on its abundant water. But a new study, led by scientists at Washington State University (WSU), suggests that life could exist with minimal water, even on planets as dry as Mars.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study examined the driest corner of the world’s driest desert — South America’s Atacama Desert. Here, decades pass with no rain, and it’s dry enough to be analogous to the surface of Mars.

A hazy half-eclipsed image of Mars. Mars bacteria could have evolved to be similar to those found in Earth's driest deserts.
Could such a harsh environment sustain life? Image Credit: Aynur_zakirov / Pixabay

Scientists have known that microbes exist in these extremely arid conditions, but they have been previously unsure of whether the microbes actually reside in this environment or are simply temporarily moved there by weather patterns. Within this study, the researchers concluded that this desert actually supports permanent microbial life.

The research team visited the Atacama in 2015 following an extremely rare rainfall, and detected a veritable boom of microbial life in the soil afterwards. When the team returned over the next two years, their samples showed the same microbial communities were still there, but had begun to dry out and go dormant, awaiting the next rain.

Martian Conditions

“It has always fascinated me to go to the places where people don’t think anything could possibly survive and discover that life has somehow found a way to make it work,” said Washington State planetary scientist Dirk Schulze-Makuch, in a press release. Schulze-Makuch led the study as part of his research into Earth’s most extreme organisms, which could tell us something about life through our universe.

Jurassic Park references aside, our research tell us that if life can persist in Earth’s driest environment there is a good chance it could be hanging in there on Mars in a similar fashion,” he said.

This doesn’t mean that Mars is secretly teeming with life. However, it does point to the possibility. Because the Red Planet once held liquid water, Mars bacteria could have developed and then, as the planet dried out, evolved to adapt to a niche below the surface. Because Mars is so much colder, similar communities would likely have to live off the occasional melting of soil ice or snowfall on the surface.

The Washington state team will next be exploring extremely cold and salty locations on Earth to study more environments that could parallel those on Mars.

“There are only a few places left on Earth to go looking for new lifeforms that survive in the kind of environments you would find on Mars,” Schulze-Makuch said. “Our goal is to understand how they are able to do it so we will know what to look for on the Martian surface.”

The post Life Exists in the Driest Desert on Earth. It Could Exist on Mars, Too. appeared first on Futurism.


Skype bug could allow malicious attacker ‘system’ level access, Microsoft says fix is ‘too much work’

A nasty Skype bug could allow a malicious attacker to gain “system” level access, if exploited. The bug is applicable on both macOS and Windows desktop platforms.



Skeptical about HomePod? Me too. Use Apple’s return policy to try it in your home

Even though I loved what I heard, I’m still not sure HomePod is the speaker for me. But I’m going to try it.

In my house, we may all own Macs and iPhones, but we listen to Sonos speakers and talk to Alexa. I’ve been a die-hard Sonos fan since 2014, and Alexa came into our lives somewhat accidentally, after I had to test an Echo Dot for work. Regardless of their entry into my life, I now rely on both for my day-to-day interactions.

I wrote off Apple’s HomePod after its delay, largely because I’d just purchased a Sonos One and I didn’t see the need for a doubly-expensive speaker that wouldn’t integrate with my current network. But after having the chance to listen to HomePod, I’m starting to waver.

For one, the HomePod sounds incredible, especially given its close-to-Sonos-One footprint. It’s the speaker’s sound — and the way its A8 chip separates both channels and frequency to deliver incredible audio — that moved me from the “niche product I’ll never buy” category to “I want it for my living room.”

And while I’ve used Alexa for almost two years, I don’t love the privacy I give up by letting the service log every query I make (and tie it to my Amazon ID).

But HomePod isn’t perfect. It won’t support multi-room audio at launch — something my Sonos speakers have done for years — nor can I use Siri to launch a Spotify playlist, if I’m so inclined. Maybe the worst offender? Siri on HomePod isn’t launching with multiple timer support: It’s still limited to just a single timer. Though you can set multiple alarms instead, it’s just not the same when you’re cooking. (Heck — that skill alone sold me on Alexa after just a day with the Echo Dot.)

Needless to say: While I’m much warmer on HomePod than I was before listening to it, I’m still not sure if it can serve as a proper replacement for my Alexa system.

Lucky for me (and you), Apple offers a no-questions-asked 15-day return policy for most of its hardware. Whether you want a private HomePod listening test or you (like me) are curious to see whether it can handle everything you’ve used other assistants for, it might be worth ordering the speaker from Apple’s website. 
Short of you breaking the thing, you can return the HomePod online or to any Apple Store if you decide Siri doesn’t strike your fancy or it doesn’t blow you away with full-room sound.

I’m of course hoping that once in my home it wows me the way it did when I first listened to it. All the same: If it doesn’t, it’s nice to know that I can give it a solid try on my terms — and send it back to Apple for someone who might love it more if it doesn’t work out for me.

See at Apple

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Facebook admits Messenger is “too cluttered,” promises massive streamlining this year

In the words of David Marcus, who is Facebook’s Vice President of Messaging products, the company’s official mobile Messenger app for iPhone and iPad has become “too cluttered.”… Read the rest of this post here

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Facebook VP: Messenger App ‘Too Cluttered’ and Will Be ‘Massively’ Streamlined This Year

Facebook vice president of messaging products, David Marcus, posted an update on Messenger today, outlining the app’s successes in 2017 and hinting at what the team has planned for 2018.

In the post, Marcus mentioned that the Messenger team knows the app has become “too cluttered.” Because of this, they have planned a big update for 2018, which will introduce a simplified and streamlined experience for Facebook Messenger (via The Verge).

Over the last two years, we built a lot of capabilities to find the features that continue to set us apart. A lot of them have found their product market fit; some haven’t. While we raced to build these new features, the app became too cluttered. Expect to see us invest in massively simplifying and streamlining Messenger this year.

In 2017 alone, Facebook Messenger added its 24-hour Snapchat clone “Messenger Day,” introduced location sharing, integrated AI assistant “M” into the app, added Apple Music and Spotify extensions, let users purchase products with a MasterCard chatbot, introduced PayPal P2P payments, and even announced a Messenger spin-off app for kids. The main Messenger app got a redesign in May 2017, with Facebook stating at the time that the changes helped “make Messenger simpler for you.” Now it appears that the company will try again to simplify the chat app in 2018.

Marcus didn’t specify which parts of Facebook Messenger might be removed in the streamlining process, but he did mention a few aspects that the company will continue to focus on in 2018. These include doubling down on “visual messaging” — i.e. gifs, stickers, videos, and images — and evolving customer service into a “Customer Care” experience so that users can easily contact companies to have basic troubleshooting and other questions answered.

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American athletes have doped at the Olympics, too. Why did only Russia get banned?

USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan explains why the International Olympic Committee’s ban was the right call on the latest episode of Recode Decode.

Heading into the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, all eyes were on how the International Olympic Committee would react to 2016 revelations of state-sanctioned doping among Russian athletes. And to the amazement of some, the IOC followed through, formally barring Russia from the event fewer than 10 weeks before it was set to begin.

Talking to Recode’s Kara Swisher before that momentous ban, USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan was pessimistic about its chances. But she explained why it’s the right call.

“There are people out there to this day who came in fourth or fifth, who should’ve been second or third,” Brennan said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “They didn’t get the medals, and if they get them — occasionally they do return gold and give it to the right person — it comes in a FedEx box and they open it up at home in their foyer. ‘Oh, huh, I’m a bronze medalist.’”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Brennan preemptively answered a likely critique of the IOC’s eventual decision: Why haven’t other countries been banned for their doping athletes? Doping athletes like, say, American cyclist Lance Armstrong, or American track and field athlete Marion Jones?

“Here’s the difference: When Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones and all those other scoundrels cheated and got caught, they were doing it in defiance of their national Olympic committee, the U.S. Olympic Committee,” Brennan said. “When all these Russians were cheating, they were doing it in compliance and cooperation with their national federation.”

“What the Russians did would be the equivalent of, probably, Barack Obama knowing, but certainly the FBI director knowing, the CIA knowing, the U.S. Olympic Committee all in cahoots with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, probably members of Congress, all of them,” she added. “The only way to stop this is you kick ’em out. You take them away from the one thing they want.”

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  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
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The ‘Me too’ movement against sexual harassment and assault is sweeping social media

The movement started on Twitter yesterday; now it dominates Facebook.

“Me too.”

Those two words that have been repeated millions of times in the last 24 hours on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They’re posted by women who say they’ve faced sexual harassment and assault. And they show the power and speed that social media can deploy; this one seems reminiscent of “ice bucket challenge” of 2014, but sharper and faster.

Actress Alyssa Milano kicked off the movement yesterday, when she tweeted that a friend had suggested that women who have faced sexual assault and harassment post “Me too” as a status.

Milano’s original tweet currently has more than 40,000 comments.

While Milano started the “Me too” call to action on Twitter, the movement quickly spread to Facebook where, as of 11:30 a.m. ET on Monday, more than 8.7 million users were posting or “talking” about it. And that number is quickly rising.

A screenshot showing millions of posts of “Me too” to show solidarity and protest sexual assault and sexual harassment victims.

On Twitter, the hashtag #MeToo is trending in several cities. Twitter is giving it an additional push via a moment featuring tweets from actresses Anna Paquin and Debra Messing. And Instagram has more than 300,000 posts associated with the “Me too” hashtag.

Recode – All