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Mars might have salty ponds next to its underground lake

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(CNN) Two years ago, scientists detected what looked like a salty lake under the surface of Mars’ southern ice cap.

Now, new research has found more evidence of the lake, and also revealed a number of smaller salty “ponds” nearby — raising the possibility there may be life on the Red Planet

In the new study, Italian scientists used the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft. The radar covered a larger area of the Martian surface and gathered additional data, allowing the scientists to “confirm the liquid nature of the previously observed lake,” the research team said in a statement.

The scientists were able to gather more specific details about the lake — for instance, they estimate it’s about 30 by 20 kilometers (18.6 by 12.4 miles) in area.

“The presence of a subglacial lake could have important consequences for astrobiology and the presence of habitable niches on Mars,” the statement added.

The study, published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, also said the detection of “several other smaller patches of water” was particularly exciting. The ponds — which the study describes as “patchy water pools or wet areas of smaller extent” — are different sizes, and separated from the main lake by strips of dry land.

The discovery is significant because it gives us a better idea of the Mars climate, and chemical makeup. For instance, the fact the lake and its surrounding ponds are still liquid suggest they are “hypersaline,” the study said — meaning they contain lots of salts. This lowers the melting point, preventing the water from freezing despite the cold environment, and may have allowed them to “survive for an extended period of time on a geological scale.”

And, of course, there’s the question of extraterrestrial life.A study last year suggested that 3 to 4 billion years ago, Mars — now cold and inhospitable — may have been warm enough to host pouring rainstorms and flowing water, which would have created an environment that could support simple life. As temperatures dropped later on, the water would freeze. The latest research posits that life on Mars might not just be a thing of the past.

“The possibility of extended hypersaline water bodies on Mars is particularly exciting because of the potential for the existence of microbial life,” the study said. If there really is life in these salty waters, it could take different forms. The scientists speculated there could be anaerobes — tiny organisms that don’t need oxygen — or extremophiles, which can survive in extreme cold or heat.

There could even be aerobes — organisms that require oxygen. Salty brines like the lakes or ponds hold six times the minimal amount of oxygen needed for microbes to breathe, the study said.

“The water bodies at the base of the (south polar layered deposits) therefore represent areas of potential astrobiological interest and planetary protection concern,” the study concluded, urging future Mars missions to target the polar lake region to gather additional data.

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Special COVID-19 probe crippled by infections among CCD sleuths: AG calls for new police team

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Brandix Apparel Limited yesterday (29) said that the company would fully cooperate with relevant authorities in the investigation ordered by the Attorney General (AG). A spokesperson for the company said so when The Island sought a clarification with regard to AG Dappula de Livera, PC, directing the police to launch a criminal investigation into the alleged lapses on the part of the company as well as those officials leading to the devastating COVID-19 outbreak.

The Minuwangoda eruption, which happened in the first week of October is widely believed to be the cause of the fast expanding Peliyagoda cluster.

Asked whether the police had contacted the Brandix management as regards the investigation and sought access to Brandix management and workers at its Minuwangoda apparel manufacturing facility as well as records at the Minuwangoda facility, the spokesperson said: “We will work with the relevant authorities in this regard”.

The Colombo Crime Division (CCD) tasked with the probe has suffered a serious setback due to a section of its officers being tested positive for COVID-19. Authoritative sources said that the CCD lacked sufficient strength to carry out the investigation.

AG de Livera early this week told DIG Ajith Rohana that a progress report should be submitted to him by or before Nov. 13.

Sources said that the badly depleted CCD was not in a position to conduct the high-profile investigation, in addition to other ongoing inquiries. The AG has directed the Acting IGP to constitute a special team of law enforcement officers to conduct the investigation. Sources acknowledged the urgent need for a thorough inquiry into the far worse second corona wave. Sources said that the AG issued fresh instructions in that regard after the crisis in the CCD was brought to his notice.

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Most garment workers under self-quarantine left to fend for themselves

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A large number of garment workers who were undergoing self-quarantine in Minuwangoda did not receive any assistance, Chamila Thushari of the Dabindu Collective, a labour organisation that works with garment workers, told The Island yesterday.

She said that those who were under self-quarantine did not have money to purchase food and even those who were willing to help could not reach them.

“Some of them have received food parcels from their work places but that is not adequate. Most others have not received any assistance. Matters will only get worse after curfew is imposed throughout the Western Province,” Thushari said.

Most of these workers are undergoing self-quarantine at their boarding places, which also house individuals who still work in garment factories. “Although there is a curfew, they can go to work. These are perfect incubators for the virus,” she said.

Thushari said that every day between 20-30 workers under self-quarantine, tested positive for COVID-19.

There were no public health inspectors to monitor the boarding houses of garment workers to ensure that COVID-19 prevention measures were being followed, she said.

“Not even Grama Niladaris visit them,” Chamila said.

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SJB requests separate seats for its dissidents

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Chief Opposition Whip and Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella has written to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena requesting him to make arrangements to provide separate seats to the nine MPs who had voted with the government for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution recently.

The letter dated yesterday said that the SJB parliamentary group had decided to expel MPs Diana Gamage, A. Aravind Kumar, Ishak Rahuman, Faisal Cassim, H. M. M. Haris, M.S. Thowfeeq, Nazeer Ahmed, A.A.S.M. Raheem and S.M.M. Musharaf and it requests the Speaker to make separate seating arrangements for these MPs in the Chamber.

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