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Life on Mars? Billion-year-old water found near Timmins could offer glimpse into the past – Toronto Star



Scientists are hoping water found near Timmins, Ont., that is more than a billion years old can provide insight into the possibility that life once existed on Mars.

Dr. Barbara Sherwood Lollar, a University of Toronto geochemist, first found the ancient salt water 2.4 kilometres underground in Kidd Creek Mine in 2009.

It took Sherwood Lollar’s team four years to verify the age of the water. They then began sampling it for microscopic life. Four to five years later, they confirmed that microbes lived in the water.

The discovery “opened up our understanding of the frontiers of the planet,” the geochemist said.

Sherwood Lollar has been sampling water in mines across Canada, in southern Africa and northern Europe for about 34 years. She knew that mines had salty water and wanted to understand why.

She took the trip to the Kidd Creek Mine, which is about 24 kilometres north of Timmins, in search of water as old or older than water the scientist had found in South African gold mines between 2003 and 2011. Sherwood Lollar confirmed that water to be anywhere from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of years old.

The Kidd Creek sample was the first time particles of flowing water were verified to be more than a billion years old.

While miners have long known about the salty water, research into why it was salty “flew under the radar of the scientific community,” Sherwood Lollar said. In fact, most Canadian geologists working on the Canadian Shield weren’t aware of any water in the mines, said Sherwood Lollar. It wasn’t until the 1980s and ’90s that scientists began investigating.

Sherwood Lollar hypothesized the salinity was a product of chemical reactions between the water and rock over long periods of time. The resulting chemicals made the ancient water habitable and could indicate that life exists in it, in the form of rock-eating microbes, or chemolithotrophs, the geochemist thought.

The rocks in the Canadian Shield, the exposed portion of the continental crust underneath the majority of North America that makes up about half of Canada’s land mass, are some of the oldest on Earth, with most ranging from 2.7 to three billion years old.

The Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but the oldest rocks are usually not preserved because they have been destroyed over time, Sherwood Lollar said. The rock at Kidd Creek, however, is quite well-preserved, she said.

By 2019, Sherwood Lollar and her team confirmed the hypothesis that the life forms do, indeed, exist in the ancient water.

The rock-eating microbes can live deep within the Earth because they are not photosynthetic, and therefore, do not rely on the sun for energy, Sherwood Lollar said.

Discovering that the water at Kidd Creek was more than a billion years old led Sherwood Lollar’s team to compare it to Mars and other planets.

Organisms in ecosystems deep beneath the surface of the Earth could provide insight into life that may have existed under similar conditions on Mars, three or four billion years ago, she said.

“The big question is … could any signs of that life still be preserved in the subsurface of Mars, where water might still be in evidence?

“We know now that Mars is a cold, dry desert. Nothing’s living on the surface of Mars,” Sherwood Lollar said. “But early in its history, Mars had a much more habitable environment, or potentially habitable environment, similar to Earth.”

Sherwood Lollar’s team extracted various samples of the ancient water for research and teaching purposes. In 2019, she approached Ingenium’s National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa.

A conservation lab at the Ingenium Centre, next to the Museum of Science and Technology, now hosts a 60 millilitre sample of the ancient water, in a vial that can fit in the palm of a hand.

Rebecca Dallgoy, curator of natural resources and industrial technologies at Ingenium, said she feels “honoured, humbled and responsible,” for the water now under Ingenium’s stewardship.



The sample is being kept at room temperature in a silicate glass vial to ensure it does not evaporate.

There are plans to house the sample at other facilities within the Ingenium Centre, such as the Digital Innovation Lab and Research Institute. There, the museum can host researchers and make the water available for digital projects.

“We mostly do research on the artifacts in our collection and on material culture and on relationships with visitors,” Dolgoy said. “We won’t be analyzing the water sample in the lab. It’s more of the interpretive possibilities and the meanings.”

Sherwood Lollar is excited about the timing of the Ingenium exhibit, “because it’s coming about right about the same time that we’re finally able to tell you something about the organisms that are living in that ancient water.”

The geochemist never predicted that she would find water so ancient at Kidd Creek.

“We expected to find something old, but as happens with science, sometimes it still manages to surprise you,” Sherwood Lollar said.

When her team learned the water was more than a billion years old, they took their time to retrieve more samples and run more tests, Sherwood Lollar said.

In fact, her team didn’t publish its first paper on the water until four years later, in 2013.

The scientists used nine factors to determine the water’s age, including the amount of noble gases present. Noble gases are highly unreactive, so they accumulate over time. In turn, the concentration indicates how long the water has been present, Sherwood Lollar said.

“We wanted to be so sure that we were getting this right because it was such a game changer,” Sherwood Lollar said. “It literally pushed back our understanding of how old flowing water could be.”

In 2019, Sherwood Lollar was named co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research program “Earth 4D — Subsurface Science and Exploration.”

The scientist will continue working with international partners to research the system found at the Kidd Creek Mine and whether or not it could exist elsewhere on Earth.

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Axiom Space Announces Ax1 – First All-Private Crew To Visit ISS – Forbes



When it comes to space, even the wildest ideas have a chance of becoming reality – especially when the timing and technology align just so. Four years ago, Axiom Space announced plans to build a private space station; like for many companies with similar plans before them, the news was generally well received but with a healthy dose of “we’ll believe it when we see it.” Over the intervening years, Houston-based Axiom has continued the steady march forward and today took a major step on the planned path to create a private space station – and prove the demand for those willing to pay to reach it.

Today, Axiom Space announced the four members selected for the first private crew to visit the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed Ax1, will be lead by former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría as commander. American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe of Israel will round out the crew as pilot and two mission specialists respectively.

Early reception was generally positive; while some pointed out that the crew lacks gender diversity, others countered that former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is currently slated as Ax1’s backup commander. (John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tenn. is the backup mission pilot.)

“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said. “I look forward to leading this crew and to their next meaningful and productive contributions to the human story, both on orbit and back home.”

The four-member crew, which is currently scheduled to launch to the ISS no earlier than January 2022 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will spend eight days on the space station before returning to earth. They will participate in research and philanthropy projects during that period, similar to the work current governmental astronauts do during their longer tenures on ISS. Each man paid $55 million for their spot on the Ax1 crew and to cover costs of launch and accommodation aboard ISS.

This is in line with the sums past space tourists have paid for individual flights to the ISS. Eight private citizens traveled to space between 2001 and 2009, each paying between reportedly between $20-25 million. A successful Ax1 mission will increase the number of private citizens who have visited the ISS by 50%, and pave the way for a more comfortable ride (Crew Dragon was generally praised for being comfortable by DM-2 astronaut Bob Behnken; the Russian Soyuz that carried past space tourists is notoriously uncomfortable.)

“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”

However, the flight and stay aboard ISS are not guaranteed: Axiom Space is still negotiating a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) with NASA to enable private astronaut missions like Ax1 and future planned missions. The eventual goal is to send two missions per year to the ISS while Axiom Space builds out a private space station, first as a series of attached modules to the existing ISS structure, then as a free-floating station of its own.

The crew announcement marks an important first step, as it puts names and faces to the private citizens who may make history as early as January next year.

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'It honestly blows my mind': U of A student part of team that found baby tyrannosaurus fossil – Edmonton Journal



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A baby tyrannosaurus fossil found in central Alberta is helping the scientific community get a better understanding of how the dinosaur species developed at an early age.

University of Alberta PhD student Mark Powers was a part of the research team that found a claw from an embryo near the village of Morrin, about 270 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, a few years ago. The fossil, which dated back roughly 71.5 million years ago, was notable as it captured the dinosaur while still in early development.

The claw, about a centimetre long, was paired with another fossil, a jawbone, which was discovered in the ’80s in the United States.

Powers said researchers have a good grasp of tyrannosaurus during its teenage to adult years but there are few records of what they were like while very young. He said the smallest identifiable tyrannosaur on record is usually already three to four years old.

“We didn’t know anything about them hatching or their first year,” Powers said. “Finding these two specimens shows that they are around, and it gives us a search image to search for more babies. It helps to fill in the entire sequence of growing for a tyrannosaurus. We had a good idea of teenagers and later, but we had no idea about the babies.”

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Wildlife rescue group says bird feeders could be spreading bacterial infection among songbirds –



Bird feeders have become a source of pandemic joy for bird lovers in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, but they could be leading to an illness in birds including the pine siskin, a very small songbird species.

The Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. says its hospital has admitted more than 78 pine siskins earlier in the month due to what appears to be a potential outbreak of salmonellosis. On Vancouver Island, the Greater Victoria Wild Animal Rehabilitation Clinic has taken in about 50 pine siskins showing signs of disease.

Many of them have since died.

While the disease is still being confirmed, the B.C. SPCA is asking people to temporarily take down their bird feeders to help control the spread of salmonella.

Over a hundred pine siskins on B.C.’s South Coast have been taken to wildlife facilities due to a potential outbreak of salmonellosis. (Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C.)

Andrea Wallace, the manager of wild animal welfare at the B.C. SPCA, says bird feeders are a way that disease can spread very quickly among among the birds.

“Bird feeders are a congregation point where birds will come and feed close together in an unnatural environment,” Wallace said to host Kathryn Marlow on CBC’s All Points West. 

“If you think about how birds would naturally forage for food, they are distributed over a wide area and they are not coming into contact with each other so closely.”

So far, Wallace says, it’s only really been pine siskins that have been affected by the illness — and she’s says it’s not entirely clear why.

“It is really disheartening to see so many of them coming into care this year. We had absolutely nothing like this last year or even the year before, so it’s pretty alarming when its happening in these kind of numbers.”

Some symptoms of an infected bird include lethargy, difficulty breathing and a puffed-up appearance.

“These birds can be very lethargic and not respond to predators. They can also become disoriented and hit windows,” Wallace said.

If you do encounter an infected bird, Wallace says you can get the bird to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Wear gloves and use a blanket before picking up the bird, and place it in a fabric-lined, well-ventilated box for transport. 

“One thing we don’t want is these birds to be out in the wild and suffering unnecessarily and also potentially infecting other animals.”

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