images from the world of research

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The Princess, the Con Man, and the Ill-Fated First Contact between Afghanistan and the United States

While researching the history of Afghanistan for the next RP entry, I came across a strange story. In 1921, a rapidly-modernizing Afghanistan sent delegations around the world to establish contact with various countries. However, they never got much of an audience in the United States – because, unbeknownst to them, there was already an Afghan delegation there. This was:

an old woman named “Princess” Fatima Sultana … She came festooned in jewels and looking like every New Yorker’s image of a Theda Bara-style exotic from the mysterious east. Her jewels included one particularly large diamond she called the Darya-i-Noor (River of Light). She was travelling with a rascal who called himself the Crown Prince of Egypt. …

To make matters worse, these two con artists fell victim themselves to an American con artist named Weymouth, who convinced them he was with the Department of the Navy and said he would present Fatima to the president of the United States — he had his eye on that diamond. The New York press didn’t know which was the real diplomatic delegation, and they picked the one they found more entertaining: Princess Fatima and her entourage.

[In the end], The Princess Fatima lost her diamond to Weymouth, ran out on her hotel bill, and got deported in disgrace.

-Tamim Ansary, Games Without Rules: The Often Interrupted History of Afghanistan

Best I can determine, this woman was a distant (and not overly loved) relative of the actual rulers of Afghanistan. The man she fell in with (Stanley Clifford Weyman - not Weymouth, as Ansary writes) was arrested for impersonating a military officer, after he’d stolen her jewel - which was not the more famous Darya-i-Noor that is part of the Iranian royal jewels.

Afghanistan and the United States only established the barest levels of contact, and it was not until 14 years later that the US sent over its first envoy.

Travel Photographer Captures The World's Most Exquisite Libraries Around the Globe

Montréal-based Olivier Martel Savoie showcases the exquisite libraries around the world he visits. Collecting images from the most beautiful institutions of cities like Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Amsterdam, Boston, Budapest, and Rome, he features their grandeur and sophistication.

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Scientists can now watch and study whales from space

  • Scientists are spying on whales from space — because why not?
  • Well, also because watching humpback whales from space allows researchers to keep tabs on population numbers.
  • As Mashable reported, satellite imagery is proving an effective method of tracking population sizes off the coasts of Western Australia.
  • Humpback whales had been categorized as endangered since the 1970s, but in September, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration moved nine of the world’s 14 humpback whale species off the protected list.
  • Managing director for the Center for Whale Research, Curt Jenner, told Mashable that surveillance from space is an “economical solution” to the problem of diminished funding for such endeavors.
  • Satellite imaging doesn’t require putting people in planes or boats to track the whales and count their population size. Read more

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Fossil blue-green algae.

Another image from the Nikon small world photomicrography competition, winning 5th place in 1993, depicts a fossilised section of the type of organism that gave the world free oxygen three billion years ago or more. Without these life-forms, who incidentally are not algae but cyanobacteria, none of life as we know it would exist. The oxygen from these first photosynthesisers first filled the oceans, resulting in the banded iron formations from where we mine that metal, and then the atmosphere, paving the way for the rise of oxygen using marine and terrestrial life. In the process, they incidentally poisoned off most of the existing ecosystem, since it couldn’t tolerate free oxygen. They survive as what we now call extremophiles.

The magnification is 10 times, and the lighting used that known as brightfield, which is direct illumination from below the sample.

Loz

Image credit: Norm Barker

forbes.com
Apple Publishes Its First Artificial Intelligence Paper
Apple starts opening up on its AI research with its very first paper.
By Aaron Tilley

Earlier this month, Apple made a splash when it told the artificial intelligence research community that the secretive company would start publishing AI papers of its own. Not even a month later, it’s already starting to make good on that promise.

Apple has published its very first AI paper on December 22. (The paper was submitted for publication on November 15.) The paper describes a technique for how to improve the training of an algorithm’s ability to recognize images using computer-generated images rather than real-world images.

In machine learning research, using synthetic images (like those from a video game) to train neural networks can be more efficient than using real-world images. That’s because synthetic image data is already labeled and annotated, while real-world image data requires somebody to exhaustively label everything the computer is seeing – that’s a tree, a dog, a bike. But the synthetic image approach can be problematic as what the algorithm learns doesn’t always carry over neatly to real world scenes. The synthetic image data “is often not realistic enough, leading the network to learn details only present in synthetic images and fail to generalize well on real images,” the paper from Apple says.

To improve training with synthetic image data, the paper suggests what the Apple researchers call Simulated+Unsupervised learning, where the realism of a simulated image is boosted. The Apple researchers use a modified version of a new machine learning technique called Generative Adversarial Networks, which pits two neural networks against each other and has been used to generate photorealistic images.

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Taschen to Unleash the Mother of all Disney Animation Books:

The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies 1921-1968

Taschen – one of the world’s premier publishers of deluxe art books – describes The Walt Disney Film Archives as the “most comprehensive illustrated Disney publication to date,” and offers the following description of its contents:

With unlimited access to the Disney archives and extensive research, the book’s authors have gathered some 1,500 images, including concept art, story sketches, backgrounds, and animation drawings as well as many behind-the-scenes photos to trace the origins and evolution of such favorites as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, 101 Dalmatians, and The Jungle Book. Transcripts from Walt’s story development meetings, published here for the first time, reveal his imaginative genius in action and immerse the reader at the very heart of Disney’s remarkable creative hub.

This fascinating archival material covers not only the early Disney classics, but also the experimental short films of the Silly Symphonies and the lesser-known war and propaganda films of the 1940s. Widely neglected musical features such as Make Mine Music and Melody Time are also given extensive coverage. Along the way, we encounter the work of all major Disney illustrators and stylists of the era, including such greats as Ub Iwerks, Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath, Gustaf Tenggren, Kay Nielsen, Carl Barks, Mary Blair, Sylvia Holland, Bianca Marjorie, Tyrus Wong, Ken Anderson, Eyvind Earle, and Walt Peregoy. Special archival finds also bear witness to Disney’s collaboration with leading visual artists of the age, Salvador Dalí and Thomas Hart Benton.

You can pre-order the 624 page beauty on Amazon. CLICK HERE.

NASA-funded Website Lets Public Search for New Nearby Worlds


NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky.

“There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.”


WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA’s efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth’s orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).


The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed “Planet Nine.” If Planet Nine — also known as Planet X — exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data.


The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space.


“Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”

Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE’s instruments.


Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It’s a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week.


On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of “flipbooks,” which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project.


“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.


Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.


NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA.

(A table of contents is available. It will be kept updated throughout the series. This series will remain open for additional posts.)

Part Fourteen: Navigating Stereotypes

The last thing I want to talk about in regards to world building is the idea of utilizing stereotypes. You’re all aware that every nationality, ethnicity, and race comes with its own set of stereotypes, and we all know that avoiding those is crucial. We want to portray real people, not the cardboard cutouts. We want to be respectful of these other cultures and understand them, not just utilize them and perpetuate possibly problematic images of them.

Given that this series is mostly geared toward those writers creating their world entirely from scratch, and a bit less toward those who are utilizing our world with a few tweaks, I want to impress on you a couple of things:

Never lift a group of people or place straight out of our world and put it into your own secondary world. Right. This is basic cultural appropriation no-nos, especially if you’re not fully researching those cultures and places before hand. You need to be focused on building your own, not using ours. No culture will develop the same, even if they’re in very similar environments. Stick with something like the growing out process I’ve outlined for every single settlement and group of people. You need to be thinking about all these things and what makes sense for people who would be developing there not how they have developed here. That is vitally important to understand. Yes, it means you’ll be doing more work creating environments and religions and governments and houses and chapels and work stations and fields and companion animals for probably three to six different groups of people, but it’s necessary. Our cultures are built on our social norms, our environments, what works for us. Find out how life would work for them.

Your own peoples will have their own stereotypes, so make sure you’re aware of what those are. You should build a very basic outline of who certain groups of people are from the outside. This is what your stereotypes will be built off of. In the Moonwater series, the Anderri are thought of as pirates and ship captains, but in truth, only 1/3 to ½ of the population live their lives on ships; the rest live in tiered cities on the islands’ cliffs doing all the normal things that people do: healing and playing instruments and eating and stealing. The reason this stereotype persists is because most of the Anderri’s materials are imported (or stolen; there are quite a lot of pirates). This stereotype, while not wholly accurate, is built on some fundamental truths about how the group of people lives and what the groups outside of the Anderri see them in relation to themselves. Building these stereotypes will help you understand how people will see each other.

Remember that stereotypes are built out of relativities. People judge other people based on themselves. Others are considered “weird” because they do things different than the person calling them weird. It means that social norms for the two groups don’t line up, and that’s not a bad thing. Understand how other people see each other and their disparate environments and you’ll be able to build a richer world.

Richer, Pear? But stereotypes are flat. How can that be richer? Remember when I talked about the effect of more? Giving your audience an understanding that there is exponentially more going on in your world that what is portrayed as part of your narrative is vital. Stereotypes are a regular ol’ fact of life. People judge each other. That’s just how it is. Adding it into your world the same way you build rumors and myths and legends just adds another layer to your texture-building, one more layer to your “convincing” world.

I hope this series has been of use to you! If I’ve left anything out or hinted at something you’d like me to talk about, please don’t hesitate to send me a message. I would love to speak more at length on world building. It’s a passion of mine and I’d love to help more people with it. Don’t forget, if you’re looking for one-on-one assistance with your own world building, I’m available to help walk you through some of these considerations!

youtube

Peter Sinclair – Communicating Climate Science in the Disinformation Era.

Videographer Peter Sinclair has created more than one hundred YouTube videos that are used in universities around the world to show the discoveries of climate science, and how organized climate denial campaigns attempt to mislead the public. Mr. Sinclair describes his process of learning from and interacting with leading scientists to better communicate what their research is showing. The presentation includes powerful images and animations, which illustrate the scope of global change, what scientists are saying about it, and what citizens can do if they want to begin dealing with this critical global issue. 

Earth101   

First code of conduct for the use of virtual reality established

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Germany have prepared a list of ethical concerns that might arise with the use of virtual reality (VR) by researchers and the general public. Along with this list, Dr. Michael Madary and Professor Thomas Metzinger have produced concrete recommendations for minimizing the risks. According to Madary and Metzinger in their article in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, additional focused research is urgently needed. They are especially concerned about the possibility of unanticipated consequences for the psychological states and self-images of users who are able to inhabit a virtual environment almost as if it is the real world.

The technological capacity for generating virtual worlds from home computers will soon be widely available to the general public, as special head-mounted displays are brought to market that create the illusion of being immersed in virtual three-dimensional worlds. The opportunities for research, education, and entertainment using VR have been much discussed in the media, but Madary and Metzinger seek to raise awareness about the risks that accompany these opportunities – risks that have received far less attention so far. Both philosophers have participated over the last several years in an EU project on “Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment” (VERE) with a focus on illusions of embodiment, in which one has the feeling of owning and controlling a body that is not one’s own, such as an avatar in VR.

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Earth Art: Out of Africa

The International Space Station’s altitude of about 250 statue miles overlooking the Earth provides a unique vantage point from which I’m able to view our world. Capturing geographical spots for Earth scientific observations is often part of my job here aboard our orbital laboratory. The images from space provide researchers on Earth with key data to better understand the planet.

But photography in space is also an enjoyable hobby. It helps to add some semblance of life balance on the scale of work and life. When you live at work for a year, this balance is very important.

The view across Earth has given me some incredible scenes. But I have most enjoyed photographing Earth with a different eye. Through a zoom lens and with the vantage point of the space station and the ever-interesting canvas of Earth, I’ve produced a series of Earth Art. Some of the most inhospitable places on Earth are also some of the most beautiful from space. The African continent is no exception.  

I recently took this wall-worthy art photo located on the western edge of the Sahara desert at center Mauritania in Northwest Africa. There is a giant quartzite circle called Richat Structure. It is approximately 24 miles across. This volcanic bulge that never erupted and was leveled by erosion makes for interesting Earth Art.

Traveling at 17,500 mph around the globe for nearly a year, I’ve had many opportunities to capture several abstract glimpses of Africa. Here are some of them. Enjoy! 

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Top image BAdW/Foto Janina Amendt, bottom courtesy of Nigel Holmes

“On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there’s a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world’s most extensive collections of Latin texts,” former NPR intern Byrd Pinkerton writes. “About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room.”

They’re laboring on a comprehensive Latin dictionary that’s been in progress since 1894. The most recently published volume contained all the words beginning with the letter P. That was back in 2010.

And they’re not as far along as that may lead you to believe. They skipped over N years ago because it has so many long words, and now they’ve had to go back to that one. They’re also working on R at the same time. That should take care of the rest of this decade.

The Thesaurus Linguae Latinae was one of many big, scholarly projects taken on by the German government in the late 19th century.

Sounds like a massive project …. dictionary longa, vita brevis! (sorry, sorry)

– Petra

Found a good teaser image for that Lovecraftian Stargate game I’ve been thinking about for a while. Instead of an independent archeologist finding the gate buried in ruins in Egypt, the Danforth-Lake expedition found it buried in ruins in Antarctica (and hey, in canon there is a stargate in Antarctica) and the America government commandeered it during World War II. After several disastrous experiments, the program was mothballed, until the right people happened to talk to each other and the program was revived with the assistance of researchers from Miskatonic University, who managed to decipher the coordinate system using the aid of certain portions of the Eltdown Shards.

Throw in a gate and ruins on Mars (for the Doom tie-in, though no demons, obviously); emphasize different aspects of the Goa’uld and make the Jaffa much less human, feature planets that don’t all look like Canada, and make the Ancients…a bit different.

I think it could go pretty well, in a universe where I have unlimited free time.

(not sure of original source)

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For a super hot Canada Day in Britain, a hotshot Canadian batting for the Brits. Charles Seymour Wright (”Silas”) was a badass physicist and straight-talking pottymouth, who took “get ‘er done” to new levels, from Antarctica, through two world wars, and back to Antarctica, with some various research posts in between.

He wasn’t actually 14 on the expedition but I was drawing without reference and I’m rusty. Bottom image based on this caricature by the invaluable Denis Lillie:

Txch This Week: Ingredients for Alien Life and Robot-Making Ink

This week on Txchnologist, we learned about unusual advances that could help MRIs detect cancer, a plan to remove tons of plastic garbage from the ocean and a robot explorer that successfully swam under Antarctica’s ice sheet.

Now we’re bringing you the highlights, along with other news we’ve been following in the world of science, technology and innovation.

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Scientists have released the first of several dark matter maps of the cosmos.

Researchers from the Dark Energy Survey used data captured by the Dark Energy Camera, a 570-megapixel imaging device that they say is one of the world’s most powerful digital cameras, to put together the largest contiguous map of dark matter created.

Scientists Release Largest Map Yet Of Dark Matter In The Cosmos

Photo Credit: Dark Energy Survey

(Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

Long ago, it’s been believed, Mars had oceans of liquid water on its surface. The likelihood for life as we know it would have never been higher.

In the public consciousness, Mars has always bee the place of the Martian, the space invader… and possibly the place where life our ancestors came from (read about the theory of “panspermia”).

We live in a privileged era. Space exploration is finally taking off, so to speak, companies are starting to hire their own astronauts and some look to the promised wealth buried inside other worlds and asteroids.

Today NASA announced that they’ve all but discovered running liquid water on the surface of Mars, picture here:

(Image credit: Lujendra Ojha et al / Geophysical Research Letters)

This shows something known as “recurring slope lineae”. This phenomenon is in fact liquid water coming out of the Martian ground and painting the ground as it runs down.

This doesn’t necessarily mean life is, or ever was there, but the possibility for life as we know it may have just gone through the roof. It’s certainly a place NASA will now search and protect.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? 

Scientists with NASA’s mission to Pluto revealed stunning new images of the dwarf planet on Friday. Researchers say the pictures suggest an icy world complete with glaciers and “snow” that falls through a wispy atmosphere.

The New Horizons spacecraft zipped past Pluto on July 14. It was traveling too fast to stop, but it snapped a trove of photos as it flew by. Because deep-space communication happens at sub-dial-up speeds, it will take months for all of the photos and data to come back.

The images show Pluto is far from a dead lump of rock and ice. It appears that it experiences seasons during its 248-year orbit around the sun, according to Cathy Olkin, a scientist on the mission from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. In hotter times, the sun causes ice on the surface to evaporate and then settle in other regions.

“You can only get this image (above) by going to Pluto and crossing to the far side and looking back,” says scientist Alan Stern.

Dark Pluto Bares Its Heart

Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS: MARS CLOSEST TO EARTH IN OVER A DECADE;
UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER EXPERTS DISCUSS UNSOLVED MYSTERIES OF RED PLANET

Mars will be the closest it has been to Earth since 2005, meaning academics and amateurs alike can get a rare, bright close-up of our dusty red neighbor in the night sky.

On Monday, at 9:35 pm BST, the alien world will be just 46,762,695 miles (75,279,709 km) from us as it continues its 687-day elliptical orbit around the Sun.

The close proximity means that scientists are getting incredibly detailed images – in particular the Hubble Space Telescope, which has captured some stunning pictures of the planet’s active surface, including some rarely seen weather conditions [http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2016/15].

In Leicester, Professor of Planetary Science John Bridges, of the University’s Space Research Center, will also be keeping a close eye on the distant world – which he has invested so much of his time in.

Professor Bridges is part of the NASA team gathering data sent back by the Mars Science Laboratory – more affectionately called Curiosity.

He is also a member of the European Space Agency (ESA) mission ExoMars.

He said: “Mars’s orbit goes in 26 month cycles and every 26 months it makes its closest pass to the Earth and that’s the time when missions are launched.

"Currently, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which launched earlier this month, is heading for Mars and will send down a small, static lander in October. We are planning a Leicester@Mars day with the National Space Center to mark this and a meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in November to discuss our new understanding of Mars.

"I’m on the camera team and we will be using it to help select a landing site for the second stage of the mission which is ExoMars 2020.”

The ESA 2020 mission, which aims to build on the discoveries made by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which in 2013 confirmed that the Red Planet did show signs that it was once a habitable place for microbes, will travel across the Martian surface to also search for signs of life.

“First we have to determine a landing site,” said Prof. Bridges. “But once the 2020 mission lands the plan is to drill at least 6 times, to a depth of two-meters to get below the radiation zone.

"Then we’ll use a mass spectrometer to look for organic compounds.”

Mars’s orbital divergence has already given NASA an advantageous view of the surface and climate, said Professor Bridges.

“Even before its closest pass, Hubble has taken some close up images of the planet which clearly show clouds, something which we don’t often see in this much detail,” he said.

“They are more wispy than the clouds we get here on Earth but it shows that Mars has an active surface and atmosphere.”

Just like Earth, Mars has seasons, said Prof. Bridges.

The planet’s southern hemisphere summer period has just ended and it is moving into autumn, which has a bearing on the kind of science MSL can do.

“In southern summer, Mars is closest to the Sun so it’s warmer and there is more dust in the atmosphere, because it’s thicker.

"This means MSL’s Mastcam has less sharp images – but with less dust we can now get clearer pictures of the surface.”

Professor Mark Sims, Interim Director of the University’s Space Research Center, said that the Red Planet has been the focus of our fascination since it was first imaged with a telescope by a Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, in 1659.

“It’s our closest neighbor,” he said. “So it has always been an obsession of ours – to learn everything we can about it. But even now, there are still mysteries we don’t quite understand, like ‘why was it warm and wet?’

"Mars probably lost most of its atmosphere 3.5 billion years ago. Before that there were oceans and even evidence of tsunamis. But the problem we have is that all the theories we have say the Sun was much dimmer, and Mars is much further away than the Earth, so how would liquid water have been possible?”

Professor Sims said that another mystery could hold the key to finding life on the Red Planet.

He said: “We also have the evidence of methane in the atmosphere.

"Using Occam’s razor, where the simplest explanation is usually the best, it’s probably caused by hydrothermal activity. But methane is also a by-product of microbial life – so we could have already discovered life on Mars, but we just don’t know it. Hopefully, the Trace Gas Orbiter will go a long way to helping us understand the origins of these emissions.”