Nbrief: New Life from an Old Viking and Google+

New life from Viking II Orbiter

By Corey Conley

Mars landscape photo

Mars has long provoked wonder among Earthlings who are curious if strange and fantastic creatures roam across its harsh surfaces. Although the robotic expeditions of the past decade have revived interest in potential martians, for decades scientists have discounted the possibility of Mars harboring any life. The key buzzkill behind this proclamation were findings from the 1976 Viking II lander, which found Mars to be nothing more than a great rock habitat.

But a second look at the 36-year-old data is creating a storm of new interest in what Viking II found on Mars. Where the initial examination simply looked for evidence of microbe metabolism in the dry soil, the the new approach is analyzing the data for complexity. Under this new rubric, the more complex the the raw data collected by Viking, the more likely something was living in the stationary lander’s samples. Living systems are far more complicated than non-biological ones.

They took this raw complexity number crunching and compared it to a data set from good-old Earth, finding a startling correlation.

The results led one researcher, Joseph Miller from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine to say he was “99 percent sure” that Mars harbors life.

Still, don’t get too excited. Critics note the method they’re using hasn’t been fully proven in Earth-applications, much less on other worlds. Miller promises further investigation into how the data reacts to changes in the Martian weather at that time. A dust storm that cut out sunlight for a few weeks could have subdued any microbes, quieting their complexity signature in a way that geologic activity wouldn’t imitate.

Google+ Update

By Rachel Flynn
Google + Plus logo

With such deep pockets and history of innovation, it was only a matter of time before Google tried to do even more with their nascent social network, Google+. Now, along with maps, images, email and apps, Google is stretching its reach. Google+ boasts about its circles where the user can separate different groups of people so that only set groups can see certain information and updates (like a group for family, versus a group of college friends).

The latest change is the new “Hangout” feature, a streamlined multi-person video chat program. You and up to eight of your best friends can digitally hang out via computer or smartphone app. Think of it as a video chatroom. Ew… Actually, don’t.

Google has also added a “game room” where the sharing can also be targeted not by the user, but by the other users who see them. Facebook users all know the annoyance of getting high scores from other people’s games in their news feed. Google allows the users to regulate what they see that their friends do. This new site also adds searches that link to what other users have liked, instant uploads, and a messenger service.

Google has once again proved it is a strong and innovative company with this creation. As a mix between Facebook type social media, the old style AIM chat services, and typical Google flair, the company has made a strong piece of social media that will rival Facebook. With stronger security features (tagging has to be approved) in the hopes of making users feel safe, Google is trying to branch out and strengthen their online social presence.

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