SciTech Briefs

A topographical image of the ocean floor surrounding New Zealand, showing the area of Zealandia (center).
 (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons ) A topographical image of the ocean floor surrounding New Zealand, showing the area of Zealandia (center). (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons )

Earliest evidence of life on Earth found in rocks in Canada

The oldest fossil to date may have just been unearthed. Geologists conducting research in Canada came across tube cavities in ancient hematite that could only be left by bacteria. The fossil is estimated to be between 3.5 and 4.2 billion years old, almost the age of the 4.5 billion year-old Earth. If confirmed, this discovery shows that life began on Earth much earlier than was previously thought. Many experts remain unconvinced.

Much can happen in four billion years, and some experts believe the marks in those rocks could be the result of geological processes over the epochs. Those that found the fossils believe the features of the tubes point directly to microbial life. The shape of the cavities in the rock closely resembles bacteria today that grow around hydrothermal vents. These bacteria feed on nearby iron and grow as filaments. At the base of the tubes are groves that mirror the anchors bacteria use to remain attached to rock. The researchers argue it is impossible for these features to be present in the absence of life.

Source: New York Times

New Facebook AI detects suicidal users, offers help

Facebook has launched a new feature that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and pattern recognition to detect suicidal users. Realizing that its users tend to show their suicidal tendencies online, Facebook will put users in immediate contact with a mental health expert using Facebook Live, its video recording feature. A user may also flag a friend’s posts, providing that friend with instant help while keeping the flagger in the loop.

The AI will detect users with mental health issues through live video feeds. The software will use data from reported posts to determine whether a user is in danger. This means help can be offered before a user is even flagged by a friend. Facebook is partnering with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the National Eating Disorder Association, and the Crisis Text Line. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated “there have been terribly tragic events — like suicides, some live streamed — that perhaps could have been prevented if someone had realized what was happening and reported them sooner.”

Source: The Verge

Continent Zealandia discovered under the Pacific Ocean

Mappings of the southwestern Pacific Ocean floor reveal a submerged continent under the ocean. Dubbed Zealandia, the 1.8 million square mile continent is almost entirely submerged. New Zealand and New Caledonia comprise the parts of it that rest above the ocean. The discovery separates New Zealand from Australia, two land masses that were previously thought to be joined and referred to collectively as Australasia.

This discovery shows how little is known about the ocean floor. Its vastness, the incredible pressure, and lack of light in its depths make it difficult to conduct meaningful research. Powerful radar technology has given scientists the ability to map the ocean floor. Geologists are not entirely sure what event could have submerged Zealandia, or whether it was ever above sea level in the first place. If Zealnadia were not submerged, it would officially be the seventh continent (Europe is erroneously considered to be the seventh continent; however, it is only a part of Eurasia).

Source: CNN