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Chemical that shouldnt be there spotted in Venus atmosphere

Enlarge / The spectral signature of phosphine superimposed on an image of Venus.ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)..



Enlarge / The spectral signature of phosphine superimposed on an image of Venus.ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), Greaves et al. & JCMT

Today, researchers are announcing that they've observed a chemical in the atmosphere of Venus that has no right to be there. The chemical, phosphine (a phosphorus atom hooked up to three hydrogens), would be unstable in the conditions found in Venus' atmosphere, and there's no obvious way for the planet's chemistry to create much of it.

That's leading to a lot of speculation about the equally unlikely prospect of life somehow surviving in Venus' upper atmosphere. But a lot about this work requires input from people not involved in the initial study, which today's publication is likely to prompt. While there are definitely reasons to think phosphine is present on Venus, its detection required some pretty involved computer analysis. And there are definitely some creative chemists who are going to want to rethink the possible chemistry of our closest neighbor.

What is phosphine?

Phosphorus is one row below nitrogen on the periodic table. And just as nitrogen can combine with three hydrogen atoms to form the familiar ammonia, phosphorus can bind with three hydrogens to form phosphine. Under Earth-like conditions, phosphine is a gas, but not a pleasant one: it's extremely toxic and has a tendency to spontaneously combust in the presence of oxygen. And that later feature is why we don't see much of it today; it's simply unstable in the presence of any oxygen.

We do make some of it for our own uses. And some microbes that live in oxygen-free environments also produce it, although we have neither identified the biochemical process that does so nor the enzymes involved. Still, any phosphine that manages to escape into the atmosphere quickly runs into oxygen and gets destroyed.

That's not to say it doesn't exist on other planets. Gas giants like Jupiter have it. But they also have an abundance of hydrogen in their atmosphere and no oxygen, allowing chemicals like phosphine, methane, and ammonia to survive in the atmosphere. And the intense heat and pressure closer to a gas giant's core provide conditions in which phosphine can form spontaneously.

So we have a clear divide between gas giants, with hydrogen-rich atmospheres where phosphine can form, and rocky planets, where the oxidizing environment should ensure it's destroyed. For that reason, people have suggested that phosphine might be a biosignature we can detect in the atmospheres of rocky planets: we know it's produced by life on Earth and is unlikely to be present on these planets unless it's constantly replaced. Which is how some researchers ended up pointing a telescope at Venus' atmosphere.

Looking for signs

Specifically, the researchers turned to the 15-meter James Clerk Maxwell Telescope telescope in Hawaii. The JCMT is able to image in the wavelengths around one millimeter, which is an interesting one for Venus' atmosphere. The hot lower atmosphere of Venus produces an abundance of radiation in this area of the spectrum. And phosphine absorbs at a specific wavelength in the area. So if phosphine is present in the upper atmosphere, its presence should create a gap at a specific location in the flood of radiation produced by Venus' lower atmosphere.

In principle, this is an extremely simple observation. In reality, however, it's a bit of a nightmare, just because levels are so low. Here on Earth, where we know phosphine is made, the steady-state level in the atmosphere is in the area of a part-per-trillion because it's destroyed so quickly. Venus is also moving relative to Earth, meaning the location of any signals need to be adjusted to account for Doppler shifting. Finally, any signal would also be complicated by what researchers call "ripples," or instances when parts of the spectrum underwent reflection somewhere between Venus and the telescope.

These required extensive computer processing of the telescope data. But seemingly to the scientists' surprise, this analysis appeared to show the presence of phosphine. (In their paper, the researchers write, "The aim was a benchmark for future developments, but unexpectedly, our initial observations suggested a detectable amount of Venusian PH3 was present.") So they had someone else repeat the analysis independently. The signal was still there. The researchers also confirmed that their approach was able to detect water with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, which we know is present in the atmosphere of Venus. They also ruled out the possibility that they'd misidentified a sulfur dioxide absorption line that's nearby.

With the obvious problems ruled out, they got hold of time on a second telescope. That second telescope was the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, or ALMA. It has a much better resolving power, allowing the researchers to treat Venus as more than a point source of light. This confirmed that the phosphine signal was still there and most intense at the midlatitudes while seemingly absent from the poles and equator. This means it's present at sites where there's more top-to-bottom atmospheric circulation.

The researchers ultimately concluded that phosphine is present, at levels in the area of 20 parts-per-billion.

How in the world did that get there?

Assuming that analysis holds up, the big question becomes how phosphine got there. The researchers estimated how quickly it would be destroyed by the conditions in the Venusian atmosphere, and they used that to calculate how much phosphine would need to be produced to maintain the 20 parts-per-billion levels. And then they went searching for some sort of chemical reaction that could produce that much.

And, well, there isn't a plethora of good options. Under the conditions that prevail in the atmosphere, both the phosphorous and hydrogen will typically be oxidized, and there's not much of either around. While solar radiation could potentially liberate some of the hydrogen that iRead More – Source

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China surveillance of journalists to use ‘traffic-light’ system



bbc– The Chinese province of Henan is building a surveillance system with face-scanning technology that can detect journalists and other “people of concern”.

Documents seen by BBC News describe a system that classifies journalists into a “traffic-light” system – green, amber and red.

Journalists in the “red” category would be “dealt with accordingly”, they say.

The Henan Public Security Bureau has not responded to a request for comment.

The documents, discovered by the surveillance analyst firm IPVM, also outline plans to surveil other “people of concern”, including foreign students and migrant women.

Human Rights Watch said: “This is not a government that needs more power to track more people… especially those who might be trying to peacefully hold it accountable.”

‘Thematic libraries’

The documents, published on 29 July, are part of a tendering process, encouraging Chinese companies to bid for a contract to build the new system, won, on 17 September, by NeuSoft.

NeuSoft has not responded to BBC News request for comment.

The system includes facial-recognition technology linked to thousands of cameras in Henan, to alert authorities when a “person of concern” is located.

“People of concern” would be categorised into “thematic libraries” – in an already existing database of information about and images of people in the province.

The system would also connect with China’s national database.

‘Key concern’

One of the groups of interest to the Henan Public Security Bureau is journalists, including foreign journalists.

“The preliminary proposal is to classify key concerned journalists into three levels,” the documents say.

“People marked in red are the key concern.

“The second level, marked in yellow, are people of general concern.

“Level three, marked in green – are for journalists who aren’t harmful.”

And an alert would be triggered as soon as “journalists of concern”, marked as “red” – or “yellow”, if they had previous criminal charges – booked a ticket to travel into the province.

The system would also assess foreign students and divide them into three categories of risk – “excellent foreign students, general personnel, and key people and unstable personnel”.

“The safety assessment is made by focusing on the daily attendance of foreign students, exam results, whether they come from key countries, and school-discipline compliance,” the documents say.

The schools themselves would need to notify the authorities of students with security concerns.

And those considered to be of concern would be tracked.

During politically sensitive periods, such as the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, “a wartime alarm mechanism” would be activated and tracking of “key concern” students stepped up, including tracking their cell phones.

The documents outline a desire for the system to contain information taken from:

  • cell phones
  • social media – such as WeChat and Weibo
  • vehicle details
  • hotel stays
  • travel tickets
  • property ownership
  • photos (from existing databases)

It should also focus on “stranded women”, or non-Chinese migrant women who do not have the right to live in China.

A large number of women enter China to find work.

Others have been trafficked from neighbouring countries.

And the system would “dock” with the National Immigration Bureau, the Ministry of Public Security and Henan police, among others.

The documents were published around the time the Chinese government criticised foreign media outlets for their coverage of the Henan floods.

Conor Healy, Government Director of IPVM, said: “The technical architecture of mass surveillance in China remains poorly understood… but building custom surveillance technology to streamline state suppression of journalists is new.

“These documents shed light on what China’s public-security officials want from mass surveillance.”

China’s facial-recognition system is thought to already be in use across the country.

And last year, the Washington Post reported Huawei had tested artificial-intelligence software that could recognise people belonging to the Uighur ethnic minority and alert police.

Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson said: “The goal is chilling, ensuring that everyone knows they can and will be monitored – and that they never know what might trigger hostile interest.”

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independent– Qualcomm has announce a major rebrand of its Snapdragon chips, in a move that could make choosing a phone vastly more simple.

The company sells its Snapdragon chips to a vast range of other companies – such as Samsung, HP and OnePlus – which use them to power devices including mobile phones, watches and laptops.

But comparing those devices can often be difficult, because of the confusing name of those Snapdragon processors, which are marked by a host of complex numbers. Since processors are at the heart of the devices, it can therefore be difficult to know whether a given phone is better than another.

But Qualcomm now says that it will simplify its branding in a host of ways, most of which bring new branding to the line.

The most obvious one is that the Qualcomm and Snapdragon brands will be separated. While they will still be owned by the same company as before, the Qualcomm will be removed from the chips itself.

More usefully, however, those complicated names will be changed.

Until now, Snapdragon products have come with three different names. Each of the numbers was intended to show where it was in the line-up: the first indicating the power, the second what generation, and the third used to separate different products within those generations.

But that was difficult to know and to compare. It also led to struggles with Snapdragon running out of names – it has a Snapdragon 695, for instance, and so only space for four more chips in that line-up.

Instead, it will move to a “new simplified and consistent naming structure for our platforms makes it easier for our customers to discover and choose devices powered by Snapdragon”, it says. “This means our mobile platforms will transition to a single-digit series and generation number, aligning with other product categories — starting with our newest flagship Snapdragon 8-series platform.”

It did not give information on what that new naming system would be, and promised more information would be revealed at another event on 30 November.

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Gigabit broadband: Internet seen as top homebuyer priority



bbc– A fast internet connection is now one of the most important factors for homebuyers, according to a survey of 294 estate agents across the UK.

Questions about connectivity, usually “full fibre” broadband, are up 69% since the pandemic began, the research, by Omdia for telecoms equipment maker Huawei, suggests.

Speeds of more than 300Mbps are being sought by 34% of buyers – and, according to 33% of the estate agents, can add £5,000 to the sale price of a home – while 23% want 1Gbps.

Asked to name the single most important factor is for homebuyers:

  • 23% said the size of the property
  • 20% said broadband quality
  • 18% said the number of bedrooms
  • 10% said the age of the property is
  • 9% said transport links

“In many cases, customers feel that good internet is a ‘must have’,” James Hummerstone-Pope, from Purple Bricks, said.

“And poor wi-fi and a bad mobile signal can be a deal breaker.

“Fibre broadband definitely makes properties more appealing.

“And people will sometimes walk away from a property if they feel the broadband and phone signals aren’t good enough.”

  • Vodafone to offer full fibre broadband to millions
  • Half-a-million homes to get broadband boost

The government has promised to “bring full-fibre and gigabit-capable broadband to every home and business across the UK by 2025”.

And research from telecoms regulator Ofcom suggests 18.2 million homes (62%) already have access to 300Mbps or faster.

But only a fraction pay for such high speeds.

And the average UK speed is actually 50.4Mbps.

Critical factors

In Scotland and the South West, good broadband is the most important factor for homebuyers, the survey suggests.

But London-based estate agent Foxtons said while buyers considered the internet important – “particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic” – it was usually outweighed by other factors.

“Choosing which property to purchase is an incredibly complex decision that depends on numerous different factors,” a representative said.

“In our experience, the price and perceived value for money, the size and type of property, provision of outside space, as well as proximity to local amenities and schools are some of the most critical factors in the decision-making process.”

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