Underground lake found on Mars, raising possibility of life

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Using a radar instrument on an orbiting spacecraft, scientists have spotted what they said on Wednesday appears to be a sizable salt-laden lake under ice on the southern polar plain of Mars, a body of water they called a possible habitat for microbial life.

The reservoir they detected — roughly 12 miles (20 km) in diameter, shaped like a rounded triangle and located about a mile (1.5 km) beneath the ice surface — represents the first stable body of liquid water ever found on Mars.

Whether anywhere other than Earth has harbored life is one of the supreme questions in science, and the new findings offer tantalizing evidence, though no proof. Water is considered a fundamental ingredient for life.

The researchers said it could take years to verify whether something is actually living in this body of water that resembles a subglacial lake on Earth, perhaps with a future mission drilling through the ice to sample the water below.

“This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist,” said planetary scientist Roberto Orosei of Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Italy, who led the research published in the journal Science.

A view of Ophir Chasma on the northern portion of the vast Mars canyon system, Vallles Marineris, taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. REUTERS/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

A view of Ophir Chasma on the northern portion of the vast Mars canyon system, Vallles Marineris, taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
REUTERS/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

“This kind of environment is not exactly your ideal vacation, or a place where fish would swim,” Orosei added. “But there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive, in fact, in similar environments. There are microorganisms on Earth that are capable of surviving even in ice.”

The detection was made using data collected between May 2012 and December 2015 by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft that transmits radar pulses, which penetrate the Martian surface and ice caps.

“This took us long years of data analysis and struggles to find a good method to be sure that what we were observing was unambiguously liquid water,” said study co-author Enrico Flamini, chief scientist at the Italian Space Agency during the research.

The location’s radar profile resembled that of subglacial lakes found beneath Earth’s Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

Mars long ago was warmer and wetter, possessing significant bodies of water, as evidenced by dry lake beds and river valleys on its surface. There had been some signs of liquid water currently on Mars, including disputed evidence of water activity on Martian slopes, but not stable bodies of water.

Orosei said the water in the Martian lake was below the normal freezing point but remained liquid thanks in large part to high levels of salts. Orosei estimated the water temperature at somewhere between 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius) and minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 degrees Celsius).

It remains to be seen if more subsurface reservoirs of water will be found or whether the newly discovered one is some sort of quirk, Orosei said.

If others are detected and a network of subglacial lakes exists like on Earth, he said, that could indicate liquid water has persisted for millions of years or even dating back to 3-1/2 billion years ago when Mars was a more hospitable planet.

The question would be, Orosei added, whether any life forms that could have evolved long ago on Mars have found a way to survive until now.

“Nobody dares to propose that there could be any more complex life form,” Orosei said.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Father who forgave son for family’s murder asks Texas to spare his life

Thomas Whitaker appears in a booking photo by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, Texas, U.S., obtained by Reuters on February 16, 2018. Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout via REUTERS

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A Texas man who survived a deadly domestic attack hatched by his son is pushing the state to grant clemency to the condemned man, although it has never spared a death row inmate solely at the formal request of the victim’s family.

Thomas “Bart” Whitaker is set to be put to death by lethal injection on Feb. 22 for masterminding a 2003 plot near Houston that left his mother Tricia, 51, and brother Keith, 19, dead and his father Kent with a bullet wound near his heart.

In the 31 states with capital punishment, district attorneys make the decision whether to seek death, balancing the punishment that they consider best serves society with the wishes of the victim’s family. In this case, the local Texas prosecutors pursued death and jurors decided Bart Whitaker, 38, deserved to be executed.

His father, a 69-year-old devout Christian and retired executive, says if that penalty is implemented, it will only intensify his pain.

“I am going to be thrown into a deeper grief at the hands of the state of Texas, in the name of justice,” Kent Whitaker said last week, after a 30-minute meeting with the chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in Austin.

Whitaker says his son has been a model inmate and has provided letters from death row prison guards to back him up. According to the clemency petition, Kent Whitaker, his relatives and his wife’s family do not want Texas to execute Bart.

The panel’s decision is due on Tuesday, two days before the execution. If it recommends commuting the death sentence to life in prison, Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, would make the final decision.

Tim Cole, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law and a former Texas district attorney, said the case points to a major flaw in the U.S. capital punishment system.

With no consistent criteria for prosecutors on whether they should seek execution, he said, the system is arbitrary.

“It is completely up to that one person, the district attorney, to seek death or not,” he said.

The Whitaker case is an outlier, however. In many cases, family members want the district attorney to seek the maximum punishment, Cole said.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, clemency at the request of a forgiving victim’s family has been almost unheard of, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center, which monitors U.S. capital punishment. It did happen in Georgia in 1990, the group said.

It is far more common for courts to halt executions for reasons ranging from doubts over guilt to procedural problems with prosecutions than it is for a governor to grant clemency.

Money may have motivated Bart Whitaker to plan to murder his family with the help of two other men, court documents showed. One of those men, his roommate Chris Brashear, shot the father, mother and brother after the family returned from a dinner out.

He shot Bart in the bicep to make it look he had also been attacked, court documents said. The two other men helped prosecutors pin the crime on Whitaker and were not sentenced to death.

Local prosecutors said they considered the family’s views but stood by Whitaker’s sentence as appropriate for such a brutal crime.

“We represent all of the community. It is not just one person we represent,” said Fred Felcman, first assistant district attorney for the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. “Legally, justice says that he should be executed.”

Felcman believes Bart Whitaker is a sociopath and a master manipulator.

In the clemency petition, Kent Whitaker recalled lying in his hospital bed and facing the choice of slipping into despair or offering his son forgiveness. He said his faith led him to the latter option, which he hopes will sway Texas officials.

“We are not asking them to forgive him, or to let him go,” he added. “We just want them to let him live.”

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Rosalba O’Brien)

Police Officer Pulls Woman Over, Ends Up Saving Her Life

He thought she was talking on her cell phone in violation of Austin, Texas law.

Instead, he found a woman fighting for her life.

Officer Dustin Clinkscales pulled over the woman and realized something was wrong the moment he reached the driver’s side window.

“Are you ok?  You choking?” you can hear the officer asking on a video recorded from the police cruiser’s dashcam.

The woman was choking on a biscuit and couldn’t breathe.  She passed out the moment Clinkscales opened the door and pulled her out.  The officer kept her from hitting her head on the ground and then performed the Heimlich maneuver until the biscuit popped out.

The woman turned out to be the daughter of an Austin police detective.

“I gave him a hug,” says Detective Damon Dunn.  “She was lucky he was there.”

“Well this will be an example of what officer’s do every day. They step up to the moment, they help save lives. They do the job they need to do whether it is the use of force, or it is saving someone from choking,” says Lt. Robert Hightower, Officer Clinkscales Commander, Austin Police Dept.

“It’s really amazing how quickly he recognized that something was wrong, how quickly he acted and cleared her passageway,” Austin Police Department Commander Michael Eveleth told KVUE.com.

Woman Spends Anniversary of Son’s Death With Life He Saved

A Canadian mother decided not to spend the anniversary of her son’s death mourning death but rather celebrating life.

Kim LeBlanc spent the day with the person who received her son’s heart, saving her life.

On May 31, 2012, Kim’s son Tyler was killed in a tragic accident.  He was walking along a street, listening to music on his headphones, and stepped right in the path of a tractor-trailer.  Tyler spent two days on life support but showed no signs of brain activity.

LeBlanc said at that point, donation was a “no-brainer.”  Tyler’s heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and eyes were donated.

Tyler’s heart went to Dave Allingham, 40-year-old father of three.  Allingham had a genetic heart disease and had about 30 days to live if he had not received the heart.

“I can’t tell you how many times a day I said this over and over to myself, ‘If there is some family out there that is going to give me that unconditional gift of love, I would spend the rest of my life giving back.’ I never forgot that promise,” he told the Spectator.

On the third anniversary of the accident this year, LeBlanc joined Allingham at a cycling event to raise money to battle heart disease.

“It was my first time and a bittersweet day, but the ride itself was great and the emotions were very strong and powerful,” she told the Toronto Sun. “It’s a very good feeling knowing we were able to take a tragedy and to have something good come from it, so that really meant a lot.”

Tiny String of Faith

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

When you were a child did you ever fly a kite? There is something so magical about the bright colors dancing in a brilliant blue sky. I have never seen anyone flying a kite that did not have a smile on their face! There is joy holding on to that tiny string and seeing something so beautiful fly! Continue reading

Mom Refuses Abortion Despite Doctor’s Pressure

A British woman is praising God for her child after she fought doctors who wanted her to have an abortion.

Michelle Macaulay and her husband learned in late 2012 they were going to have a second baby.  At her 12-week scan, doctors said the baby had a genetic disorder and that she was unlikely to make it to her birth.

The doctors said Michelle needed to abort the baby.  They called the child “incompatible with life.”

“To be told by a consultant the baby was incompatible with life was just horrendous because, looking at that screen, there was a life already started,” she said. “It’s just an awful term to call anyone, let alone a baby growing inside of you.”

The baby was born at 36 weeks and has tested negative for a wide range of genetic diseases.  Baby Carla is now two years old and while she has struggles, she has beaten the odds doctors gave her.

“Carla’s not walking, but she started crawling and pulling herself up in November—-things we were told she would never be able to do,” Macaulay stated. “She will develop and then she might plateau for a long time. She can eat normal foods but she can’t feed herself. The physiotherapists are really confident that she will walk and they’ve always been quite positive.”

Pro-life groups are making an effort to inform mothers across the world that a doctor saying their child is “incompatible with life” is not a medical diagnosis.

“We have undertaken this global campaign because the phrase ‘incompatible with life’ is not a medical diagnosis: it misinforms parents, it pushes families towards abortion, and it denies those families a chance to spend time with their children, to make memories and to heal,” declared Every Life Counts spokesman Tracy Harkin.

Baby Walter, Miscarried at 19 Weeks, Saving Babies from Abortion

A baby that was born at 19 weeks before passing away has become a symbol to save the lives of babies around the world.

Lexi Fretz of Greencastle, PA posted pictures of her late son Walter on her blog after the child’s birth in fall 2013.  She intended for just family and friends to see the photos of her “perfect child.”

“I never, ever could have imagined that it would spread across the world like this,” Fretz says.

At 19 weeks of pregnancy, Lexi began having pain and was rushed to the hospital.  A few hours later she delivered Walter.

“I was crying so hard at this point but he was perfect,” she wrote on her blog. “He was fully formed and everything was there, I could see his heart beating in his tiny chest. (My husband) Joshua and I both held him and cried over him and looked over our perfect, tiny son.”

“I held him, cuddled him. While his heart was beating, I held him to my heart, I counted his toes and kissed his tiny head.”

Walter passed away a few minutes later.

The photos that were taken by Joshua have now impacted women around the world.

“I am so shocked at my ignorance as to the development of a baby,” one commenter named Barbara wrote. “I will no longer look on as an observer. I will become an active informational type of person and share this as an example of life, the life of a baby—a real baby.”

“My views on abortion have completely changed,” another named Jordan wrote. “How naive have I been?!”

Lexi says that God has brought good out of a tragic and painful situation.

“I wish that this (miscarriage) hadn’t happened, but it did for a reason,” Fretz said. “Maybe that reason was to share with the world how perfect a baby which is legal to abort in many states really is.”

Man Credits God For Saving Life In Fiery Crash

A truck driver involved in a horrific crash in New Jersey is crediting God for saving his life.

“I don’t know that to think,” Mario Quiroz, 53, told CBS News. “I just think that God gave me another chance to live.”

Quiroz was driving a truck full of mulch on a highway in Union, New Jersey.  James Pinaire, 24, drove his car into the path of a fuel tanker carrying over 9,000 gallons of gasoline.   The tanker than slammed into Quiroz’s truck.

Pinaire was pronounced dead at the scene.  The tanker driver is in critical condition at Robert Wood Johnson Community Hosptal.

Quiroz’s truck was engulfed in flames.  His driver’s side window would only go halfway down but somehow he could squeeze through it.

And his only wound was a small cut.

“When I look at the video, I think, … my dad had an angel over him,” Quiroz’ daughter stated. “God gave him another chance to live. … He feels blessed.”

“I Am So Glad I Chose Life”

A Christian woman who gave birth to a child born without eyes says that she is very thankful that she chose to give her child life.

Lacey and Chris Buchanan were thrilled in 2010 when they discovered God has blessed them with a child.  As Lacey went through her medical checkups, it was discovered that the baby boy would have a cleft palate and lip.

“Our little boy was diagnosed with a bilateral cleft palate and lip,” she told reporters. “We were crushed. How could this happen to us? Why did this happen to us?”

When the child was born via C-section in February 2011, there was a discovery that even the doctors had not seen ahead of time:  the baby was born without eyes.

“Any time we took Christian out in public, people would stare,” Buchanan remembered. “They would whisper behind my back, ‘Look at that baby!’ I even had one girl telling me I was a horrible person for not aborting Christian.”

“I have literally had strangers see a single picture of Christian on Facebook and say ‘If i saw that kid walking down the street, I would murder him.’ They judge that Christian’s life isn’t worth living based on one single picture,” Buchanan writes on her website. “But most of you who know him know how awesome he is and how loved he is and how great his quality of life is.”

Lacey says that God has really used Christian to touch the lives of others and that she knows “I did the right thing by not aborting Christian.”

Pope Francis to Youths: Get Off The Internet

Pope Francis spoke to a group of 50,000 German alter servers and gave them a surprising message.  Instead of speaking of the Scriptures or some deep theological lesson, the Pope told the youths to get off the internet.

“Many young people waste too many hours on futile things,” the Pope said in a short speech to the altar servers.  “Our life is made up of time, and time is a gift from God, so it is important that it be used in good and fruitful actions.”

The Pope also listed activities as watching TV soap operas, smartphones and other similar items as things that could pull them away from serving others and making a difference in their families and community.

Pope Francis also told the youths that it is very easy to lose track of time when you are working with electronic devices and before you realize it hours have passed with nothing constructive being done.  He said that the time wasted on the internet and with electronics could be spent connecting to the Lord through prayer, meditation and study.

He called on the youths to create “a network not of wires, but of people.”