January – Science, Technology, Environment, Defense

Contents

Leap second

An atomic clock at National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in New Delhi added ‘leap second’ (extra one second) to the Indian Standard Time (IST) at 5:29.59 hours on 1 January 2017 to synchronise with the Earth’s rotational clock. The clock was programmed to add an extra second to the year 2017 in order to compensate for a slowdown in the Earth’s rotation.

Why Extra Second Was Added?

The Earth and rotation around its own axis is not regular, as sometimes slows down and sometimes speeds up due to various factors, including moon’s gravitational forces and earthquakes. As a result, astronomical time (UT1) gradually falls out of sync with atomic time (UTC). When the difference between UTC and UT1 approaches 0.9 seconds, a leap second is added to UTC through atomic clocks worldwide to match both times. Paris based International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (IERS) tells when to add leap seconds on the basis of difference between UTC and UT1.

Significance

Adding leap second’ or second barely has an impact on the daily life. However, this one second shift is critical for applications requiring time accuracies in the nanosecond scale, which are critical in the fields of astronomy, satellite navigation, communication networks.

Background

In India, leap second is added to the Indian clock by the NPL, Functioning under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The NPL is one of the oldest laboratories in the country, has five atomic clocks of the nearly 300 such pieces exist across the globe. Atomic clocks have high precision and the margin of error in its functioning is just of a second in 100 million years.

Multidrug- resistant mcr-1 gene found in China

According to new studies published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the mcr-1 gene that makes bacteria resistant to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort was found in China. It was discovered in a wide variety of strains of Escherichia coli (E Coli). Since the 1980s, Colistin has been used extensively in Agriculture in China. It was recently banned for use in agriculture, and will soon be introduced in clinical use for the first time. In recent times it was found that mcr-1 gene has spread to bacteria and it is already resistant to the carbapenem class of antibiotics.

Climate change plan to get 3 new missions

India’s eight-point National Action Plan on Assessment, Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change (NAPCC) to fight climate change will soon get three new missions. They are missions on health, coastal zones and waste-to-energy and will be added to address the impact of climate change on health, coastal zones and waste-to-energy. Since 2012, the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change India has instituted a NAPCC that has specified eight national missions. These include a National Water Mission, Green India Mission, National Solar Mission, National Mission on Sustainable Habitat, National Mission for Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem, National Mission on Enhanced Energy Efficiency, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, and National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change.

Longyangxia Dam Solar Park : China develops World’s Biggest Solar Park

China has built Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, the world’s biggest solar park in the western province of Qinghai in an effort to become the super powerful occupier of green energy. The park covers an area over 27 square km and has capacity to produce 850 MW of power, enough to supply up to 200,000 households. The construction of the solar park was started in 2013 at total costs around $875 million (around Rs. 6,000 crore).

WEF, UCSB partner to protect world’s $2.5 trillion ocean economy

The World Economic Forum and UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) have announced a partnership to improve health of world’s oceans and maritime resources. This partnership will harness the potential of public-private cooperation and the 4th industrial revolution to help the international community meet the ocean sustainable development goal. It will be supported by the Benioff Ocean Initiative for using science to improve ocean health, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to fund advance ocean science, protection and management.  According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), oceans generate goods and services worth an estimated $2.5 trillion per year, equivalent to the 7th largest economy in the world.

Scientists develop new technique for faster diagnosis of HIV

Researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) in the US, have developed a new method for medical testing that may lead to faster diagnosis of HIV, Lyme disease, syphilis and rotavirus infections. In this method, they have combined cutting-edge nanoscience with a magnetic phenomenon. It was developed by coating nanoparticles with the antibody and iron core to BSA (bovine serum albumin) which is commonly used as the basis of a variety of diagnostic tests. When magnetic field is applied to the solution, it causes the particles to align in a particular formation. Depending upon pattern, diseases can be tested faster.

Larsen C  Iceshelf

  • According to scientists, a gigantic block of ice is breaking away from Larsen Cice shelf in West Antarctica. Now the block is attached to its parent ice shelf just by a thread. It is covering an area of 5,000 sq km and is nearly 100 storeys-deep. The breakaway will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. If the glaciers held in check by Larsen C spilt into the Antarctic Ocean, it will lift the global water mark by about 10 cm. The nearby Larsen A ice shelf collapsed in 1995, and Larsen B broke up in 2002.

Geo-3 satellite

The US military has successfully launched Geo-3 satellite mounted with Atlas V rocket into space to monitor possible missile attacks from space. The military satellite capitalizes on infrared technology for defence purposes that include missile counter-defense, missile warning, intelligence gathering, and geospatial situational awareness to support troops. Earlier the US Air Force had launched Geo-1 and Geo-2 satellites into space in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

2016 was hottest year on record: WMO

According the consolidated analysis of the World Meteorological Organization, the 2016 was hottest year on record. It surpassed the exceptionally high temperatures of 2015. The global average temperature in 2016 was about 1.1 degree Celsius higher than the pre-industrial period. Surging concentrations of human induced carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have resulted into climate change and temperature rise. In 2016, Arctic and Antarctic regions were having minimum sea ice levels. Record ocean heat due temperature rise also has caused widespread coral reef bleaching, including in the Great Barrier Reef, which has seen up to 50% of its coral die in certain parts.

World’s primates facing extinction crisis

According new international study, about 60% of more than 500 primate species including Gorillas, monkeys, lemurs around the world are facing extinction crisis. They are now threatened with extinction and 3 out of 4 primate species have shrinking populations. The main reasons for decline in their population are massive habitat loss, illegal hunting, mining and oil drilling, logging, ranching and farming that all driven by human behaviour. The study also cited that poverty and civil unrest in poor countries are the main driving force for hunting of these primate species in order to feed humans.

West Bengal to give legal protection to Hilsa Fish

West Bengal fisheries department has proposed to give legal protection to Hilsa Fish to arrest its dwindling population. In this regard, fisheries department is speaking to the state home department to bring about provisions in CrpC and IPC. With the formal introduction of the provisions, Hilsa will become the first fish variety in the country to get legal protection. It will lead to arrest or fine anyone for selling, catching and buying small Hilsa (commonly called “khoka ilish” in Bengal). Hilsa fish is on brink of extinction due to decades of migration barriers, over-fishing and pollution. Earlier as a protection measure, state government had declared five hilsa sanctuaries on the Hooghly river from Farakka to Sagar (covering a stretch of 250 km) where fishing has been banned between June-August and October-December.

World’s lightest watch created using graphene

Scientists have developed the world’s lightest high-performance mechanical watch RM 50-03 made using the ‘wonder material’ graphene. The RM 50-03 watch weighs just 40 gms.  The ultralight watch was made using a unique grapheme composite known as Graph TPT incorporating graphene to manufacture a strong but lightweight new case to house the delicate watch mechanism. It was jointly developed by the University of Manchester (UK), Richard Mille and McLaren F1.  Graph TPT weighs less than previous similar materials used in watchmaking. Graphene is the world’s first 2D material at just one-atom thick. It was first isolated in 2004 and has the potential to revolutionise a large number of applications including high-performance composites for the aerospace and automotive industries, as well as flexible, bendable tablets, mobile phones and next-generation energy storage.

India superbug resistant to available antibiotics

A 70-year-old woman in the US died after being infected by a superbug (bacteria resistant to all available antibiotics) during her visit to India. She was infected by carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), a multidrug-resistant organism associated with high mortality. In this case, the infection was resistant or non-susceptible to all available antimicrobial drugs. Klebsiella pneumoniae was also confirmed by lab testing and also the presence of New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), resistant to 26 different antibiotics. NDM-1 is an enzyme that directly breaks down carbapenems, a powerful class of antibiotics that are often used to treat multidrug-resistant infections.

Piperlongumine : Indian pepper may fight cancer

According to a new study, Indian long pepper, widely used for spicing up food, contains a chemical called Piperlongumine (PL) which has anti-cancer properties. PL converts to hPL, an active drug that silences a gene called GSTP1 which produces a detoxification enzyme that is often overly abundant in tumours. Thus, it can stop human body from producing an enzyme that is commonly found in tumours in large numbers and can be used as a potential cancer treatment drug. It has shown activity against many cancers including prostate, lung, breast, colon, leukaemia, lymphoma, primary brain tumours and gastric cancer.

Norway becomes first country to cease FM radio broadcasting

Norway became the first country in the world to cease FM (Frequency Modulation) radio broadcasting and switched to Digital audio broadcasting (DAB). DAB offers a wider range of broadcasting options and greater sound quality and also save money. The move to “radio digitization” was decided by the Norway’s Parliament in 2011 and timetable was announced in 2015.

IGI Airport first in world to adopt digital platform Arc

Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport claimed to become the first aerodrome in the world to adopt Arc, an unique performance and benchmarking digital platform. The dynamic platform at T3 helps in tracking and monitoring building performance. It has been developed by Green Business Certification Inc (GBCI) and US Green Building Council (USGBC), the global certifying body for all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects. It will be used by airport operator to measure, manage and improve performance of airport on resource consumption, quality of passenger space and carbon emissions. It will also allow the airport authorities to measure improvements and benchmark performance against other green building projects around the world.  IGI’s Terminal 3 had earned LEED Gold certification in 2011 under the new construction category.

NGT orders test of cosmetics containing microbeads

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Union Government (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) to test cosmetic products containing microbeads, tiny plastic substances. NGT’s order comes after a plea sought a ban on the use of mirobeads in various cosmetics or personal care products on the ground they are extremely dangerous for aquatic life and environment. Microbeads are extremely tiny plastic substances measuring less than 5 millimetres. They act as exfoliators (agents which remove dead cells) on skin and teeth when used in soap, toothpaste and other products. They are made up of Polyethylene (PE) or Polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) and nylon. They usually escape the filtration and treatment processes for waste water and end up in rivers and oceans. When they are ingested in marine animals, the plastics break down and toxic substances resulting into hormonal imbalances and neurological breakdown, are released.

Skywalker Hoolock Gibbon’ : New species of gibbon discovered in China

Scientists have discovered a new species of gibbon named as ‘Skywalker hoolock gibbon’ living in south-west China’s rainforests. Earlier it was believed that Skywalker gibbons belonged to gibbons species found in this region, but later full genetic and physical comparison with other gibbons confirmed that it is a new species.  Scientists estimate that about 200 Skywalker gibbons are living in China and also in Myanmar. This species already has been classified as endangered. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human overpopulation is putting the gibbons at risk of extinction. Gibbons are renowned for their loud song, which they use to mark territory, and this also sounded unusual.

MIT researchers develop super strong, lightweight 3D Graphene

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed 3D version of graphene by compressing and fusing flakes of graphene, a two-dimensional form of carbon. Graphene is one of the strongest materials known to man, but so far because of its extreme thinness it was not able for practical use. The 3D version of Graphene was produced using a combination of heat and pressure. It produced stable structures called diatom. This version is lightweight, only 5% as dense as steel but is 10 times stronger. This development could lead production of more lighter, stronger materials.

Ngari Observatory : China to set up world’s highest altitude gravitational wave telescopes in Tibet

China is setting up the world’s highest altitude gravitational wave observatory in a Tibet prefecture close to Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. The telescope will detect and gather precise data on primordial gravitational waves in the Northern Hemisphere. The construction work of the first telescope code-named Ngari No.1 as part of first phase has started. It is expected to be operational by 2021. It is located at located 5,250 meters above sea level, 30kms south of Shiquanhe Town in Ngari Prefecture at China’s border with India. In the second phase series of telescopes, code-named Ngari No. 2 will be set up about 6,000 meters above sea level. The high altitude of Ngari observatory provides clear sky to detect tiny twists in cosmic light and has minimal human activity. This observatory will be among the world’s top primordial gravitational wave observation bases, alongside the South Pole Telescope and the facility in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

Shangri-la of the World’ : China launches its longest bullet train

China has launched its longest bullet train ‘Shangri-la of the World’ connecting Kunming in Yunnan Province to Shanghai. The 2252 km Shanghai-Kunming line links China’s prosperous eastern coast with the less-developed south-western part. It traverses through 5 provinces of China viz. Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guizhou and Yunnan. The bullet train has maximum speed of 330 km/hr and it cuts travel time across 2252 km route from 34 hours to 11 hours. With this, China has expanded its high-speed train network to about 20,000 kilometres. The train’s name highlights the world famous resort in Shangri-la of Yunnan province which had first appeared in British novelist James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon.

Dell unveils world’s first wireless charging laptop

American tech giant Dell has unveiled ‘Latitude 7285’, the world’s first laptop that charges wirelessly. It is convertible laptop with detachable tablet. It is embedded with wireless receiving coil based on magnetic resonance technology developed by wireless charging company WiTricity. Unlike other current wireless charging standards (like Qi) which require accurate placement of charging coils on top of another, the WiTricity technology generates a very safe magnetic field that transmits the electricity wirelessly near the range of receivable device.

Black rice gains popularity in Assam

An exotic variety of Black rice or purple rice recently has gained popularity in Assam. It was recently sown by the local farmers for the first time in Barak Valley. The Black rice is also known as world super food because of its high nutrition value, unique texture and intriguing nutty flavor. It is known for its powerful disease-fighting antioxidants and also contains dietary fiber, anti-inflammatory properties. It has the ability to help stop the development of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and even weight gain.

Zingiber pseudosquarrosum 

Scientists from Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have discovered a new species of Zingiber (commonly referred as ginger) from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The new species has been named as Zingiber pseudosquarrosum and belongs to genus Zingiber. It is used for its medicinal values by the local Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) of the Andamans.

Key Facts

The pseudo stem of Zingiber pseudosquarrosum is red in colour. Its flowers are lotus shaped and have a vermilion tinge and dehisced fruit.

This species has tuberous root and its inflorescence buds are urceolate in shape. The morphological features of this species make it distinct from other species belonging to the genus Zingiber.

Like other species of Gingers, it is edible and can be propagated vegetatively from the rhizome.

The new species possesses ethno-medicinal uses. The fresh extract (juice) of fleshy tuberous roots of this species is used to treat abdominal pain and anti-helminthic troubles by native tribal communities.

Note

There are 141 species of genus Zingiber distributed throughout tropical Asia, including China, Japan and tropical Australia. Of these, 20 are reported from India, which include seven ( including Zingiber pseudosquarrosum) from Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Species belonging to genera Zingiber are monocotyledonous flowering plants and their hizomes are widely used as a spice or a traditional medicine. Commonly used species of Zingiber are known for its aromatic smell is cultivated widely across India.

World’s Largest Street Light Programme: SLNP

The Union Ministry of Power unveiled world’s largest street light replacement programme in South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC) area. It is implemented under LED based Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP) by the Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a joint venture under the Union Ministry of Power.

Key Facts
  • Under SLNP, 2 lakh street light will be replaced with LED lights in SDMC area. It will result in cumulative annual energy savings of 2.65 crore kWh and daily reduction of 22,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
  • The programme will provide benefits to the residents of SDMC area as it would lead to a reduction in dark spots and increased security.
  • It will result in cumulative savings of Rs. 135 crores in next 7 years and Rs. 50 crores per annum. Thus, help in investment in social development initiatives and that too without any extra money.
  • Besides EESL Complaint App for SDMC was also launched. It will allow users can now lodge complaints about faulty street lights.

About LED Based Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP)

The programme aims to install LED bulbs street-lighting across different cities in the country. The LED lights will replace inefficient lamps. The initiative is part of the Government’s efforts to spread the message of energy efficiency in the country. It will result in energy savings and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is presently running in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Note: LED bulbs have a very long life, almost 50 times more than ordinary bulbs, and 8-10 times that of CFLs, and provide both energy and cost savings in the medium term.

Kuaizhou-1A

China successfully launched first commercial mission using an updated version of the low-cost Kuaizhou-1A rocket. As part of the mission three satellites JL-1, CubeSats XY-S1 and Caton-1 were launched into space.  The rocket was launched form northwestern China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province. Rocket technology company under the state owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (ACSIC) was responsible for the successful launch mission.

Key Facts
  • The success of the mission marks the Chinese company’s capability of providing flexible, convenient, quick and economical launch services for domestic and overseas clients.
  • KZ-1A rocket: It is improvised and advance version of erstwhile Kuaizhou-1 rocket. It is a low-cost solid- fuelled carrier rocket with high reliability and short preparation period. It has been designed to launch low-orbit satellites weighing less than 300 kg.
  • JL-1 Satellite: It is a multifunctional remote-sensing satellite providing high-definition video images. It is expected to be used for environmental protection, land resource and forestry surveying, transport and disaster prevention and relief purposes.

XY-S1 and Caton-1 Satellites: They are experimental satellites to test technologies of low-orbit narrow-band communication and VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) respectively.

Health Ministry to roll out measles-rubella vaccine

The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare will roll out measles-rubella (MR) vaccine in the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) in February 2017. In addition, Pneumococcal conjugate (pneumococcal pneumonia) vaccine will also become a part of the UIP basket in three other states from March 2017.

Key Facts
  • The MR vaccine will be introduced in five states and Union territories viz. Goa, Karnataka, Lakshadweep, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu.
  • The UIP basket already has ten vaccines of which measles is one, once MR vaccine is introduced the present monovalent measles will be discontinued.
  • This vaccine will be introduced three years after the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) r recommended the introduction of the MR vaccine in the UIP.
  • The Pneumococcal conjugate (pneumococcal pneumonia) vaccine will be introduced in Himachal Pradesh and parts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Measles-Rubella (MR)

The disease commonly known as German Measles (or three-day measles) and is symptomatically similar to measles. It can have devastating consequences if a pregnant mother is infected with it and the foetus may be born with incurable congenital anomalies. Symptoms of the infection can include cataracts and deafness. It can also affect the heart and the brain. The congenital rubella infection is believed to affect approximately 25,000 children born in India every year.

Universal Immunization Programme

It is a free vaccination program launched by the Union Government in 1985 against vaccine preventable diseases. It is currently one of the key areas under National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) since 2005. The program consists of vaccination for 10 diseases- Tuberculosis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Poliomyelitis, measles, Hepatitis B, Diarrhoea, Japanese Encephalitis and Pneumonia.

Effects of Endosulfan use devastating: SC

The Supreme Court has described side effects of Endosulfan, a highly toxic agrochemical (pesticide) as devastating. It has directed Kerala government to release entire Rs. 500 crore compensation to over 5,000 victims in three months who have suffered from various deformities and health complications due to use of Endosulfan in the state. It also asked the state to consider setting up a centre to provide lifelong medical treatment to all the victims.

The major numbers of victims were reported to be affected in Kasargode (Kerala) after Endosulfan was aerially sprayed by state owned company on cashew plantations adjoining habitats where the victims are located. The apex court in 2011 had passed order to ban the production, distribution and use of endosulfan.

About Endosulfan
  • Endosulfan is a most toxic pesticides having hazardous effects on human genetic and endocrine systems.
  • The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2011 added it in list of banned substances and phasing it out as an agrichemical. It is banned in over 80 nations due to its ‘high toxicity.
  • It is sprayed as pesticide on crops like cotton, fruits, tea, paddy, cashew, tobacco etc. for control of pests in agriculture such as whiteflies, aphids, beetles, worms etc.
  • Hazardous effects: In case of humans it causes delayed reproductive development, autism, bioaccumulation, endocrine disruption (stunting of hormones), long-range contamination, neurotoxicity, long-range contamination and sensory Loss.

It blocks the inhibitory receptors of the Central Nervous System, disrupts the ionic channels and destroys the integrity of the nerve cells. The spraying of endsosulfan also destroys biodiversity of the area.

Hope Island becomes graveyard for Olive Ridleys Turtles

Hope Island in Andhra Pradesh has become graveyard for Olive Ridleys turtles after 54 carcasses of this species were spotted on the shores of island. This indicates that the breeding cycle of this species got severe blow due to mechanised fishing boats scouring in the Bay of Bengal coastline. These boats crush most of these turtles under it leading to their death.

The Fisheries Department is encouraging the mechanised boat owners to fit a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) to their trawl nets to allow thee turtles to pass.

About Olive Ridley
  • Olive Ridley turtle is the smallest and most abundant of all sea turtle found in the world. It gets its name from its olive coloured carapace, which is heart-shaped and rounded.
  • It is found in warm waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. It spends entire lives in the ocean and migrates thousands of kilometers between feeding and mating grounds in the course of a year.
  • Though found in abundance, their numbers have been declining over the past few years. It is recognized as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red list. In India, it is protected under the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
  • Breeding Season: It commences its journey from Indian Ocean towards Bay of Bengal during their mating season in October and November every year.
  • A single female can lay upto 100 to 150 eggs in a pit dug on the beaches. Six weeks later these eggs hatches and the newly hatched turtles start the journey to their Indian Ocean habitat.

The destination for majority of the turtles for laying egg is Gahirmatha in Odisha. The sandy stretches of Hope Island of the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary also have turned into a breeding area.

Environment Ministry notifies Graded Response Action Plan to combat air pollution in NCR

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified the Graded Response Action Plan to combat air pollution in NCR Delhi region.

In this regard, MoEFCC amended laws and formally tasked a Supreme Court-appointed panel with implementing a graded action plan for pollution control.

Key Facts

  • Graded Response Action Plan defines the measures to taken based on air quality on the basis of PM 2.5 and PM 10 in the atmosphere.
  • Based on the air quality the grades have been classified as Emergency, Severe, Very Poor and Moderate poor. It will be enforced by Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA).
  • Under this plan eemergency measures will be automatically enforced in NCR if level of PM2.5 breaches 300 micrograms per cubic metre (µgm/m3) and PM10 levels stay above 500 (µgm/m3)for two consecutive days.
  • The plan recommends measures like odd-even car rationing scheme and ban on construction activities to combat air pollution.
  • During ‘very poor’ air quality, it recommends banning diesel generators and parking fee increased by three to four times.
  • It also lists a number of other measures such as closing brick kilns, stone crushers, hot mix plants and intensifying public transport services and increasing the frequency of mechanised cleaning and sprinkling of water on roads.
  • For enforcement of the action plan, the Union Government has assigned the task of implementation of the Graded Response Action Plan to the EPCA (Environment Pollution Control Authority) in pursuance of sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986).

Background

The Delhi specific comprehensive action plan was prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and was submitted to the Supreme Court in December 2016. The court had accepted the plan and asked the Union Government to notify it.

Particulate Matter (PM)

They are tiny particles of dust which can cause very serious respiratory disorders and even damage the lungs.

Silicon identified as ‘missing element’ in Earth’s core

Scientists from Tohoku University in Japan have claimed that Silicon (Si) is the ‘missing element’ in the Earth’s core. This discovery could help us to better understand how our world formed.

According to them silicon likely makes up a significant proportion of Earth’s core after its major constituents iron and nickel. It was missing element in the deep interiors of our planet that has eluded us for decades.

Key Facts
  • It was found that silicon is a major element and constitutes about 5% of the Earth’s inner core by weight. It could be dissolved into the iron-nickel alloys.
  • For the study, scientists recreated the high temperatures and pressures found in the deep interior of the Earth’s core. They recreated alloys of iron and nickel and mixed them with silicon.
  • They then subjected these alloys to the immense pressures and temperatures that exist in the inner core.
  • Scientists discovered that this mixture matched what was seen in the Earth’s interior with seismic data.
  • Note: The innermost part of Earth i.e. core is thought to be a solid ball with a radius of about 1,200 kilometres. It is far too deep to investigate directly, so scientists study this region’s make-up using seismic wave. Earth’s core is mainly composed of iron (makes up about 85% of its weight) andnickel (accounts for about 10% of the core).

India becomes associate member of CERN

India formally became an associate member of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) with the government completing the internal approval procedures for the agreement it signed in November 2016.

Prior to it, in September 2016, CERN Council had adopted a resolution upgrading India’s position as associate member from earlier ‘observer’ status (since 2004).

Benefits For India
  • Now, India can take part in meetings of the CERN Council and its committees (Scientific Policy Committee and Finance Committee). However India will not have voting rights on decisions of the council.
  • It will enhance participation of young scientists and engineers from India in various CERN projects and bring back knowledge for deployment in the domestic programmes.
  • It will open up new avenues for Indian scientists to engage with their counterparts in front line research in physics and engineering. Also, Indian scientists will become eligible for staff appointments.
  • It will help to boost India’s science credentials and give access to high end scientific technology. It will also make Indian scientists eligible for staff appointments in CERN.
  • Besides, Indian industries will be entitled to bid for CERN contracts. Thus, it will open up opportunities for industrial collaboration in areas of advanced technology.

About European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN)

  • CERN as an organisation is world’s largest nuclear and particle physics laboratory. It is situated in North West suburbs of Geneva on France-Swiss Border. It was established in 1954.
  • Members:It has 22 member states, four associate members (including India, Pakistan, Turkey and Ukraine) and three International Organisations have observer status.
  • Functions:The laboratory helps scientists and engineers probing fundamental structure of Universe using the most sophisticated scientific instruments and advanced computing systems.
  • Provide the necessary infrastructure needed for high-energy physics research including particle accelerators.
  • Achievements:CERN operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator.
  • It is associated with the discovery of the Higgs Boson which is popularly known as the God particle.

India-CERN

  • India has been actively involved in CERN’s activities for over 50 years. Indian physicists, engineers and technicians have made substantial contributions to various projects of CERN.
  • In 1991, India and CERN had signed a Cooperation Agreement, setting priorities for scientific cooperation. Since then India and CERN have signed several other protocols.
  • Indian scientists had active in construction of the LHC in the areas of design, development and supply of hardware accelerator components, software development and deployment in the machine.
  • They also had played significant role in the CMS (Compact Muon Experiment), one of the two large experiments that led to discovery of God particle.

Ministry of Earth Sciences commissions Higher Resolution Weather Prediction Model

  • The Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) has commissioned a very high resolution (12 km) global deterministic weather prediction modelfor generating operational weather forecasts.

The model has been on trial since September 2016. It has shown significant improvements in skill of daily weather forecasts. It was made operational from January 2017.

Key Facts
  • This model replaces the earlier version which had a horizontal resolution of 25 km which was very helpful, in predicting track and intensity of recent Cyclonic Storm Vardah and cold wave over northern India.
  • MoES’s operational Ensemble Prediction System (EPS) was upgraded to 12 km. For this, High Performance Computing (HPC) system resources were augmented to 10 Peta Flops (PFs) from current 1.2 PFs.
  • The EPS was adopted to overcome problem of uncertainties in the forecasts. It involves the generation of multiple forecasts using slightly varying initial conditions.
  • The EPS also help generate probabilistic forecasts and quantify the uncertainties. The latest model replaces the earlier version that had a horizontal resolution of 25 km.
  • Note:MoES provides climate, weather and hydrological services to various users round the year and 24/7. Both operational and research aspects for these services are implemented through India Meteorological Department (IMD), Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), and Indian National Centre for Ocean Information System (INCOIS).

 

NASA approves mission to explore iron-rich asteroid 16 Psyche

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved a mission to explore 16 Psyche, an iron-rich asteroid.

As part of the mission, NASA craft will be launched in 2023, and will arrive at Psyche in 2030. The mineral contents on the asteroids are worth over 100-thousand times the value of the entire world economy.

Key Facts
  • Psyche asteroid has diameter in excess of 125 miles and is almost entirely composed of iron and nickel.
  • Scientists believe Psyche to be aprotoplanet e. its entire body consisting of what one day could be the core of a new planet.
  • The spacecraft will be running tests on 16 Psyche to learn more about the history and composition of the celestial body.
  • The information gathered will undoubtedly useful to astronomers to learn more about the formation and early life of planets.
  • The study of Psyche may also reveal more information about the centre of our planet, which cannot be studied directly due to the virtual impossibility of sending a probe deep underground.
  • Astronomers also believe Psyche to contain water, making it a possible candidate for a stellar fuel station, as water can be used to sustain life and synthesize rocket fuel.

Union Cabinet approves India’s Membership in the International Vaccine Institute

The Union Cabinet has given its approval to the proposal for India’s taking full membership of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) Governing Council.

This decision involves payment of annual contribution of US $5,00,000 to the IVI (headquartered in Seoul, South Korea).

Background

In 2007 with the approval of Union Cabinet, India joined IVI. Since then India is a long-term collaborator and stake-holder of IVI. In 2012, IVI’s Board of Trustees (BOT) had approved the formation of its new governance structure. As per the new structure of its member state has to contribute to the IVI by paying a portion of its core budget. Since India has been classified in Group-I, it has to pay an annual contribution of US $50,000.

About International Vaccine Institute (IVI)

  • IVI is aninternational nonprofit organization devoted to developing and introducing new and improved vaccines to protect the people, especially children, against deadly infectious diseases.
  • It was established in 1997 on the initiatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • Its work is exclusively on vaccine development and introduction specifically for people in developing countries, with a focus on neglected diseases affecting these regions.
  • Currently, IVI has 40 countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) as signatories to its Establishment Agreement.

Negatively Charged Hydrogen Clusters

Physicists from Austria have created new form of Hydrogen i.e. negatively charged hydrogen clusters. It is a previously unseen form of hydrogen.

For the past forty years, existence of hydrogen in ion clusters was known and is positively-charged clusters have already exists.

How Negatively Charged Hydrogen Clusters Were Created?
  • Researchers first injected cold liquid helium droplets with hydrogen molecules to form clusters with a neutral charge. Then they exposed these hydrogen-infused droplets to an electron beam.
  • This caused some hydrogen molecules to ionize and be flung out into the surrounding vacuum as negatively charged hydrogen ions.
  • Soon, the nearby hydrogen molecules started clustering around the negatively charged ions to create negatively charged hydrogen clusters that could boast a few, or many molecules each.
  • The newly created negatively charged hydrogen clusters existed only for microseconds (1 microsecond = 0.000001 seconds). But it was enough time for researchers to determine their geometric structures.
  • Significance of Research:It will help researchers to easily identify the clusters in nature.

Genetically Modified mosquito trials launched to control dengue, chikungunya and zika

Outdoor caged trials of genetically modified mosquitoes waere launched in Dawalwadi, Badnapur in Jalna district of Maharashtra to demonstrate the efficiency this technique to suppress wild female mosquito populations that transmit dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

The trials are conducted by Oxitec and uses the Release of Insects carrying Dominant Lethal genes (RIDL) technology.

Key Facts
  • Oxitec’s technology uses GM male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that carry a dominant lethal gene. This gene is passed on to offspring after male GM mosquitoes mate with wild female mosquitoes.
  • The lethal gene in the offspring kills the larvae before they reach adulthood. Since male mosquitoes do not bite humans, the release of these GM mosquitoes will not increase the risk of dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
  • Oxitec’s mosquitoes were first released in Brazil were they have successfully reduced the local populations of mosquitoes by more than 90%, whereas insecticides only affect 30%.
  • Advantages: This strategy is considered as most eco-friendly solution so far to control the spread of infectious diseases as it only targets a specific mosquito strain and does not produce any toxic compounds. It has 99% efficiency to kill offspring.
Background

Dengue is estimated to infect 5.8 million people in India every year, costing the country over $1 billion annually. In recent times, outbreaks of Chikungunya, a mosquito borne viral disease have been increasingly reported in India. Both viral diseases are transmitted by female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has fully supported the genetically engineered mosquitoes during last year’s Zika outbreak.

Scientists creates world’s first stable semi-synthetic organism

Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), US have created world’s first stable semi-synthetic organism, a single-celled bacterium with an expanded genetic code

The semi-synthetic organism is the modified E.coli bacteria created by introducing DNA molecules that are not found in nature in a common bacterium.

How The New Bacterium Was Created?
  • Life’s natural genetic code only contains four natural bases- adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), thymine (T). These bases pair forms two base pairs in the DNA ladder.
  • The newly created bacterium has two human-createdX and Y basesthat grow and divide, much like the four natural bases. This single-celled organism can hold on to the synthetic base pair as it divides.
  • The human-created X and Y base pair was dropped over time in the bacterium that limited the ways the it can use the additional information possessed in their DNA.
  • For this, researchers had optimised a tool called a nucleotide transporter, which brings the materials necessary for the unnatural base pair to be copied across the cell membrane.
  • They discovered that modification to the transporter, made it much easier for the organism to grow and divide while holding on to X and Y.
  • Researchers used geneediting tool CRISPR-Cas9to design the synthetic organism to see a genetic sequence without X and Y as a foreign invader.
Potential Applications

This research gives scientists an opportunity to ‘create organisms with wholly unnatural attributes and traits that are not found elsewhere in nature.

In future, it can help in creation of microbes capable of manufacturing entirely new proteins, which can provide leads to new medicines and nanotechnology breakthroughs.

ISRO Successfully tests Cryogenic Engine for Upper Stage of GSLV Mk III

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully tested indigenously developed cryogenic engine for the upper stage ‘GSLV Mk III’ rocket.

The cryogenic upper stage, designated as C25, was tested for 50 seconds at ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) at Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu demonstrating all the stage operations. It was the first test in a series of two tests.  The second test is planned for flight duration of 640 seconds.

Key Facts
  • Cryogenic engines are used in the upper stage of a rocket launch as they provide the maximum thrust to a launcher vehicle.
  • The development of C25 cryogenic stage started after approval of GSLV MkIII, ISRO’s next generation launch vehicle, capable of launching heavy four tonne class spacecraft in Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO).
  • C25 stage was conceptualised, designed and realised by Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre (LPSC) with support from Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), ISRO Propulsion Complex (IPRC) and Sathish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC).
  • GSLV MkIII vehicle consists of two solid strap-on motors, one earth storable liquid core stage and the cryogenic upper stage.
  • The C25 stage is most powerful upper stage developed by ISRO. It uses Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Hydrogen propellant combination. This stage carries 27.8 tons of propellants loaded in two independent tanks.

Note: Development of a cryogenic stage has unique design challenges liquid Oxygen stored at -195 deg C and as liquid Hydrogen is stored at -253 deg C in its tanks. To store these cryogenic fluids, special multi-layer insulation is provided for the tanks and other structures.

Comment

The 50 second test of C25 is a significant milestone in the ISRO’s development of indigenous cryogenic propulsion technology. The successful hot test of the stage in the first attempt itself demonstrates the ISRO’s ability to work in new areas like cryogenic technology. The first flight stage for ‘GSLV MkIII-D1’ mission is in an advanced stage of realisation. It is scheduled to launch GSAT-19 during first quarter of 2017. Its flight engine was successfully tested earlier in the High Altitude Test facility and integrated with the flight stage.

Aditya

India’s first-ever solar powered boat “Aditya” has been launched by the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a function held in Vaikom boat jetty at Vembanad Lake in Kochi, Kerala. The 75-seater boat fitted with 78 rooftop solar panels, will ferry along a 2.5-kilometre route between Vaikom and Thavanakkadavu 22 times a day. The boat can run at a maximum speed of 7.5 knots and cruises without any noise and minimal vibration compared to the normal diesel ferries. The solar powered boat is built by Kochi-based NavAlt Pvt Ltd.

Second Scorpene class submarine INS Khanderi launched

INS Khanderi, the second Scorpene class submarine was launched at the Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) in Mumbai, Maharashtra. It is the second of the six submarines being built at MDL in collaboration with France’s DCNS as part of Project 75 of Indian Navy.

About  INS Khanderi
  • It has been named Khanderi, after the Island fort of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji which played had vital role in ensuring their supremacy at sea in late 17th century. Khanderi is also name for Tiger Shark.
  • The state-of-the-art features include superior stealth and ability to launch a crippling attack on the enemy using precision guided weapon.
  • The attack from it can be launched with torpedoes, as well as tube-launched anti-ship missiles, whilst on surface or underwater. The stealth features gives it invulnerability, unmatched by many submarines.
  • The submarine is designed to operate in all theatres, including the tropics. All means and communications are provided to ensure interoperability with other components of a Naval task force.
  • It can undertake multifarious types of missions typically undertaken by any modern submarine such as anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, intelligence gathering, area surveillance, mine laying etc.
Background

Under Project 75, six Scorpene submarines are being built with assistance and technology transfer from DCNS of France under deal signed in October 2005. The first of the series INS Kalvari is completing sea trials and will be commissioned shortly. The other four submarines are expected to be launched at nine-month intervals after the INS Khanderi. At Present, the Indian Navy operates only 13 conventionally powered submarines and two nuclear submarines.

Improved Guided Pinaka rockets successfully test-fired for 2nd time

Improved Pinaka rockets, with a guidance system and an enhanced range were successfully test-fired for the second time from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur in Odisha. The guided version dubbed as Pinaka mark-II, has been evolved version of Pinaka mark-I. Its first successful test flight was conducted from the same venue on January 12, 2017.

Key Facts
  • The earlier Pinaka version was an unguided one, now it has been transformed into guided version with a navigation, guidance and control kit developed by the DRDO’s Research Centre, Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad.
  • It was developed jointly by the Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune, RCI, and the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad.

Significance

  • The conversion into improved guided Pinaka rockets has helped in enhancing the range and accuracy of Pinaka. The earlierrangewas 40 km, but now it is more than 70 km.
  • The success of the guided Pinaka also has reinforced the technological strength of India in converting the unguided systems into weapons of high precision.

Indian Navy’s Theatre Level Exercise TROPEX 17

The Indian Navy’s Annual Theatre Readiness Operational Exercise (TROPEX) 2017 is being conducted off the Western Seaboard.

The month long exercise will see participation of ships and aircraft of both the Western and Eastern Naval Command and also assets from the Indian Air Force, Indian Army and the Indian Coast Guard.

Key Facts
  • TROPEX 17 exercise is aimed at testing combat readiness of the combined fleets of the Indian Navy, and the assets of the Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Coast Guard.
  • It seeks to strengthen inter-operability and joint operations in a complex environment. It assumes special significance in the backdrop of the current security scenario.
  • TROPEX 17 exercise will be conducted in various phases, both in harbour and at sea encompassing the various facets of war-fighting and combat operations.
  • It will see participation of major surface combatants and air assets of the Indian Navy including the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, nuclear submarine Chakra, Landing Platform Dock (LPD) Jalashwa.
  • It will also see participation of recently commissioned destroyer Chennai, the P-8I long range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
  • The assets of Indian Navy will operate alongside SU-30 MKI, Jaguars, AWACS, IL-78 Flight Refuelling Aircraft of the Indian Air Force and Infantry units of the Indian Army.
  • The last edition of TROPEX exercise was conducted in January 2015 and since its launch it has grown in scale and complexity over the years.