Centre for Science and Environment wins Indira Gandhi peace prize

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has won this year’s Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development, an award conferred by Indira Gandhi Trust each year on the late Prime Minister’s birth anniversary.

The international jury for the awards was headed by former President Pranab Mukherjee.

The CSE was established in 1980 under the leadership of the late Anil Agarwal and is presently headed by Sunita Narain.

It has over the years worked on various burning issues from air and water pollution, food safety, wastewater management, climate change and so on.

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GROWTH-India telescope’s first science observation

The 0.7 m GROWTH-India telescope at the Indian Astronomical Observatory located in Hanle, Ladakh, has made its first science observation which is a follow-up study of a nova explosion. Novae are explosive events involving violent eruptions on the surface of white dwarf stars, leading to a temporary increase in brightness of the star. Unlike a supernova, the star does not go on to die but returns to its earlier state after the explosion. A report on this published in The Astronomer’s Telegram notes the magnitude of the nova explosion first identified by Darnley et al as it varies, from November 8 to November 10.

The GROWTH-India telescope is part of a multi-country collaborative initiative – known as the Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH) – to observe transient events in the universe.

The fully robotic telescope is designed to capture cosmic events occurring over relatively shorter periods of the cosmological timescale: years, days and even hours.

Universities and research institutes from the US, the UK, Japan, India, Germany, Taiwan, and Israel are part of the initiative.

Their primary research objective is time-domain astronomy, which entails the study of explosive transients and variable sources (of light and other radiation) in the universe.

Its goals are threefold:

  • Search for explosions in the optical regime whenever LIGO group detects a Binary Neutron Star merger
  • Study nearby young supernova explosions
  • Study nearby asteroids.

Novae are explosive events involving violent eruptions on the surface of white dwarf stars, leading to a temporary increase in brightness of the star. Unlike a supernova, the star does not go on to die but returns to its earlier state after the explosion.

The recurrent nova, named M31N-2008, has been observed to erupt several times, the most recent eruption happening in November 2018.

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China’s “Artificial Sun” Is Now Hot Enough for Nuclear Fusion

On Tuesday, a team from China’s Hefei Institutes of Physical Science announced that its Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor — an “artificial sun” designed to replicate the process our natural Sun uses to generate energy — just hit a new temperature milestone: 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit).

For comparison, the core of our real Sun only reaches about 27 million degrees Fahrenheit — meaning the EAST reactor was, briefly, more than six times hotter than the closest star.

About Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST):

It is an experimental superconducting tokamak magnetic fusion energy reactor in Hefei, China. The Hefei-based Institute of Plasma Physics is conducting the experiment for the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It has operated since 2006. It was later put under control of Hefei Institutes of Physical Science.

The EAST stands at 11 meters tall, has a diameter of 8 meters and weighs about 360 tonnes.

It uses a ring to house heavy and super-heavy isotopes — atomic variations — of hydrogen known as deuterium and tritium.

The isotopes are heated by powerful electric currents within the tokamak, tearing electrons away from their atoms and forming a charged plasma of hydrogen ions.

Powerful magnets lining the inner walls of EAST then contain the plasma to a tiny area to maximize the chance that the ions will fuse together.

When the ions fuse they give off a large amount of energy, which can then be harnessed to run a power plant and produce electricity.

Not only is EAST’s new plasma temperature milestone remarkable because, wow, it’s really hot, it’s also the minimum temperature scientists believe is needed to produce a self-sustaining nuclear fusion reaction on Earth.

Now that China’s “artificial sun” is capable of heating plasma to the necessary temperature, researchers can focus on the next steps along the path to stable nuclear fusion.

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NASA’s daring asteroid mission unfurls its sampling arm for the first time

NASA officials confirmed Friday that a test of a key component of the space agency’s mission to sample an asteroid was completed successfully. On Wednesday, for the first time in more than two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm and put it through a series of maneuvers to ensure its space-worthiness after being packed away for launch and a long flight to the asteroid Bennu.

This arm and its sampler head, known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM, is critical to the mission’s goal of retrieving at least 60 grams of material from the surface of Bennu and returning this sample to Earth by 2023. The collection device will act something like a reverse vacuum cleaner.

The launch of the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission took place on September 8, 2016. Since then, the spacecraft has been two years traveling through space to reach its target, primitive asteroid Bennu, in October 2018.

About the mission:

OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter.

What will the OSIRIS-Rex do?

OSIRIS-REx will spend two years traveling towards Bennu, arriving at the asteroid in August 2018. The probe will orbit the asteroid for 3 years, conducting several scientific experiments, before returning to Earth, with the sample capsule expected to land in Utah, the USA in September 2023.

During its three year orbit of Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will be conducting a range of scientific experiments in order to better understand the asteroid.

As part of this, the asteroid will be mapped using instruments on the probe, in order to select a suitable site for samples to be collected from.

The aim of the mission is to collect a sample of regolith- the loose, soil-like material which covers the surface of the asteroid.

In July 2020, the probe will move to within a few meters of Bennu, extending its robotic arm to touch the asteroid’s surface. The arm will make contact with the surface for just 5 seconds, during which a blast of nitrogen gas will be used to stir up the regolith, allowing it to be sucked into the sample collector.

OSIRIS-REx has enough nitrogen on board for 3 sample collection attempts, and NASA is hoping to collect between 60 and 2000g of regolith material to bring back to Earth.

Why was Bennu chosen?

Bennu was selected for the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:

Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth. Around 7000 asteroids are ‘Near-Earth Objects’ (NEOs), meaning they travel within around ~30million miles of the Earth. Out of these, just under 200 have orbits similar to Earth, with Bennu being one of these.

Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.

Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.

Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.

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IIT researchers devise programme to maximise LPG connections

IIT Kharagpur researchers have devised a decision support system to help maximize the LPG connections in BPL (below poverty line) households, an official statement said.

It is a first of its kind for analysis of a national level energy policy, it said.

A decision support system (DSS) is a computer programme that helps in making sound rational decisions using mathematical programming and operation research techniques.

PMUY, launched in May 2016, aimed to provide five crore LPG connections by 2019 to BPL families with the support of Rs 1,600 to each family. The government has recently revised the target to providing eight crore LPG connections by 2020.

The DSS devised at the IIT uses mixed integer linear programming to mathematically formulate the policy using input parameters, decision variables, and their relationships.

The mathematical model has found the optimum number of total (BPL) connections required in a region, number of dealerships that need to be commissioned in a region over the policy time frame.

The IIT team has done sensitivity analysis with the mathematical model — change in a decision variable with respect to the change in a parameter.

With this, they can predict not only how the number of household connections can be increased but also the critical region that contributes most in each zone of LPG distribution.

Certain areas though have been well covered, such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Rajasthan, and West Bengal.

The government needs to pay special attention to regions critical to LPG penetration, such as Assam in the Northeastern zone, in order to achieve 100 percent BPL household penetration, the institute said.

This kind of DSS can be developed for various federal and state level policies for various commodities like solar panels distributions, agricultural commodities and so on

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How the Antarctic Circumpolar Current helps keep Antarctica frozen

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, is the strongest ocean current on our planet. It extends from the sea surface to the bottom of the ocean and encircles Antarctica.

It is vital for Earth’s health because it keeps Antarctica cool and frozen. It is also changing as the world’s climate warms. Scientists like us are studying the current to find out how it might affect the future of Antarctica’s ice sheets, and the world’s sea levels.

The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, or ACC, is the strongest ocean current on our planet. It extends from the sea surface to the bottom of the ocean and encircles Antarctica. It is vital for Earth’s health because it keeps Antarctica cool and frozen.

The ACC carries an estimated 165 million to 182 million cubic meters of water every second (a unit also called a “Sverdrup”) from west to east, more than 100 times the flow of all the rivers on Earth. It provides the main connection between the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

The tightest geographical constriction through which the current flows is the Drake Passage, where only 800 km separates South America from Antarctica. While elsewhere the ACC appears to have a broad domain, it must also navigate steep undersea mountains that constrain its path and steer it north and south across the Southern Ocean.

Antarctica is a frozen continent surrounded by icy waters. Moving northward, away from Antarctica, the water temperatures rise slowly at first and then rapidly across a sharp gradient. It is the ACC that maintains this boundary.

The ACC is created by the combined effects of strong westerly winds across the Southern Ocean, and the big change in surface temperatures between the Equator and the poles.

Ocean density increases as water get colder and as it gets saltier. The warm, salty surface waters of the subtropics are much lighter than the cold, fresher waters close to Antarctica. The depth of constant density levels slopes up towards Antarctica. The westerly winds make this slope steeper, and the ACC rides eastward along it, faster where the slope is steeper, and weaker where it’s flatter.

Fronts and bottom water:

In the ACC there are sharp changes in water density known as fronts. The Subantarctic Front to the north and Polar Front further south are the two main fronts of the ACC (the black lines in the images). Both are known to split into two or three branches in some parts of the Southern Ocean and merge together in other parts. Scientists can figure out the density and speed of the current by measuring the ocean’s height, using altimeters.

The path of the ACC is a meandering one, because of the steering effect of the sea floor, and also because of instabilities in the current. The ACC also plays a part in the meridional (or global) overturning circulation, which brings deep waters formed in the North Atlantic southward into the Southern Ocean. Once there it becomes known as Circumpolar Deep Water and is carried around Antarctica by the ACC. It slowly rises toward the surface south of the Polar Front.

Once it surfaces, some of the water flows northward again and sinks north of the Subarctic Front. The remaining part flows toward Antarctica where it is transformed into the densest water in the ocean, sinking to the sea floor and flowing northward in the abyss as Antarctic Bottom Water. These pathways are the main way that the oceans absorb heat and carbon dioxide and sequester it in the deep ocean.

The ACC is not immune to climate change. The Southern Ocean has warmed and freshened in the upper 2,000 m. Rapid warming and freshening have also been found in the Antarctic Bottom Water, the deepest layer of the ocean.

Waters south of the Polar Front are becoming fresher due to increased rainfall there, and waters to the north of the Polar Front are becoming saltier due to increased evaporation. These changes are caused by human activity, primarily through adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and depletion of the ozone layer. The ozone hole is now recovering but greenhouse gases continue to rise globally.

Winds have strengthened by about 40% over the Southern Ocean over the past 40 years. Surprisingly, this has not translated into an increase in the strength of the ACC. Instead, there has been an increase in eddies that move heat towards the pole, particularly in hotspots such as Drake Passage, Kerguelen Plateau, and between Tasmania and New Zealand.

Scientists have observed much change already. The question now is how this increased transfer of heat across the ACC will impact the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet, and consequently the rate of global sea-level rise.

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GSAT-29 launch successful: ISRO takes another step closer to country’s first manned mission

The Indian Space Research Organization successfully launched its latest communication satellite GSAT-29, which was put in its orbit by India’s heavy-lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-Mk III). The GSLV Mk III is the designated rocket for India’s first human spaceflight proposed for 2022. Today’s launch was a key test to the GSLV Mk III as it carried the GSAT-29 weighing 3,423 kg and placed it into Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO) just over 16 minutes into its flight.

GSLV Mk III is a three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Two massive boosters with solid propellant constitute the first stage, the core with liquid propellant form the second stage and the cryogenic engine completes the final stage.

About GSAT-29:

 

GSAT-29 is a multiband, multi-beam communication satellite, intended to serve as a testbed for several new and critical technologies. Its Ku-band and Ka-band payloads are configured to cater to the communication requirements of users including those from remote areas especially from Jammu & Kashmir and North-Eastern regions of India.

In addition, the Q/V-Band communication payload onboard is intended to demonstrate the future high throughput satellite system technologies. Geo High-Resolution Camera will carry out high-resolution imaging. Optical Communication Payload will demonstrate data transmission at a very high rate through an optical communication link.

The success of GSLV MkIII-D2 marks an important milestone in the Indian space programme towards achieving self-reliance in launching heavier satellites. The success of this flight also signifies the completion of the experimental phase of GSLV Mark III.

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World’s largest brain-like supercomputer switched on for first time

The world’s largest supercomputer designed to work in the same way as the human brain has been switched on for the first time.

The newly formed million-processor-core Spiking Neural Network Architecture (SpiNNaker) machine is capable of completing more than 200 million actions per second, with each of its chips having 100 million transistors.

The SpiNNaker machine, designed and built in The University of Manchester in the UK, can model more biological neurons in real time than any other machine on the planet.

Biological neurons are basic brain cells present in the nervous system that communicate primarily by emitting ‘spikes’ of pure electro-chemical energy.

Neuromorphic computing uses large-scale computer systems containing electronic circuits to mimic these spikes in a machine.

SpiNNaker is unique because, unlike traditional computers, it does not communicate by sending large amounts of information from point A to B via a standard network. Instead, it mimics the massively parallel communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of small amounts of information simultaneously to thousands of different destinations.

Researchers eventually aim to model up to a billion biological neurons in real time and are now a step closer. To give an idea of scale, a mouse brain consists of around 100 million neurons and the human brain is 1,000 times bigger than that.

One billion neurons are one percent of the scale of the human brain, which consists of just under 100 billion brain cells, or neurons, which are all highly interconnected via approximately one quadrillion synapses.

One of the fundamental uses for the supercomputer is to help neuroscientists better understand how our own brain works. It does this by running extremely large scale real-time simulations which simply aren’t possible on other machines.

For example, SpiNNaker has been used to simulate high-level real-time processing in a range of isolated brain networks. This includes an 80,000 neuron model of a segment of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that receives and processes information from the senses.

It also has simulated a region of the brain called the Basal Ganglia – an area affected in Parkinson’s disease, meaning it has massive potential for neurological breakthroughs in science such as pharmaceutical testing.

The power of SpiNNaker has even recently been harnessed to control a robot, the SpOmnibot. This robot uses the SpiNNaker system to interpret real-time visual information and navigate certain objects while ignoring others.

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Largest brain-mimicking supercomputer switched on

The world’s largest supercomputer designed to work in the same way as the human brain has been switched on for the first time.

The Spiking Neural Network Architecture machine is capable of completing more than 200 million actions per second, with each of its chips having 100 million transistors.

The SpiNNaker machine, designed and built in The University of Manchester in the UK, can model more biological neurons in real time than any other machine on the planet.

Biological neurons are basic brain cells present in the nervous system that communicate primarily by emitting ‘spikes’ of pure electro-chemical energy.

Neuromorphic computing uses large-scale computer systems containing electronic circuits to mimic these spikes in a machine.

SpiNNaker is unique because, unlike traditional computers, it does not communicate by sending large amounts of information from point A to B via a standard network. Instead, it mimics the massively parallel communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of small amounts of information simultaneously to thousands of different destinations.

Researchers eventually aim to model up to a billion biological neurons in real time and are now a step closer. To give an idea of scale, a mouse brain consists of around 100 million neurons and the human brain is 1,000 times bigger than that.

One billion neurons are one percent of the scale of the human brain, which consists of just under 100 billion brain cells, or neurons, which are all highly interconnected via approximately one quadrillion synapses.

One of the fundamental uses for the supercomputer is to help neuroscientists better understand how our own brain works. It does this by running extremely large scale real-time simulations which simply aren’t possible on other machines.

For example, SpiNNaker has been used to simulate high-level real-time processing in a range of isolated brain networks. This includes an 80,000 neuron model of a segment of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that receives and processes information from the senses.

It also has simulated a region of the brain called the Basal Ganglia – an area affected in Parkinson’s disease, meaning it has massive potential for neurological breakthroughs in science such as pharmaceutical testing.

The power of SpiNNaker has even recently been harnessed to control a robot, the SpOmnibot. This robot uses the SpiNNaker system to interpret real-time visual information and navigate certain objects while ignoring others.

ISPRL Signs Memorandum of Understanding with ADNOC to explore storage of Crude Oil at Padur Underground Facility in Karnataka

Indian Strategic Petroleum Reserves Ltd (ISPRL)signed today a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Abu Dhabi with the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) to explore the possibility of storing ADNOC crude oil at ISPRL’s underground oil storage facility at Padur in Karnataka, which has a 2.5 million tonne capacity. Under the MoU, ADNOC is expected to store crude in compartments at Padur.

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China unveils new ‘Heavenly Palace’ space station as ISS days numbered

China unveiled on Tuesday a replica of its first permanently crewed space station, which would replace the international community’s orbiting laboratory and symbolizes the country’s major ambitions beyond Earth.

It is a 17-meter core module. Three astronauts will be permanently stationed in the 60-tonne orbiting lab, which will enable the crew to conduct biological and microgravity research.

Assembly is expected to be completed around 2022 and the station would have a lifespan of around 10 years.

The International Space Station – a collaboration between the United States, Russia, Canada, Europe, and Japan – has been in operation since 1998 and is due to be retired in 2024.

China will then have the only space station in orbit, though it will be much smaller than the ISS which weighs 400 tonnes and is as large as a football pitch.

About the International Space Station (ISS):

The International Space Station (ISS) is a space station, or a habitable artificial satellite, in low Earth orbit. The ISS is now the largest artificial body in orbit.

The ISS consists of pressurized modules, external trusses, solar arrays, and other components. ISS components have been launched by Russian Proton and Soyuz rockets as well as American Space Shuttles.

The ISS serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, human biology, physics, astronomy, meteorology, and other fields.

The station is suited for the testing of spacecraft systems and equipment required for missions to the Moon and Mars.

The ISS maintains an orbit with an altitude of between 330 and 435 km by means of reboost maneuvers using the engines of the Zvezda module or visiting spacecraft. It completes 15.54 orbits per day.

ISS is the ninth space station to be inhabited by crews, following the Soviet and later Russian Salyut, Almaz, and Mir stations as well as Skylab from the US.

The ISS programme is a joint project among five participating space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA.

The ownership and use of the space station are established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. The station is divided into two sections, the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), which is shared by many nations.

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