(Current Affairs For SSC Exams) Science & Technology, Defense, Environment | September : 2012

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment

BRAHMOS SUPERSONIC CRUISE MISSILE SUCCESSFULLY TEST-FIRED

Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) successfully test-fired Brahmos supersonic cruise missile from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur, in Balasore district, Orissa. The missile was test-fired as the developmental trial as it has already been inducted into the Indian Army and Indian Navy. BrahMos, which has a target range of 290-km, is the surface-to-surface cruise missile. It is capable of carrying a conventional warhead of 200 to 300 kg. The missile has been developed by BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited, a joint venture between Republic of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Russian Federation’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia. It is the world’s fastest cruise missile in operation. It can be launched from submarines, ships, aircraft or land. Presently scientists at the BrahMos Aerospace Private Limited are working to develop the air as well as the submarine launch version of the missile. Last time the missile was tested on 28 March 2012 from the same platform. The name BrahMos is the blend of the names of two rivers, the Brahmaputra of India and the Moskva of Russia.

HIGHER YOU LIVE, FASTER YOU AGE

The world’s most accurate atomic clock has clearly proved the nearly 100-year-old theory by Albert Einstein that time is a relative concept and the higher you live above sea level the faster you should age. Einstein’s theory  of relativity states that time and space are not as constant as everyday life would suggest. He suggested that the only true constant, the speed of light, meant that time can run faster or slower depending on how high
you are, and how fast you are travelling. Now researchers have demonstrated the true nature of Einstein’s theory for the first time with an incredibly accurate atomic clock that is able to keep time to within one second in about 3.7 billion years — roughly the same length of time that life has existed on Earth, The Independent reported. James Chin-Wen Chou and his colleagues from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, found that when they monitored two such clocks positioned just a foot apart in height above sea level, they found that time really does run more quickly the higher you are — just as Einstein predicted.
“These precise clocks reveal the effects of gravitational pull, so if we position one clock closer to a planet, you also increase the gravitational pull and time actually runs slower than for another, similar clock positioned higher up,” Chou said. For every foot above ground, for instance, the clocks showed that someone would age about 90 billionths of a second faster over a 79-year lifetime, Chou said. The time dilation experiment,
published in the journal Science , is vivid proof of how time is not what we think it is. Besides, the scientists demonstrated that when the atomic clocks were altered in a way that mimics the effect of travelling through space, time began to slow down, as the theory of relativity says it should.

WESTERN GHATS MOUNTAIN CHAIN INSCRIBED IN THE LIST OF WORLD HERITAGE SITES

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the science and cultural body of UN, inscribed India’s 1600-km long Western Ghats mountain chain on the list of its world heritage sites
on 1 June 2012. The Western Ghats mountain chain is globally renowned for its enormous biological diversity. The mountain’s chain, which are older than the Himalaya, are widely responsible for the Indian monsoon weather pattern. The Western Ghats are also considered to be one of the world’s eight hottest hotspots of biological diversity. The 1600-km long ghats, begins at the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra and passes through
as many as 5 states including Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu marks the ending point of the ghats. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO holds its meeting once every year where it reviews its list of World Heritage sites. The committee also looks into the implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, which defines the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List.

A NEW SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLE CALLED HIGGS BOSON DISCOVERED

Scientists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, discovered a new sub-atomic particle called Higgs Boson or God’s Particle. The new discovery is being considered as a gateway to a new era in understanding the universe’s great mysteries including dark matter. Scientists had predicted the existence of Higgs Boson, which is also referred to as God’s Particle, in 1964. The particle was named Higgs Boson after Peter Higgs and Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Peter Higgs was one of six authors who wrote the revolutionary papers covering what is now known as the Higgs mechanism and described the related Higgs field and boson. The term God particle was first used by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman. The term is now a more popular term for Higgs Boson which explains how the subatomic universe works and got started.

BANANA GENOME SEQUENCE WILL AID CROP IMPROVEMENT

Scientists have sequenced the complete genome of the banana, an important crop in developing countries that provides a fruit widely enjoyed the world over and is a staple food in some of the poorest parts of the globe. The draft sequence provided “a crucial stepping-stone for genetic improvement of banana,” observed Angélique D’Hont, a French agricultural research scientist, and colleagues from a number of other countries in a paper that is being published this week in the scientific journal Nature . The sequence represented, they said, “a major advance in the quest to unravel the complex genetics of this vital crop, whose breeding is particularly challenging.” Pests and diseases were an “imminent danger” for global banana production. Having access to the entire gene repertoire of the plant held the key to identifying those responsible for disease resistance as well as ones for other important traits such as fruit quality, they added. The completion of the genome sequence was important for India, the world’s largest producer of bananas, according to P. Padmesh of the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. However, most of the country’s production was consumed locally and exports amounted to only 0.5 per cent of the world trade in the fruit. The potential for export was huge if India could increase its productivity both in terms of quantity and quality, he told The Hindu in an email. As most of the present day cultivated varieties were susceptible to fungal, bacterial and viral diseases, it was necessary to develop diseaseresistant varieties. The international team has sequenced the genome of DH-Pahang ( Musa acuminata ), a banana popular in south-east Asia and which is able to resist the devastating Panama disease fungus that has been spreading in Asia. The genome that has been sequenced ran to 523 million ‘bases,’ the chemical units that make up DNA and encode the genetic information. Transposable elements — the ‘jumping genes’ that can relocate themselves to other places in the genome from time to time — accounted for almost half of those bases.

COAST GUARD STATION KARAIKAL COMMISSIONED

Coast Guard Station Karaikal, was commissioned by Vice Admiral MP Muralidharan, Director General Indian Coast Guard at Karaikal on 25 July 2012. Karaikal is the fifth coast guard station on the Puducherry-Tamil
Nadu coastline. The station is part of ongoing efforts by the Coast Guard to strengthen coastal security along the Indian coastline. The station at Karaikal will help augment patrolling along the east coast and prevent illicit activities such as infiltration, smuggling and illegal fishing. Coast Guard Station Karaikal will function under the administrative and operational control of the Commander Coast Guard Region (East) through the Commander
Coast Guard District Headquarter- 5 located at Chennai. Commandant PR Lochen was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the station.

CURIOSITY TOUCHED THE SURFACE OF MARS

The US space agency NASA landed Curiosity, a huge new robot rover on Mars on 5 August 2012. The one-tonne vehicle touched the surface of Mars after a 345-millionmile expedition. The robot rover will now conduct a study to find out whether the planet was ever hospitable to life. The robot rover, which epitomizes the technological wizardry of man kind, is set to spend nearly two years for the mission. NASA undertook the mission with an objective to determine whether Mars has ever had the conditions to support life. The ambitious project costed the US government about 2.5 billion dollar.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment

SPECIFIC TECHNOLOGICAL FEATURES OF CURIOSITY

  • The 900 kg rover has the top speed of about 4cm/s

  • Plutonium generators installed on the rover will deliver heat and electricity for at least 14 years

  • 75kg science payload more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier US Mars rovers

  • Equipped with tools to brush and drill into rocks, to scoop up, sort and sieve samples

  • Variety of analytical techniques to discern chemistry in rocks, soil and atmosphere

  • Even carries a laser to zap rocks; beam will identify atomic elements in rocks

  • Equipped with 17 cameras, which will identify particular targets, and a laser will zap those rocks to probe their chemistry

  • Findings of the mission will be delivered to Earth through antennas on the rover deck

KARAKORAM GLACIERS REMAINED IMPERVIOUS OF GLOBAL WARMING

According to a recent study published in the Journal Nature Geoscience, Diran and Rakaposhi, two glaciers in the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan, remain unaffected of global warming and contrary to the popular  belief, grew slightly in recent years. The study found that the glacier saw an increase in ice thickness of 0.11 (plus or minus 0.22) metres of water equivalent per year between 1999 and 2008. The researchers had used spaceborne data to study a 5615 sq km section of the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan and western China. The findings of the study are of great importance given the fact that the entire Himalayan mountain range
is estimated to lose about 0.4 to 0.8 metres ice per year. Karakoram mountain range, which account for 3 percent of the total ice-covered area in the world, is located across the border of Pakistan, India and China. The mountain range is concentrated in Gilgit–Baltistan in Pakistan, Ladakh in India, and Xinjiang region, in China. Part of greater Himalaya it is one of the largest mountain range of the world. K2 or Godwin Austen, the second-highest mountain on Earth, after Mount Everest, is part of the Karakoram Range. The total elevation of K2 is 8611 m (28251 feet).

First Radio Waves from Middleweight Black Hole HLX-1 identified

A team of scientists at the University of Sydney discovered the first radio emissions from the middle weight black hole HLX-1, that lies in a galaxy about 300 million light-years away. The research team had used Compact
Array radio telescope from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). HLX-1 (hyper-luminous X-ray source 1), lies in a galaxy called ESO 243-49 about 300 million light-years away. HLX-1 was discovered by chance in 2009, because it stood out as a very bright X-ray source. Before the discovery of HLX-1, scientists had evidence for only super massive black holes ones a million to a billion times the
mass of the Sun and stellar mass ones, three to thirty times the mass of the Sun. As per the new study, the size of HLX-1 is around 20000 times the mass of our sun which  makes it an intermediate mass black hole.

What is Black Hole ?

Black holes are areas where the matter is so densely squeezed into a small space, that it makes gravity pull strongly enough to stop light from escaping.

NUCLEAR CAPABLE AGNI-I MISSILE TEST-FIRED SUCCESSFULLY

India successfully test-fired domestically built surface-to surface single stage Agni-I ballistic missile. The missile was launched from a test range at Wheeler Island off Odisha coast. The nuclear capable missile with a strike range of 700 km was first test fired on 25 January 2002. The missile was launched by the strategic force command of Indian Army as a routine users’ trial. As the missile has already been inducted into the armed forces the objective of the launch was to train the user team to launch the missile. With a specialised navigation system, the Agni-I hits the target with sheer accuracy and precision. Weighing 12 tonnes, the 15-metrelong Agni-I, can carry payloads up to 1000 kg. Agni-I was developed under the joint work of advanced systems laboratory, the missile development laboratory of the DRDO, Defence Research Development Laboratory and Research Centre Imarat, while it was integrated by Bharat Dynamics Limited, Hyderabad. The Agni-I missile belongs to the genre of Short to Intermediate range ballistic missiles developed by India under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Program. The missile was made operational by the Indian Army in March 2010.

A Bacterium that did not live on Arsenic

Life as we know it does not include a bacterium that is able to live off arsenic, according to two papers published online by the journal Science . In December 2010, a sensational discovery of a unique bacterium isolated from the toxic waters of Mono Lake in California was announced in the same journal. The bacterial strain, GFAJ- 1, was substituting “arsenic for  phosphorus to sustain its growth,” declared Felisa Wolfe-Simon, then
at the NASA Astrobiology Institute in the U.S., and 11 other scientists in their paper. Life forms on Earth rely on six elements to build their molecules — oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. There was, it seemed, at least one organism capable of substituting arsenic, which is usually toxic, when phosphorus was not available. The GFAJ-1 bacterium was able to use arsenic in this manner in its DNA and proteins, according to Dr. Wolfe- Simon and her colleagues. The implications were enormous. “The definition of life has just expanded,” remarked a senior official of the U.S. space agency, NASA, in a press release. But many in the scientific community were unimpressed, arguing that extraordinary claims should be matched by similar levels of proof. The evidence that had been put forward for arsenic being incorporated into the bacterium’s DNA was seen as questionable. In May last year, Science published eight technical comments that raised several issues with the paper. Now, two teams of scientists have independently studied the bacterium using much more stringent procedures and tests. One of them was led by Rosemary Redfield of the University of British Columbia in Canada, whose forthright critique of the original paper on her blog garnered a great deal of attention . The other was a group of Swiss scientists at ETH Zurich. The GFAJ-1 bacterium “does not break the long-held rules of life, contrary to how Wolfe-Simon had interpreted her group’s data,” said Science in an editorial statement that accompanied the publication of the two papers. The new research clearly showed that the bacterium could not substitute arsenic for phosphorus to survive. Instead, the two papers revealed that the medium used to growth the organism in the original experiments contained enough phosphate contamination to support its growth. This bacterium was likely to be adept at scavenging phosphate under harsh conditions, which would help to explain why it could grow even when arsenic was present within the cells, statement noted. But, as the journal also pointed out, the bacterium’s extraordinary resistance and its arsenic tolerance mechanisms would be of interest for further study.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment

EMISSIONS MONITORING SYSTEM LAUNCHED IN SHANXI PROVINCE

A monitoring system for greenhouse gas concentrations has been launched in north China’s coal-rich Shanxi province as local authorities hope to better deal with climate change by using first-hand emission data. It is the first such monitoring system that has been built among provincial-level regions in the country. The system can monitor the concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, oxynitride and particulate matter in the air and publish the data in a timely manner, a spokesman with the Shanxi Provincial Meteorological Administration said. “It can provide first-hand information of greenhouse gas concentrations in the province and give suggestions to local governments at various levels on how to deal with climate change,” the spokesman said. The monitoring system was jointly launched by the China Meteorological Administration, Shanxi Provincial Development and Reform Commission, Shanxi Provincial Science and Technology Department and Shanxi Provincial Meteorological Administration. It now operates a central monitoring station and three sub-stations in the cities of Taiyuan, Datong and Linyi.

OCEAN WAVE POWER PROMISING FOR AUSTRALIA

The waves in the ocean could supply about 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity by 2050, a new study released Wednesday by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) found. The national science agency’s study found that Australia’s ocean energy resources could power a city the size of Melbourne by 2050 or provide 10 per cent of Australia’s energy needs by 2050. The report of CSIRO found that although wave energy could possibly provide 10 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs by 2050, there were many economic, technological, environmental and societal challenges that would determine its place in Australia’s future energy mix. The report also found the areas that could benefit from wave energy technology include Perth, the southern coastline and to a lesser extent the east coast of Australia, while tidal technology could supply niche areas such as northeast Tasmania and the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

SOYUZ SPACECRAFT BLASTED-OFF FROM THE BAIKONUR

A Russian Soyuz TMA-05M spacecraft carrying three astronauts including Sunita Williams, the Indian-American astronaut, took-off for the international space station on 15 July 2012 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz launch marked the 37th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project that opened the door to US-Russian cooperation in space science. Three astronauts on board including Sunita Williams, Russian Soyuz Commander Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency flight engineer Akihiko Hoshide will take two days to reach to the International space station where they will join Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba, who have already been in the International Space Station since 17 May 2012. The six crew members will work together for about two months as Acaba, Padalka and Revin are scheduled to return to Earth on 17 September 2012. Williams, Malenchenko and Hoshide will return to the Earth in mid-November 2012. NASA’s space shuttle programme came to an end in July 2011, which left US astronauts dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecrafts for ferrying to the International Space Station.

GLOBAL CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS INCREASED BY 3 %

According to the findings of the report Trends in global CO2 emissions, global carbon dioxide (CO2), emission increased by three percent in 2011. The three percent increase in CO2 took the total amount of CO2 in air at an all-time high of 34 billion tonnes. The report was released on 19 July 2012 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). The United States with 17.3 tones per capita remains one of the top CO2 emitters, while, China, the world’s most populous country, average CO2 emissions increased by nine percent to 7.2 tonnes per capita. The 27-nation European Union emitted 7.5 tonnes of CO2 per person. Emissions from 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries account for only one third of global CO2 emissions in 2011. China (29 percent), the United States (16 percent), the European Union (11 percent), India (six percent), the Russian Federation (five percent) and Japan (four percent) were the top CO2 emitters in 2011.

FUEL ASSEMBLY AT FUKUSHIMA REMOVED

A Japanese atomic plant operator Wednesday removed an unused fuel assembly on a trial basis at a damaged power station for the first time since last year’s disaster while another company planned to restart a reactor, local media reported. Reactor 4’s building at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station holds a storage pool filled with 1,535 nuclear fuel rod assemblies, including 204 unused ones. The operator will start to remove spent fuel rods from the plant in December 2013. Meanwhile, Kansai Electric Power Co planned to reactivate a nuclear reactor in western Japan late Wednesday, the second since last year’s atomic disaster, despite strong public opposition. Unit 4 at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant was scheduled to start power transmission Saturday and be in full operation on July 25, the JapanneseKyodo News agency reported. Kansai Electric Power  Co restarted reactor 3 on July 1. In mid- June, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda approved the restart of the two reactors over public opposition and experts’ warnings of fault lines near the complex.

HALF A CENTURY SINCE TELSTAR’S LAUNCH

Telstar was the first communications satellite, fired into orbit on July 10, 1962. Telstar transmitted the first live television images between America and Europe, launching the era of the  global village in which events on the other side of the world could be experienced in “real time.” Weighing 77 kilograms and  equipped with 3,600 solar cells, it was to facilitate transatlantic telecommunications from a height of around 8,000 km, thereby providing an alternative to the overloaded undersea cables. In addition, it was designed to pick up television images, amplify them and broadcast them back to earth. At the time TV signals were scarcely able to make it across the U.S., let alone across the Atlantic, as Harald Wenzel, a media sociologist at Berlin’s Free University, recalls. People watching television were fascinated by the live moving pictures. Being virtually present as
events actually occurred changed viewing habits radically.

SUPREME COURT BANNED TOURISM IN CORE AREAS OF PROJECT TIGER FORESTS

The supreme court banned all tourism activities in the core areas of the tiger reserve forests on 24 July 2012. Justice Swatanter Kumar and Justice Ibrahim passed the order on a petition filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey. The petition sought a directive to the States to notify the buffer and peripheral areas of the tiger reserves, under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, to prevent tourism in the core areas. The court was informed that except the following states - Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh, the other States have yet not filed affidavits and were yet to notify the core areas, this was informed to the court on 24 July 2012. The bench has given a final tenure of three weeks to the states that have yet not notified the core areas, failing to do so will lead to a sum of Rs ten thousand on them. The court will take the next hearing on 22 August 2012.

MASSIVE GREENLAND SURFACE ICE COVER MELT

Greenland’s surface ice cover melted this month over a larger area than ever detected in more than 30 years of satellite observations, NASA said recently. According to measurements from three separate satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists, an estimated 97 per cent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid July, the agency said in a statement. “This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this
real or was it due to data error?” said NASA’s Son Nghiem. The expert recalled noticing that most of Greenland appeared to have undergone surface melting on July 12 while analyzing data from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Oceansat-2 satellite. Results from other satellites confirmed the findings. Melt maps drawn up showed that on July 8 about 40 per cent of the ice sheet’s surface had melted, rising to 97 per cent four days later. According to glaciologist Lora Koenig, who was part of the team analysing the data, melting incidents of this type occur every 150 years on average. “With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,” Koenig said. “But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.” World Bank approved 1100 Crore Rupees Loan for Himachal Pradesh The World Bank approved an
1100 crore rupees loan for Himachal Pradesh to promote green initiatives and sustainable development in the state. The loan agreement was signed between the World Bank and the state government in New Delhi on 28
July 2012. The financial assistance consists of 90 per cent grant and 10 per cent loan at interest rate of 0.7 per cent (payable in 30 years). The loan is directed towards the development of industry, tourism, power and infrastructure projects in the state. The planning commission of India in its environment performance report released on 26 July 2012, ranked Himachal Pradesh as top state in the country on environmental performance index. According to the 2009 Forest Survey of India, the northern hilly state has a total of 37033 sq km of forest area, of which 3224 sq km is very dense forest.

GLACIERS IN THE HIMALAYAS ARE SHRINKING PAPIDLY, SAYS STUDY

A majority of glaciers in the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding regions are retreating, according to a study published recently in Nature Climate Change . The Tibetan Plateau and surrounding regions contain most of the world’s glaciers outside the polar region. The total glacier area in this region is 100,000 square kilometres. The authors found that the Tibetan Plateau and surrounding regions exhibited systematic differences in glacial shrinkage. The most intensive shrinkage is found in the Himalayas (excluding the Karakoram). Here the reduction is greatest both in terms of length and area, and also the difference between ice accumulation and loss (mass balance). In contrast, the least reduction is seen in the Pamir Plateau. Infants tell Human from other Sounds Even nine-month-old infants can distinguish between speech and non-speech sounds in both humans and animals, a study says. “Our results show that speech perception of infants is resilient and flexible. This means that our recognition of speech is more refined at an earlier age than we’d thought,” says Athena Vouloumanos, assistant professor of psychology at New York University, who led the study. It is well-known that adults’ speech perception is fine-tuned and they can detect speech among a range of ambiguous sounds. But much less is known about the capability of infants to make similar assessments, the journal Developmental Psychology reports. In order to gauge the aptitude to perceive speech at any early age, the researchers examined the responses of infants, approximately nine months in age, to recorded human and parrot speech and non-speech sounds. The results showed that infants listened longer to human speech compared to human non-speech sounds regardless of the visual stimulus, revealing their ability to recognise human speech independent of the context. “Parrot speech is unlike human speech, so the results show infants have the ability to detect different types of speech, even if they need visual cues to assist in this process,” Vouloumanos said.

Science & Technology, Defense, Environment

INDIAN PROJECT WON THE WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY CHALLENGE

An environment project made by Hand in Hand India, a Chennai based development organization was named the winner of World Environment Day Challenge 2012 organised by the UN. Projects of our other organisations also emerged victorious for their unique and inspiring work. Hand in Hand India created a colourful 10000 square foot rangoli carpet depicting 10 environmental themes. The awe inspiring theme came into being after the tireless efforts of nearly 500 volunteers. The names of a Colombian group Fundacion Ecoprogreso, Kenyan group Maji Mazuri Centre International, Asutralia’s Sunshine Coast Environment Council and a
Bangladeshi non-profit organization, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha also figured in the list of winners. To increase the people’s participation in environmental activities the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) had come out
with the innovative competition on World Environment Day 2012. Under the competition people across the world were asked to come out with an unique environmental project in connection with World Environment Day 2012. The World Environment Day is observed on 5 June every year. What next after a Higgs boson-like particle? The ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) collaboration at CERN has announced the sighting of a Higgs boson-like particle in the energy window of 125.3 ± 0.6 GeV. The observation has been made with a statistical significance of 5 sigma. This means the chances of error in their measurements are 1 in 3.5 million, sufficient to claim a discovery and publish papers detailing the efforts in the hunt. Rolf-Dieter Heuer, Director General of CERN since 2009, said at the special conference called by CERN in Geneva, “It was a global effort, it is a global effort. It is a global success.” He expressed great optimism and concluded the conference saying this was “only the beginning.” Another collaboration, called CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), announced the mass of the Higgslike particle with a 4.9 sigma result. While insufficient to claim a discovery, it does indicate only a one-in-two-million chance of error. Joe Incandela, CMS spokesman, added, “We’re reaching into the fabric of the universe at a level we’ve never done before.” The LHC will continue to run its experiments so that results revealed on Wednesday can be revalidated before it shuts down at the end of the year for maintenance. Even so, by 2013, scientists, such as Dr. Rahul Sinha, a participant of the Belle Collaboration in Japan, are confident that a conclusive result will be out. “The LHC has the highest beam energy in the world now. The experiment was
designed to yield quick results. With its high luminosity, it quickly narrowed down the energy-ranges. I’m sure that by the end of the year, we will have a definite word on the Higgs boson’s properties,” he said. However, even though the Standard Model, the framework of all fundamental particles and the dominating explanatory model in physics today, predicted the particle’s existence, slight deviations have been observed in terms of the particle’s predicted mass. Even more: zeroing in on the mass of the Higgs-like particle doesn’t mean the model is complete. While an answer to the question of mass formation took 50 years to be reached, physicists are yet to understand many phenomena. For instance, why aren’t the four fundamental forces of nature equally strong? The weak, nuclear, electromagnetic, and gravitational forces were born in the first few moments succeeding the Big Bang 13.75 billion years ago. Of these, the weak force is, for some reason, almost 1 billion, trillion, trillion times stronger than the gravitational force! Called the hierarchy problem, it evades a Standard Model explanation. In response, many theories were proposed. One theory, called super symmetry (SUSY), proposed that all fermions, which are particles with half-integer spin, were paired with a corresponding boson, or particles with integer spin. Particle spin is the term quantum mechanics attributes to the particle’s rotation around an  axis. Technicolor was the second framework. It rejects the Higgs mechanism, a process through
which the Higgs boson couples stronger with some particles and weaker with others, making them heavier and lighter, respectively. Instead, it proposes a new form of interaction with initially-massless fermions. The short-lived particles required to certify this framework are accessible at the LHC. Now, with a Higgs-like particle having been spotted with a significant confidence level, the future of Technicolor seem s uncertain. However, “significant constraints” have been imposed on the validity of these and such theories, labelled New Physics, according to Prof. M.V.N. Murthy of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMS), whose current research focuses on high-energy physics.

RUSSIA’S SOYUZ-FG CARRIER ROCKET SET FIVE SATELLITES INTO ORBIT

Russia’s Soyuz-FG carrier rocket set off from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan on 22 July 2012. The rocket will put the Russian satellites Canopus-B and MKA-PN1, a Belarusian BKA satellite, the Canadian ADS-1B and German TET-1 into orbit. The Canopus-B satellite, developed by the All-Russia Research Institute of Electromechanics, is designed for remote sensing of the Earth. It weighs about 400 kg and will work
on a circular orbit at a height of 510 km. The MKA-PN1 satellite, developed by Russia’s NPO Lavochkin aerospace company, will collect data to help meteorologists build models of ocean circulation - particularly in Arctic waters along Russian shores - and climate dynamics. The German TET-1 satellite, a part of the German Aerospace Center’s On- Orbit Verification Program, will conduct a test on new space technologies. The ADS-1B satellite, built by the Com Dev aerospace company, will form part of a ship identification satellite system. The satellites were earlier planned to be launched in the first half of 2012, but was postponed several times as Kazakhstan kept the decision to let Russia use its territory for rocket launch on hold. Russia got the permission to launch the rocket following a meeting between Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Massimov and his Russian
counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in June 2012.

AN ECO-FRIENDLY ORGANIC LED DEVELOPED

U.S. physicists have invented a new organic light-emitting diode (OLED) that promises to be brighter, cheaper and more eco friendly than those currently widely used in electronic devices. The new LED, known as spin polarized organic LED or spin OLED, stores information in the electron’s spin and the electrical charges. It also uses an “organic spin-valve,” which are used in computers, TVs, cell phones and many other electrical devices, the study said. The entire device is 300 microns wide and long and a mere 40 nanometres thick, which is about 1,000 to 2,000 times thinner than a human hair, the study said. The spintronic LED will be more
eco-friendly, cheaper to make and brighter than today’s OLEDs, and could outperform and replace all of the existing OLED technology, he said. However, the spintronic LED can only operate at a temperature of 280 Fahrenheit and emits only the colour orange, Z. Valy Vardeny, senior author said, adding that the device must be improved to run at room temperature and produce red, blue and eventually white. The original LEDs, introduced in the early 1960s, use a conventional semiconductor to generate coloured light. Newer organic LEDs or OLEDs use an organic polymer or “plastic” semiconductor to generate light.

A TRANSITIONAL FORM BETWEEN LIZARDS & MODERN-DAY SNAKES FOUND

A transitional snake — an intermediate form between lizards and the highly evolved snakes seen today — has been finally identified. This is a major step in answering many contentious questions such as whether snakes had their origin in a marine or terrestrial environment, how their unique feeding mechanism evolved, and the size and kind of their prey. More importantly, the identification of a transitional snake further strengthens the robustness of the theory of evolution. The interesting and important find is described today (July 26) in a paper published in Nature. The authors studied the  previously ignored Coniophis precedents fossil of the Late Cretaceous period (approximately 70 million years ago). They firmly state that the fossil is not an anilioid snake (burrowing snakes with vestigial pelvis and hind legs). The transitional snake has a “snakelike body and a lizard-like head.”
The shape of the skull is also intermediate between that of the lizards and snakes seen today.

ARE THERE HEALTH BENEFITS IN CONSUMING COFFEE?

There is nothing quite like a cup of hot coffee to banish that feeling of somnolence and get the brain cells chugging away. But quite apart from the sense of wellbeing that a good cup of brew, with its heady aroma, can produce, studies published recently also indicate that this beverage that millions around the world enjoy could be providing some health benefits too. In May this year, the prestigious medical journal, The New England Journal of Medicine , published a study that examined the effects of drinking coffee in a cohort of over four lakh men and women in the U.S. Coffee “appeared to be inversely associated with most major causes of death in both men and women, including heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections,” observed Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. and his colleagues in their paper. After taking into account tobacco-smoking and other confounding factors, men who  drank six cups or more cups of coffee a day had a 10 per cent lower risk of death compared with those who did not take it at all. Women coffee-drinkers had a 15 per cent lower risk of death. Those who drank caffeine-containing coffee as well as the decaffeinated form were both found to benefit from their habit. But, as the authors pointed out, it was not possible to conclude from an observational study whether the association that was noticed actually reflected cause and effect. Then, last month there came another study, this time in Circulation Heart Failure , a journal of the American Heart Association. The study analysed five independent prospective studies, with a total of over 1.4 lakh participants, for links between coffee consumption and heart failure. This study observed a
statistically significant ‘J-shaped relationship’ between coffee and heart failure. Moderate consumption of coffee — up to four servings a day — reduced the risk of heart failure. But excessive coffee drinking had no benefit and may even be dangerous, remarked Murray Mittleman, director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and senior author of the study, in a press release. The paper, however, also pointed out that experimental studies had  consistently shown that coffee and caffeine were associated with acutely raised blood pressure. A recent analysis had reported that habitual light to moderate coffee consumption increased the risk of developing hypertension but more frequent consumption did not pose  any addition risk. It could be that habitual coffee-drinkers develop a tolerance for caffeine, the authors said. Other studies have suggested that drinking coffee could also be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In 1991, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer held that “coffee is possibly carcinogenic to the human urinary bladder.” But more recent studies have indicated that coffee could be beneficial, protecting against several cancers, including of the breast, bowel, prostate and liver. Roughly 1,000 chemicals have been reported in roasted coffee, point out Jonathan Krell and Justin Stebbing of Imperial College London in a commentary published recently in The Lancet Oncology . The active compounds in coffee associated with anticancer properties are largely unknown but antioxidants might have a role. Moreover, the roasting process too was important and affected the antioxidant content. But they also cautioned that a large proportion of the evidence for the beneficial effects of coffee was derived from epidemiological studies that were open to misinterpretation and error. More well-designed studies were needed to assess this subject further. Meanwhile, “like many aspects of life, ‘everything in moderation’ seems the safest policy to adopt,” they remarked.

WORLD’S REEFS IN RAPID DECLINE

More than 2,600 of the world’s top marine scientists recently warned coral reefs around the world were in rapid decline and urged immediate global action on climate change to save what remains. The consensus statement
at the International Coral Reef Symposium, being held in the northeastern Australian city of Cairns, stressed that the livelihoods of millions of people were at risk. Coral reefs provide food and work for countless coastal inhabitants globally, generate significant revenues through tourism and function as a natural breakwater for waves and storms, they said. The statement, endorsed by the forum attendees and other marine scientists, called for
measures to head off escalating damage caused by rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, over fishing and pollution from the land. “There is a window of opportunity for the world to act on climate change, but it is closing rapidly,” said Terry Hughes, convener of the symposium. In the Caribbean 75-85 per cent of the coral cover has been lost in the last 35 years. Even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the best-protected reef ecosystem on the planet, has witnessed a 50 per cent decline in the last 50 years. More than 85 per cent of reefs in Asia’s ‘Coral Triangle’ are directly threatened by human activities such as coastal development, pollution, and over fishing, according to a report launched at the forum. The Coral Triangle covers Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, The Solomon Islands, and East Timor and contains nearly 30 per cent of the world’s  reefs and more than 3,000 species of fish.

Volcanic ash preserved ancient animal fossils

A volcanic eruption around 579 million years ago buried a ‘nursery’ of the earliest-known animals under a deluge of ash, preserving them as fossils, new research suggests in the Journal of the Geological Society.

Botulinum Toxin Prevents Tremors

Botulinum toxin may help prevent shaking or tremors in the arms and hands of people with multiple sclerosis, according to new research. 

American Water Shrews Heat and Dive

A recent study of American water shrews shows hat the animals rapidly elevate body temperature immediately before diving into cold water.

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