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June 2017 Science and Technology

  • Researchers from Australian National University develop new drought resistant plants
    In a breakthrough, scientists, including one of Indian origin, have developed plants that have a better chance of surviving droughts by enhancing the natural ability of their leaves to preserve water. 

    Researchers said, the new method has helped some plants survive 50 per cent longer in drought conditions, and could eventually benefit major crops such as barley, rice and wheat, which are crucial to world food supplies. 

    Researchers from Australian National University mapped a new molecular signalling pathway that controls the ability of plants to close the pores on their leaves to conserve water during drought stress. 

    The team found that chloroplasts, better known for their role in photosynthesis, are actually key players that work together with plant hormones during drought stress. 

  • Scientists discover rare blue-coloured parrot species in Mexico
    Researchers have managed to discover a rare species of parrot in Mexico that feature blue covert feathers, a distinctive call and a unique green crown. 

    The parrot, referred to as the Blue-winged Amazon, occupies a similar area in the Yucatan Peninsula as the Yucatan Amazon and the White-fronted Amazon but it does not hybridise with them, said researchers from the University of Florida in the US. 

    A very distinctive feature of this new species is its call, which is loud, sharp, short, repetitive and monotonous; one particular vocalisation is more reminiscent of an Accipiter than of any known parrot, they said

    The duration of syllables is much longer than in other Amazon parrot species. In flight, the call is a loud, short, sharp and repetitive yak-yak-yak. While perched, the call is mellow and prolongedThe species lives in small flocks of less than 12 individuals. Pairs and their offspring have a tendency to remain together and are discernible in groups. 

    Like all members of the genus Amazona, this parrot is a herbivore. Its diet consists of seeds, fruits, flowers and leaves obtained in the tree canopy. 

    The analysis of mitochondrial DNA genes indicates that the blue-winged Amazon has emerged quite recently, or about 120,000 years ago, from within the A albifrons population. 

  • India’s latest communication satellite GSAT-17 launched
    Indias latest communication satellite GSAT-17 was 29th June successfully launched by a heavy duty rocket of Arianespace from Kourou in French Guiana, adding teeth to its current fleet of 17 working communication satellites. 

    The GSAT series of geosynchronous satellites is a system developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with an objective to make the country self-reliant in broadcasting services. 

    The 3,477-kg GSAT-17 was injected shortly after orbiting co-passenger Hellas Sat 3-Inmarsat S EAN in a flawless flight lasting about 39 minutes. 

    ISROs Master Control Facility (MCF) at Hassan in Karnataka took over the command and control of GSAT-17 immediately after its separation from the launch vehicle, and the preliminary health checks of the satellite revealed its normal functioning. 

    Configured around I-3K extended bus, GSAT-17 with a lift-off mass of about 3,477 kg carries payloads in Normal C- band, Extended C-band and S-band to provide various communication services. 

    It also carries equipment for meteorological data relay and satellite based search and rescue services being provided by earlier INSAT satellites. 

    GSAT-17 that will strengthen ISRO’s current fleet of 17 telecommunications satellites was launched into a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO). 

    This was the third satellite launch mission by ISRO this month, the other two being first developmental flight of GSLV MkIII and PSLV C-38 missions--both from Sriharikota spaceport in Andhra Pradesh. 

    GSLV MkIII successfully launched GSAT-19 satellite on June 5 while PSLV-C38 orbited Cartosat-2 Series satellite along with 30 co-passenger satellites on June 23 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. 

    GSAT-17 is also ISROs third communication satellite to successfully reach orbit in the past two months. GSAT-17 was the 21st satellite from ISRO to be launched by Arianespace. 

  • Union Government launches National Bio-Pharma Mission
    The Union Ministry of Science and Technology launched National Biopharma Mission, a first ever Industry-Academia mission to accelerate biopharmaceutical development in India. 

    Under this mission, the ministry also launched Innovate in India (i3) program to create an enabling ecosystem to promote entrepreneurship and indigenous manufacturing in the sector. 

    The i3 is a flagship program of the Government of India in collaboration with World Bank. 

  • NASA finds 219 possible planets, including 10 'Earths'
    NASA added 219 possible planets to its growing catalogue of worlds beyond our solar system, including 10 that are potentially temperate, rocky worlds like Earth. 

    Among its newest clutch is a possible planet that could be the most similar to Earth yet spied: Called KOI 7711.01, the world is just 30 percent larger than our own fragile oasis, and it orbits a star like the sun that’s 1,700 light-years away. Crucially, this roughly Earth-size planet lives in the region around its star where it gets just the right amount of solar warmth for liquid water to potentially soak its surface. 

  • Mangalyaan completes 1000 earth days in its orbit
    Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) also called Mangalyaan completes 1000 Earth days in its orbit on 19th June. The interplanetary mission of ISRO was launched on 5th November, 2013. It was inserted into Martian orbit on 24th September, 2014 in its first attempt. 

    The Mars Orbiter Mission credited with many laurels like cost-effectiveness, short period of realisation, miniaturisation of five heterogeneous science payloads completed 1000 Earth days which corresponds to 973.25 Martian Solar day. Mangalyaan has completed 388 orbits of Mars and the satellite is in good health and continues to work as expected. 

    ISRO has already launched Announcement of Opportunity programmes for researchers in the country to use Mangalyaan's data for R&D. The Mars Colour Camera, one of the scientific payloads onboard Mangalyaan, has produced more than 715 images so far. 

    An orbital manoeuvre was performed on the spacecraft to avoid the impending long eclipse duration for the satellite. About 20 kg propellant was consumed for manoeuvres leaving another 13 kg of propellant for its further mission life. 

  • India's Earth Observation Satellite Cartosat-2 launched 
    Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO on 23rd June successfully launched rocket PSLV C-38 carrying earth observation satellite Cartosat-2 Series and 30 other nano-satellites into their orbits. The highly reliable Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 9.29 am. It put the main payload in a 505-km orbit within 16 minutes 43 seconds after its launch. This was the 40th flight of PSLV. 

    Of the 30 nano-satellites, 29 are from 14 different countries including France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States. The other is a domestic payload of a private educational institution. 

    Cartosat-2 series satellite provides spot-specific pictures in high resolution. 

  • Nasa launches world's lightest satellite designed by 18-year-old TN student Rifath Sharook 
    On 22nd June, India once again broke a global space record by launching the world's lightest satellite weighing a mere 64 grams, called Kalamsat, designed and developed not by professional space scientists and engineers, but by 18-year-old Tamil Nadu student Rifath Sharook and his team. 

    The tiny satellite, named after Abdul Kalam, was flown by a Nasa sounding rocket and the lift-off was from the space agency's Wallop Island facility around 3pm (IST). Kalam had his training in the sounding rocket programme at Wallops Island in the '60s. Kalamsat was the only Indian payload in the mission. 

  • BARC developed new water purification technology
    Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had developed the technologies and conducted the workshop jointly with Entrepreneurship Development and Innovation Institute. 

    According to J. Daniel Chellappa, senior scientist of BARC - Chennai, most of the commercial water purification systems available in the market require electricity. A few models that operate without electricity are developed by BARC. One of it can be used for water that is supplied by the local body and is received from overhead tanks or through taps at houses and industries. 

    Another is for use in rural areas where water is not stored in overhead tanks. The third model is for water taken from water bodies in the area. The entrepreneurs only need to produce membranes for this. The products are affordable, substitute for imports, and operate without electricity. 

  • Two-Headed Porpoise Found For First Time
    The first known case of a two-headed harbour porpoise was documented in May when Dutch fishermen in the North Sea accidentally caught the anomalous creature as bycatch in a beamtrawl net. 

    Fearing it would be illegal to keep the deceased marine mammal, they threw it back into the ocean, but not before taking photos of their bizarre find and alerting researchers. 

    While case studies of conjoined twins have been studied in humans, reptiles, and domestic animals, they are rarely seen in wild mammals. In fact, before this find, only nine other instances of two-headed cetaceans of any kind had ever been reliably documented. 

    A study recently published by the online Journal of the Natural History Museum Rotterdam contextualized the rarity of the find. 

  • Neeru Chadha, the first Indian woman to be appointed as a judge International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) 
    In a significant victory for India at the UN, international law expert Neeru Chadha has won a crucial election to a top UN judicial body that deals with disputes related to the law of the sea, becoming the first Indian woman to be appointed as a judge at the tribunal. 

    Chadha, an eminent lawyer and the first Indian woman to become the chief legal adviser in the ministry of external affairs, won the election to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) for a nine-year term from 2017 to 2026. 

    Chadha got 120 votes, the highest in the Asia Pacific group and was elected in the first round of voting itself. The candidate from Indonesia got 58 votes, Lebanon 60 and Thailand 86. All three candidates went to a second round of voting in which Thailand won the other seat in the Asia Pacific group. 

  • NASA unveils 'out-of-the-world' Mars rover concept
    NASA has unveiled a futuristic Mars rover concept that may help the US space agency develop plans for its mission to the red planet scheduled for 2020. NASA's next robotic Mars rover is set to land on the red planet in 2020. 

    The rover will search for signs of past microbial life and collect core samples for a potentially future return to Earth. The Mars rover concept vehicle was unveiled at the Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex in the US with a goal of inspiration and education as NASA continues developing plans for its journey to the red planet. 

    The visitor complex kicked off its "Summer of Mars" promotion which included former astronaut Scott Kelly. Kelly shared some of his experiences during a one-year stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). 

    The Summer of Mars programme will provide a survey of NASA's studies of the red planet, said Rebecca Shireman, assistant manager of public relations for the Kennedy visitor complex. "We hope this will encourage young people to want to learn more about being a part of the effort to go to Mars," she said. 

    The builders of the scientifically-themed Mars rover concept vehicle, Parker Brothers Concepts of Florida, incorporated input into its design from NASA subject matter experts. The rover operates on an electric motor, powered by solar panels and a 700-volt battery. 

    The rover separates in the middle with the front area designed for scouting and equipped with a radio and navigation provided by the Global Positioning System (GPS). The back section serves as a laboratory which can disconnect for autonomous research. 

    While this exact rover is not expected to operate on Mars, one or more of its elements could make its way into a rover astronauts will drive on the red planet

  • India successfully test-fires 1st all weather tracked-chassis QR-SAM
    India on 4th June successfully test-fired its first all weather tracked-chassis Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile (QR-SAM) from a mobile launcher at Integrated Test Range at Chandipur in Odisha. The test was carried out for validating various parameters of the sophisticated weapon system to further strengthen its air defence system. 

  • India successfully launches GSLV-Mark III carrying GSAT-19 satellite
    India has successfully launched its communication satellite GSAT-19 with its brand new and heaviest Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III D-1 on 5th June

    The most powerful ever rocket of the national space agency ISRO slung the satellite in a geosynchronous transfer orbit GTO. From the GTO, the satellite would be taken up to its final geostationary orbit through remote maneuvering, which is the usual practice. 

    The rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikotta, with the satellite weighing 3136 kg during lift off. 

    The satellite GSAT-19 has an intended life span of 10 years. It is a multi-beam satellite carrying Ka and Ku band forward and return link transponders. It also has an experimental payload called the geostationary radiation spectrometer-GRASP, to monitor and study the nature of charged particles in space and the influence of space radiation on satellites. 

    The GSLV-Mk III is a three stage rocket. The first stage is fired by two strap-on motors filed with solid fuel. The second stage uses the liquid fuel and the third is the cryogenic upper stage, named as the C25, which is powered by the highly complex indigenous cryogenic engine, CE20. The number 20 denotes the 20-ton thrust it generates for the rocket to reach the intended height with the heavy mass on board. 

    The ISRO had flown a similar rocket without the cryogenic engine but with 3.7-tonne payload in 2014 mainly to test its in-fight structural stability and its aerodynamics. Based on the collected data with the experimental flight, suitable improvements were made in the rocket by optimising its design features for the developmental flight with the crucial cryogenic engine. 

    The resounding success of the first ever developmental flight of the 4-ton class GSLV Mark III D-1 is hailed as an epoch making event for the national space agency ISRO. It brings the nation yet another step closer towards achieving the goal of total self reliance in satellites launch capacity. 

    When the rocket makes perhaps a couple of development flights more followed by a few demonstration flights, it would enable India to have three classes of launch vehicles. 

    The latest and more complex GSLV Mark III, popularly known as the "fat boy," would help cater to the 4-ton class heavy communication satellite launches. The next goal may be for developing vehicles meant for satellites weighing 6-ton or more, which have a stronger demand globally. 

  • LIGO Just Detected the Oldest Gravitational Waves Ever Discovered
    The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) just detected gravitational waves, ripples in time and space, for the third time. Two black holes collided, forming a huge black hole 49 times more massive than sun, and this generated the waves. 

    This kind of collision was also the cause of the waves detected previously by LIGO, although the masses of the black holes varied. This repetition of the discovery confirms that a new area of astronomy now exists. 

    In September 2015, LIGO first directly observed these gravitational waves during its first run since receiving Advanced LIGO upgrades. The second detection followed in December 2015, and this latest detection, called GW170104, followed in January of this year. In each case, both of LIGO’s twin detectors perceived gravitational waves from the collisions of the black holes, but this latest observation does offer a few new pieces of information. 

    For example, it suggests which directions the black holes might be spinning in, and indicates that at least one of the black holes in the pair may not be aligned with the overall orbital motion. Scientists are hoping that they can learn more about how binary black holes form by making more LIGO observations. 

    This work is testing, and thus far providing proof for, the theories proposed by Albert Einstein. For example, the theory of relativity says that dispersion, the effect that happens as light waves in a physical medium travel at different speeds, cannot happen in gravitational waves. LIGO has not found any evidence of dispersion in gravitational waves, as predicted by relativity. 

  • ‘Karkata’ a new genus of freshwater crabs discovered in Kerala
    A new genus of freshwater crab has been discovered from two habitats in Kerala with least human intervention. According to the scientists who discovered the genus ‘Karkata’, which means crab in Sanskrit and Malayalam. Kerala, which now has the highest freshwater crab diversity, is likely to be home to many more unknown species and even genus of crabs. 

  • Super-Earth’ found 21 light years away may host alien life
    Scientists have discovered a potentially habitable Earth-like planet, located just 21 light years away, that may host liquid water on its surface. 

    US Scientists found that the planet, with a mass between two and three times the Earth, resides at the edge of the habitable zone of its host star Gliese 625. 

    They said, the discovered planet is a relatively cool star, the planet is situated at the edge of its habitability zone, in which liquid water can exist on its surface. 

    Researchers said, this is the sixth super-Earth closest to our solar system in the habitability zone or in goldilocks zone of its star. Goldilocks zone refers distance of a planet from a star means the planet is neither too hot, nor too cold to support liquid water, which is a key ingredient for life. 

    Astronomers are searching for rocky planets like ours in the Goldilocks zones of other stars. Only few rocky planets have been discovered around nearby stars. 

  • Prithvi-II missile successfully test-fired
    India on 2nd June successfully test-fired indigenously developed nuclear-capable Prithvi-II missile from a test range in Odisha as part of a user trial by the Army. 

    The trial of the surface-to-surface missile, which has a strike range of 350 km, was carried out from a mobile launcher from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur near Balasore, the trial of the sophisticated missile was successful and the mission objectives were met. 

    The Prithvi-II missile is capable of carrying 500 kg to 1,000 kg of warheads and is thrusted by liquid propulsion twin engines. It uses advanced inertial guidance system with manoeuvring trajectory to hit its target with precision and accuracy. 

    The state-of-the-art missile was randomly chosen from the production stock and the entire launch activities were carried out by the specially formed strategic force command (SFC) and monitored by the scientists of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) as part of training exercise. The missile trajectory was tracked by the DRDO radars, electro-optical tracking systems and telemetry stations located along the coast of Odisha. 

    Teams on board the ship deployed near the designated impact point in the Bay of Bengal monitored the terminal events and splashdown. 

    In salvo mode, two Prithvi-II missiles were successfully test fired in quick succession from the same base, on November 21, 2016. 

    Inducted into Indian armed forces in 2003, the nine-metre-tall, single-stage liquid-fuelled Prithvi-II is the first missile to have been developed by the DRDO under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme. 

  • NASA set to launch first-ever mission to neutron-stars
    NASA is set to launch the world's first mission to study rapidly spinning neutron stars - the densest objects in the universe - nearly 50 years after they were discovered. 

    The same platform will also carry out the world's first demonstration of X-ray navigation in space. The agency plans to launch the two-in-one Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) aboard SpaceX CRS-11, a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. 

    The launch was earlier planned for June 1, but was delayed due to poor weather. About a week after its installation, this one-of-a-kind investigation will begin observing neutron stars, the densest objects in the universe. 

    The mission will focus especially on pulsars - those neutron stars that appear to wink on and off because their spin sweeps beams of radiation past us, like a cosmic lighthouse. During its 18-month mission, NICER will collect X-rays generated from the stars' tremendously strong magnetic fields and from hotspots located at their two magnetic poles.
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