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May 2017 Science and Technology

  • Construction begins on world's largest telescope in Chilean desert
    Construction began in Chile on 26th May on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the world's largest optical telescope, some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use at present. The size of the ELT has the potential to transform understanding of the universe, say its backers, with its main mirror that will measure some 39 meters (43 yards) across. Located on a 3,000 meter-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert it is due to begin operating in 2024. 

  • New 'winged' snake species discovered in US
    Researchers have identified a new species of snakes with uniquely broad wing-shaped projections that lived five million years ago. The fossils of the new genus and species Zilantophis Schuberti were discovered from the Gray Fossil Site in the US. 

    The study, published in the Journal of Herpetology, involved many hours of close examination of hundreds of dark mineral-stained snake fossils. The biggest surprise was the discovery of vertebrae that did not match any known species of snake, living or extinct. 

    Zilantophis bore uniquely broad wing-shaped projections on the sides of its vertebrae. In life, these were likely attachment sites for back muscles. These features are what inspired the name of the new genus, derived from Zilant, a winged serpent in Russian mythology. 

    Based on features of its vertebrae, this new species is thought to be most closely related to rat snakes (Pantherophis) and kingsnakes (Lampropeltis), both of which are relatively common in North America. 

    The Gray Fossil Site is one of the richest fossil localities in the US, particularly from the Neogene period, which spans from 23 million to 2.58 million years ago. 

    At the time that Zilantophis dwelled there, the site was a sinkhole surrounded by forest, attracting a variety of animals. 

  • World's smallest satellite built by Indian teen to be launched by NASA on June 21
    The world's lightest and smallest satellite, KalamSat, named after the former India President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, will be launched into space by NASA in June. 

    Weighing just 0.1kg, the satellite has been built by an Indian teen Rifath Sharook, 12th-grade student from Tamil Nadu’s Pallapatti town. 

    As per reports, 18-year-old Sharook developed the satellite as part of a contest Cubes in Space, organised by US space agency, NASA and idoodlelearning Inc, a global education company. 

    The satellite, made of reinforced carbon fibre polyme and which is lighter than a smartphone, will be launched into space from a NASA facility in Wallops Island on June 21. 

    In its 12-minute flight, the satellite will act as a technology demonstrator and provide impetus to plan economical space missions in future. 

  • New species of dinosaur found in China
    In 1993, a farmer discovered the skeleton of unknown dinosaur that died as it was hatching out of an egg. 

    But before it could be identified, the dinosaur, which has since been dubbed 'Baby Louie', disappeared onto the black market. 

    Now, almost 25 years since it was first discovered, the fossil has been returned to China, where researchers have identified it as a new species, named Beibeilong. 

    If it had grown to full size, the winged species would have been as heavy as an elephant and sat on a giant nest the size of a monster truck tyre. 

    The new species was identified by researchers from the Institute of Geology at the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, who believe it lived during the Cretaceous period, around 90 million years ago. 

    Baby Louie's mother was a huge oviraptorosaur - a creature that would have looked just like an overgrown Cassowary. 

    The enormous nest would have contained a couple of dozen eggs - and Baby Louie would have been the first born. 

    The embryo is only 15 inches (38cm) long from its snout to the base of its tail. But it may have grown to 26ft long and three tonnes in weight - as heavy as a small elephant. 

    Fossils of smaller-bodied, close relatives have been fossilized while sitting on top of their eggs. 

  • Mustard Is All Set To Become The First Genetically Modified Food In India
    India is well on its way to use the controversial genetically modified (GM) mustard. It will be the first of its kind food item which will be cultivated commercially after it was cleared by the regulatory authority. 

    The biotech regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), on 11th May cleared the commercial cultivation of GM mustard in the country. The commercial cultivation of the GM seed can begin once the regulator's clearance gets the nod from Union Environment Minister

    The GM mustard was developed by Delhi University-based Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP) under the leadership of Deepak Pental, a former vice-chancellor of the university. 

    According to the developers, the GM mustard uses a system of genes from soil bacterium that makes the plant better suited to hybridisation than current methods

    An estimated 5.05 million hectares of land, in mostly in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Assam is used to cultivate mustard. Advocates of GM mustard claim the 5.07 million tonne annual production of the seed could drastically increase by the use of the modified seeds. 

    Mustard is not the first genetically modified food crop that was introduced in India. Earlier, the clearance for commercial cultivation of BT Brinjal which had also been cleared by GEAC was rejected by the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh. 

    Other GM crops waiting in the pipeline include BT tomato containing an insect-resistant gene that can control crop damage due to the onslaught of fruit-borer insects. 

  • Scientists solve mystery of Antarctica's Blood Fall
    Blood Falls in Antarctica received its name for a readily apparent reason: it appears to be a stream of blood flowing from the icy landscape. The liquid is somewhat disconcerting to behold, but it isn’t blood — researchers have long known it to be some other substance which, at one time, was thought to perhaps be a red algae. 

    A new study sheds light on the possible cause of Blood Falls, though, and the reason is far more interesting: there may be a body of salt water trapped under the glacier that has been there for more than a million years. 

    The discovery was made by researchers with Colorado College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and it may finally lay to rest a mystery that has confounded researchers to varying degrees for decades. Rather than being caused by red algae or any older mystical interpretation, researchers believe Blood Falls is being fed by a big pocket of brine that became trapped beneath the Taylor Glacier. 

    This pocket of salt water may date back to more than a million years old, the researchers state. Radar was used to find and trace the water leading to the waterfall; it was found some 300ft from beneath the aforementioned glacier, with its detection being made possible thanks to the salt content within the liquid. However, the salt water itself is clear and not the rich red hue, that seen from the waterfall. 

    The blood-red color comes from the iron in the salt water, which then reacts with the oxygen on the landscape’s surface to turn colors — think of it like leaving a piece of iron outside that then rusts after a rain storm. While this is all interesting, it isn’t the extent of the researchers’ discoveries, either. 

    In addition to discovering the likely source of the water, the researchers also made some determinations about how the waterfall can exist at all given the very cold temperatures of the region. As it turns out, the energy expended from the freezing process does itself release some heat, enabling the salt water to stay liquid. This facilitates the movement of the liquid and the end product — the Blood Falls. For this reason, Taylor Glacier now holds the distinction of being the coldest known glacier with persistently flowing liquid water. 

  • A “World First” fusion reactor just created its first plasma
    After being turned on for the first time, the UK’s newest fusion reactor has achieved first plasma. This simply means that the reactor was able to successfully generate a molten mass of electrically-charged gas — plasma — inside its core. 

    Called the ST40, the reactor was constructed by Tokamak Energy, one of the leading private fusion energy companies in the world. The company was founded in 2009 with the express purpose of designing and developing small fusion reactors to introduce fusion power into the grid by 2030. 

    Now that the ST40 is running, the company will commission and install the complete set of magnetic coils needed to reach fusion temperatures. The ST40 should be creating a plasma temperature as hot as the center of the Sun — 15 million degrees Celsius (27 million degrees Fahrenheit) — by Autumn 2017. 

    By 2018, the ST40 will produce plasma temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit), another record-breaker for a privately owned and funded fusion reactor. 

    That temperature threshold is important, as it is the minimum temperature for inducing the controlled fusion reaction. Assuming the ST40 succeeds, it will prove that its novel design can produce commercially viable fusion power. 

  • Agni-II ballistic missile successfully test-fired 
    India’s nuclear-capable, surface-to-surface Agni-II ballistic missile was on 4th May test-fired from the Wheeler Island, off Odisha coast. It has a strike range of two thousand kilometres. 

    The test was aimed at re-establishing the operational effectiveness of the weapon system. The successful launch once again proved reliability of the medium range surface to surface missile. The missile can carry a nuclear payload of one thousand kilogram. 

    Agni missile series being developed by DRDO as a deterrent against nuclear armed neighbours are among India’s most sophisticated weapons. 

  • Worls's largest X- ray laser lights up in Germany
    The world's biggest X-ray laser generated its first light in Hamburg, Germany. The 3.4 kilometer (2.1 mi) long European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) produced a pulsing laser light with a wavelength of 0.8 nanometer. XFEL is a billion times more brilliant than conventional synchrotron light sources and can capture images at atomic resolution. 

  • SAIL the first industry to use plasma technology for toxic waste disposal
    Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) in collabortion with United Nations Nations Development organisation(UNDO) set up a management facility for the disposal of Hazardous Waste(Polychlorinated Biphenyl) by using Plasma Technology. The project would come up in SAIL's flagship Bhilai Steel Plant. At high temperature Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB's) can burn and generate dangerous by products such as dioxins. 

  • India successfully launches South Asia Satellite
    In a giant and historic step in boosting regional cooperation and in a first, India on 4th May successfully launched a South Asia Satellite to provide communications and disaster support to neighbouring countries. Seven of the eight SAARC countries--India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives--are part of the ambitious project. Pakistan has opted out of the project

    On 30 June 2014, PM Modi had announced a dream of launching a SAARC satellite and after three years it was launched. The South Asia Satellite, made as part of India's Space Diplomacy

    It was launched from Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle GSLV-F 09 from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. It is a communication satellite, which will provide telecommunications facilities to Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. 

    All SAARC countries except Pakistan will benefit from the satellite. The South Asia Satellite costs around 235 crore rupees, while India is going to spend 450 crores on the entire project, including the launch of the satellite. At lift off the satellite weighed two thousand two hundred and thirty kilograms. It has a life of more than 12 years.
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