The Wire: The Wire News I भारत
Get the latest news, top headlines, opinions, analysis and much more from India and World including current news headlines on elections, politics, economy, business, science, culture on The Wire.
Why Do So Many Astronomy Discoveries Fail To Live up To the Hype? - The Wire Science
Scientists and journalists are hesitant to place the blame on any one part of the process.
An image of Venus taken by the Akatsuki Ultraviolent Imager. Photo: DARTS archive + Meli thev/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0. Britons who switched on their TVs to Good Morning Britain on the morning of September 15, 2020, were greeted by news not from our own troubled world, but from neighbouring Venus. Piers Morgan, one of the hosts, was talking about a major science story that had surfaced the previous day, informing his viewers that there may be some form of life on Venus. Astronomers, he reported, were considering that living organisms may be floating around in the clouds of planet Venus. He was then joined, via live TV link-up, by Sheila Kanani, a planetary scientist and outreach officer with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). Morgan put it to her point-blank: Is there life on Venus? Kanani replied diplomatically but enthusiastically: We cant definitively say that theres life on Venus at the moment. But whatever is going on at Venus is very exciting indeed. The research, which had been published the previous day in the journal Nature Astronomy by an international team of scientists, claimed that observations made with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile had detected the chemical phosphine, identified by its spectral signature, in the atmosphere of Venus, and that this could be read as a possible sign of life on the cloud-covered planet. Media outlets around the world carried the story it made the front page of The New York Times and tens of thousands tuned in to a press conference RAS co-organised to hear the scientists themselves discuss the finding. (Video of that event has by now racked up more than a quarter of a million views on YouTube.) It was, in brief, the big astronomy story of 2020 or at least it was poised to be, if the results held up. Within weeks of the initial publication, however, doubts surfaced. Some astronomers questioned the methodology behind the data analysis; its possible, they argued, that the purported signal wasnt due to phosphine at all, but rather due to sources in the Earths atmosphere or possibly in the telescope itself. Another team of astronomers reanalysed some of the data and concluded there was no statistically significant detection of phosphine. By November 20, the journals editors had appended a cautionary tag to the article: The authors have informed the editors of Nature Astronomy about an error in the original processing of the ALMA Observatory data underlying the work in this Article, and that recalibration of the data has had an impact on the conclusions that can be drawn. Meanwhile, even if the team really had detected phosphine, there was no way to be certain of its biological origin; the papers authors acknowledged this, merely noting that on Earth, phosphine is typically associated with micro-organisms, but allowing that it could be due to some unknown chemical process. For many who heard the news, though, it was all too easy to leap from somewhat ambiguous spectral lines to little floating creatures in the Venusian atmosphere. Also read: Astronomers Hit the Brakes on Claim That Venuss Atmosphere Has Excess Phosphine The kinds of astronomy and physics breakthroughs that generate breathless media coverage on par with the Venus-phosphine story seem to come along at regular intervals. Readers may recall the purported detection of signs of primordial gravitational waves from the early universe in 2014; claims of neutrinos moving faster than light in 2011; the supposed discovery of bacteria that can use arsenic in place of an element considered vital to life in a California lake in 2010 and the grandest such claim of the last 25 years, the alleged discovery in 1996 of fossilised micro-organisms on a Martian meteorite that had been recovered in Antarctica. (That claim was so astounding that it prompted a speech by then-President Bill Clinton.) In the end, none of these claims have held up. On the other hand, numerous other stories, equally big, have held up: In 2012, physicists used the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson; and, less than two years after the claimed detection of primordial gravitational waves, physicists used the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors to record gravitational waves emitted by merging black holes. No one begrudges the attention bestowed on either of those discoveries, both of which have been recognised with Nobel Prizes. And hype can certainly be found in other fields; the human genome project understandably generated an enormous amount of media interest, as have various controversies over cloning. But astronomy and physics, which offer glimpses of the farthest reaches of the universe and perhaps shed light on ancient questions about our place in the cosmos, seem to trigger a never-ending stream of provocative pronouncements. And all too often those claims seem to fall flat. In science, new findings face intense scrutiny. That is, after all, how science is supposed to work, and its hardly surprising that some claims turn out to be wrong. But if claim after claim fails to live up to the hype that surrounds it, scientists worry that the public will feel let down, and may even question whether scientists can be trusted and whether they deserve to be funded. In other words, hype has consequences, and public trust in the scientific enterprise is at stake. And yet the scientists and journalists that I spoke with for this piece are hesitant to place the blame on any one part of the process. Rather, it seems the machinery of hype depends equally on those who are engaged in science, those who employ them, those who fund them, and those who report on their findings. Theres something I call the press-academic complex, says Brian Keating, a physicist at the University of California, San Diego. You have a mostly virtuous cycle, where academics, scientists are doing research thats fundamentally important, and then at some point, someone decides to go to their local press office. Pretty soon, local media get wind of the discovery, then national media. At a certain point, the scientist is guaranteed to lose control of the narrative, he says. Charles Seife, a veteran science journalist who teaches science writing at New York University, has seen the hype machinery gradually ramp up over the course of his career. In the past 20 to 30 years, scientists have gotten a little bit more comfortable either through social media more recently, but even previous to that, pushed by publicity-hungry administrators to hype their own results beyond what would ordinarily be seemly or accepted by peers, he says. The pressure is not just on the scientists, but on the journalists and the various intermediaries as well; just as scientists compete for funding and prestige, journalists compete for clicks and page-views. When youre trying to get a story published, there is a huge pressure to make it sound like a big deal, says Natalie Wolchover, a science journalist and senior writer and editor at Quanta Magazine. Funding agencies, meanwhile, earn bragging rights when a project they enabled makes a major breakthrough; the same goes for the institutions that employ the scientists, whether its a university or a government agency such as NASA. Everyone has skin in the game, says Seife. Everyone benefits from having something get a lot of publicity and a lot of attention presuming it holds up. § Keating has had something of an insiders view of the hype machine. He co-developed the telescope known as BICEP (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation) predecessor to BICEP2, which made news in 2014 by revealing what was said to be evidence of ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, or rather, the imprint that those waves left on the cosmic microwave background radiation, an all-sky glow left over from the early universe. If those gravitational waves from the early universe had truly been found, it would lend support to a theory known as cosmic inflation, an element of the Big Bang model of the early universe. It also would have been a Nobel-worthy discovery. Indeed, Keatings book about his experiences as a cosmologist, including the BICEP2 project, is titled “Losing the Nobel Prize.” As it turned out, the signal that BICEP2 measured was largely the result of dust in our own Milky Way galaxy, and not a signature of early-universe physics. (The waves successfully detected two years later by the LIGO facility were registered directly, rather than via any effect on the cosmic microwave background.) Also read: How the Nobel Prize Maintains Sciences Inequalities and How It Can Stop In the six years since BICEP2s purported discovery, Keating has come to realise that publicity is as much a part of his field as telescopes and grant applications. Major findings in astronomy and physics now routinely include press conferences. On the surface, a press conference makes perfect sense: It brings scientists and journalists together in one room (or, in COVID-times, a single webinar or Zoom screen). If the journalists have questions, the scientists can answer them in real time. But some scientists feel the press conference is a bad idea especially if the findings have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal (as was the case with BICEP2; the research wasnt published until a few months later). Scientists who present their findings to the press before sharing their work with their peers are jumping the gun, says Marcelo Gleiser, a physicist at Dartmouth College. And that, to me, is a capital sin. This, he says, was BICEP2s big mistake. They did a good experiment but they did not wait, he says. They wanted to make a big splash. But, Keating notes, the BICEP2 results werent kept secret, either, having been posted to arXiv.org a sort of digital clearinghouse for research in physics on the same day as the press conference. In his book, he explains the teams decision to crowdsource the vetting of their work: Instead of restricting our findings to a single referees eyes, which is typically what happens when scientists submit their findings to an academic journal one who might well be a competitor and leak our results we opened it to the whole world. He notes that other research teams had adopted the same strategy, so they believed there was strong precedent for their course of action. Today Keating feels differently. Having a press conference obviously, in retrospect, was a big mistake, he says. In fact, he now sees press conferences as a spectacle that science doesnt need, noting that they were rare until the 1990s. A scientific breakthrough would have the same impact with or without a press conference, he says. Plus, if youre shown to be wrong, you have to walk back the result and somehow put the toothpaste back in the tube. As much attention as the BICEP2 press conference got, the highly polished YouTube video released by Stanford University one of several institutions that supported the research drew far more eyeballs. In the video, a researcher named Chao-Lin Kuo, who had designed the detectors at the heart of the BICEP2 experiment, walks up to the house of theoretical physicist Andrei Linde, one of the founders of inflation theory. Kuo, champagne in hand, tells Linde the telescope has found a clear signal of those primordial gravitational waves. Linde is ecstatic; the cork on the champagne is popped; tears well up. The video has been viewed more than 3 million times. The video was memorable, says Gleiser, but given how the story eventually played out, he now sees it as misguided. It is embarrassing, he says. It is bad for everyones reputation, in the end. For Wolchover, the BICEP2 case and the discovery of gravitational waves announced by the LIGO team just two years later make an interesting contrast. In both cases, there was a much-watched press conference but in the case of LIGO, the published, peer-reviewed article was made available at the same time as the news briefing. With BICEP2, there was voluminous media coverage but little scientific scrutiny, since the research had yet to be published. This ultimately led to this very public downfall for that experiment, and egg on the face of some of the people covering it, she says. And yet, peer review is no panacea; the Venus-phosphine paper had in fact been peer-reviewed at the time the results were presented to the press. The key, Wolchover says, is skepticism something she believes was lacking in media coverage of the Venus story. She fears that people will be left with some vague idea that we discovered life, she says. And then they wont see next weeks story thats buried at the bottom of the newspaper, if it even makes it in somewhere like [The New York Times] saying that that result has been questioned. A few weeks after the story broke, she tweeted: The claim should have been approached with massive skepticism, given minor billing, or been skipped altogether for now. Also read: The Problems With Science Journals Trying to Be Gatekeepers and Some Solutions § Marcia Bartusiak, a science journalist with decades of experience and an emeritus professor in the graduate science writing program at MIT, has seen it all before. For the scientists, there is that desire to perhaps stick your neck out a little farther than you should have, she says. Theyre on a tightrope of: They want the publics interest, they want the continued funding but they have to be careful to not disillusion people. Journalists, meanwhile, face similar pressures. Early in her career, Bartusiak was reporting for Discover magazine on the purported discovery of Martian meteorites. But when I wrote the story, and I contained both sides, the editors wanted to pump up the exciting part you know, Meteorites from Mars? And they wanted to take out all the stuff about the evidence against it because they said Oh, that just dilutes the story. It dilutes the punch. About a decade later, Martian meteorites were in the news once again, this time with the startling claim that fossilised micro-organisms had been detected on a particular 2-kilogram chunk of rock known as Allan Hills 84001, named for the region of Antarctica where it had been recovered. Before the NASA press conference, held in Washington, DC on August 7, 1996, the scientists were likely urged to be a little bit more firm, be more emphatic, Seife found in his reporting after the event. The push to be confident rather than cautious and reserved was clear, he says. Soon afterward, President Clinton spoke from the south lawn of the White House, pledging to fully support the search for further evidence of life on Mars. Eventually, the claims were scaled back; the scientific consensus, when it was eventually reached, was that the rock most likely contained no micro-fossils after all. When I asked Seife how the no fossils coverage compared to the initial reporting, he laughed. The story quietly faded away, he said. In the case of the Venus story, however, not everyone views what happened as problematic. I dont see it as an example of something that was horribly overhyped and then went south, says David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. For starters, he says the team was reasonably cautious in presenting their results. If other people show that they made a mistake, maybe thatll end up being the story. Thats not a horrible story for science. That just shows how it works, he says. And even if the results are mistaken, he says, it could be a useful mistake if the episode drives more scientists to investigate Venuss atmosphere. Just as the Venus-phosphine story was fading from the headlines, another seemingly big space story broke: In late October, NASA announced that astronomers using an airborne infrared radio telescope known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy had detected water on the sunlit side of the moon, in a large lunar crater known as Clavius. Previous observations had been ambiguous, but now the scientists said they were sure. As NASA press releases go, this one was cautiously worded, noting that even the Sahara Desert contains 100 times more water than SOFIA had detected. Even so, it became a huge story. NASAs administrator, Jim Bridenstine, tweeted that, while it wasnt clear if could serve as a practical resource, learning about water on the Moon is key for our #Artemis exploration plans, referring to NASAs plan to land humans on the moon by 2024. But, as Seife notes, weve known theres water on the moon ever since the Clementine mission in the mid-1990s. NASA, he says, took a moderately noteworthy discovery and all of a sudden it turned to, Were going to land astronauts there, and theyll harvest the water, and launch rockets up from the water it just makes no sense. In a similar vein, Phil Plait, an astronomer and prolific science blogger, tweeted that the published paper is very interesting and cool scientifically but tying it to Artemis is a MAJOR reach. Like, no. Stop. § Several of the people I spoke with described a kind of feedback loop in which scientists are tempted to over-inflate their claims, with journalists playing along for the sake of a compelling story with no obvious way of breaking the cycle. I dont know if we can totally abolish the hype, says Bartusiak. I think its always going to be with us. An obvious danger, notes Gleiser, is that the public could become jaded, especially if science journalism begins to parallel the seesaw-like stories sometimes seen in health and lifestyle reporting, in which coffee, chocolate, and wine are either good for you or bad for you, their efficacy seeming to depend on the day of the week. The risk, Gleiser says, is that we lose this very precious thing that our ancestors have worked very hard to develop, which is trust. A second, related, danger is that with everyone shouting their findings at the greatest possible volume, nothing coherent can be heard above the din. Its like how in a restaurant, when people start talking loudly, then other people start talking louder, and eventually everyones screaming, says Wolchover. A good first step, she and others suggest, would be to encourage coverage that more closely reflects the significance of the research being put forward. When that research is inconclusive, the audience needs be told so. If the publics trust in science is undermined, that has a devastating impact, not only on scientists, says Keating. First the scientists will suffer, but then society will suffer. This is especially serious, he suggests, in an age when trust in science and scientists is already on shaky footing. People will think, We cant trust science, which means knowledge, then who can we trust? This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.
How a Discovery of Two Radio Galaxies Offers Fresh Insights Into the Universe - The Wire Science
Two giant radio galaxies – those that release huge beams, or ‘jets’, of radio light – have been discovered with South Africa’s powerful MeerKAT telescope.
The two giant radio galaxies found with the MeerKAT telescope. In the background is the sky as seen in optical light. Overlaid in red is the radio light from the enormous radio galaxies. Photo: I. Heywood Oxford/Rhodes/SARAO Two giant radio galaxies have been discovered with South Africas powerful MeerKAT telescope, located in the Karoo region, a semi-arid area in the south west of the country. Radio galaxies get their name from the fact that they release huge beams, or jets, of radio light. These happen through the interaction between charged particles and strong magnetic fields related to supermassive black holes at the galaxies hearts. These giant galaxies are much bigger than most of the others in the Universe and are thought to be quite rare. Although millions of radio galaxies are known to exist, only around 800 giants have been found. This population of galaxies was previously hidden from us by radio telescopes limitations. But the MeerKAT has allowed new discoveries because it can detect faint, diffuse light which previous telescopes were unable to do. Our discovery, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, gives astronomers further clues about how galaxies have changed and evolved throughout cosmic history. Its also a way to understand how galaxies may continue to change and evolve and even to work out how old radio galaxies can get. The giant radio galaxies were spotted in new radio maps of the sky created by one of the most advanced surveys of distant galaxies. The team working on it has included astronomers from around the world including South Africa, the UK, Italy and Australia. Called the International Gigahertz Tiered Extragalactic Exploration (MIGHTEE) survey, it involves data collected by South Africas impressive MeerKAT radio telescope. MeerKAT consists of 64 antennae and dishes, and started collecting science data in early 2018. It will ultimately be incorporated into the Square Kilometre Array, an intergovernmental radio telescope project spearheaded by Australia and South Africa. The galaxies in question are several billion light years away. The discovery of enormous jets and lobes in the MIGHTEE map allowed us to confidently identify the objects as giant radio galaxies. Their discovery means that a clearer understanding of the evolutionary pathways of galaxies is beginning to emerge. This is tantalising evidence that a large population of faint, very extended giant radio galaxies may exist. This may help us understand how radio galaxies become so huge and what sort of havoc supermassive black holes can wreak on their galaxies. Whats new Many galaxies have supermassive black holes in their midst. When large amounts of interstellar gas start to orbit and fall in towards the black hole, the black hole becomes active: huge amounts of energy are released from this region of the galaxy. In some active galaxies, charged particles interact with the strong magnetic fields near the black hole and release huge beams, or jets, of radio light. The radio jets of these so-called radio galaxies can be many times larger than the galaxy itself and can extend vast distances into intergalactic space. Think of them like jets of water from a whales blowhole, a thin column extending into a cloudy plume at the end. We found these giant radio galaxies in a region of sky thats about four times the area of the full Moon. Based on what we currently know about the density of giant radio galaxies in the sky, the probability of finding two of them in a region this size is extremely small only 0.0003%. So, its possible that giant radio galaxies those that emit the beams, or jets of light described above may actually be more common than we previously thought. These arent the first radio galaxies astronomers have discovered. Many hundreds of thousands have already been identified. But only around 800 have radio jets bigger than 700 kilo-parsecs in size, or around 22 times the size of the Milky Way. These truly enormous systems are called giant radio galaxies. Our new discoveries are more than 2 Mega-parsecs across: about 6.5 million light years or about 62 times the size of the Milky Way. Yet they are fainter than others of the same size. Thats what makes them harder to see. Clues We suspect that many more galaxies like these should exist, because of the way we think galaxies should grow and change over their lifetimes. And thats one question we hope this discovery can help to answer: how old are giant radio galaxies and how did they get so enormous? Now, telescope technology is making it possible to put these and other theories to the test. MeerKAT is the best of its kind in the world because of the telescopes unprecedented sensitivity to faint and diffuse radio light. This capability is what made it possible for us to detect the giant radio galaxies. We could see features that havent been noticed before: large-scale radio jets coming from the central galaxies, as well as fuzzy cloud-like lobes at the end of the jets. South Africas MeerKAT telescope. Photo: South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) The fact that only very few radio galaxies are so gigantic has always been a bit of a mystery. It is thought that the giants are the oldest radio galaxies, which have existed for long enough (several hundred million years) for their radio jets to grow outwards to these enormous sizes. If this is true, then many more giant radio galaxies should exist than are currently known. And thats important because radio jets can influence the star formation of their host galaxy. Essentially, they might kill their galaxy by blowing out all the gas and preventing the formation of new stars. Also Read: Why the New MeerKAT Telescope Is a Big Moment for Africa The MIGHTEE survey continues, and we hope to uncover more of these giant galaxies as it progresses. We also expect to find many more with the Square Kilometre Array: construction of this transcontinental telescope is due to start in South Africa and Australia in 2021 and continue until 2027. Science commissioning observations could begin as early as 2023. The Square Kilometre Array is also expected to reveal larger populations of radio galaxies, revolutionising our understanding of galaxy evolution. Jacinta Delhaize, SARAO postdoctoral research fellow, University of Cape Town. This article is republished from The Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The Herky-Jerky Weirdness of Earth's Magnetic Field - The Wire Science
Dented, erratic and wandering, our field is constantly changing its mind.
Still of Earth’s radiation belt, showing the double-belt structure. Image: SAMPEX/NASA. Most people dont know that Earths magnetic field has a weak spot the size of the continental US hovering over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean. Were safe from any effects on the ground, but our satellites arent so lucky: When they zip through this magnetic anomaly, they are bombarded with radiation more intense than anywhere else in orbit. There is reason to believe that this dent in the magnetic field, called the South Atlantic Anomaly, is only getting bigger. This anomaly is far from the only unusual feature of Earths magnetic field. Hundreds of times in Earths history, our magnetic field has reversed, switching north and south in a planetary flip-flop. Earths magnetic North Pole keeps drifting too, stumbling around the Arctic in a chaotic dance. And scientists have detected pulses of Earths magnetic field called geomagnetic jerks that can undermine our navigation systems. Yet forecasting these changes remains a challenge. Just like weather forecasts, you cant predict the evolution of the core beyond a few decades, said Julien Aubert, a researcher at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics. The magnetic fields strength, measured in nanoteslas, drops precipitously at the South Atlantic Anomaly. Credit: ESA But scientists want to know how Earths magnetic field will change further into the future than that. Without a magnetic field, satellites could be lost, and tools that rely on careful magnetic models for navigation could go askew. The answers cant come soon enough. The magnetic field protects Earths atmosphere from harmful radiation emitted from the Sun. Scientists are learning that the Sun is capable of emission events solar flares even more destructive than we ever thought possible, and understanding our magnetic field strength and variation is vital for knowing how at risk we could be from the next big solar storm. The Iron Heart The puppeteer that drives the magnetic field is Earths core, the superheated heart of our planet, which burns as hot as the surface of the Sun. In the core, molten metals are constantly in motion as hot buoyant plumes of lighter material rise outward. At the very centre lies a small hardened inner core that has been growing as Earth cools. This planetary anatomy sets the stage for an active magnetic field. The cores constant need to cool itself, and thus convect, drives our planets electric generator. The generator produces a self-sustaining magnetic field through a process called the geodynamo. The mathematics of the geodynamo are so messy that Albert Einstein did not believe the theory when one of its founders, Walter M. Elsasser, proposed it to him. The geodynamo works because the natural convection of the liquid core pushes metals through a weak existing magnetic field, exciting an electric current. Because of the relationship between electricity and magnetism, the current produces a second magnetic field, and the process repeats. This process has been self-sustaining for most of Earths history. Although the core sits thousands of kilometres beneath our feet, the magnetic field it produces stretches far into space, surrounding the planet like armour. But our planets armour isnt perfect, and the results can be heartbreaking. A Chink in Earths Armour Geomagnetic jerks travel along Earths magnetic field lines, shown here inside the core. Image: Julien Aubert, IPGP/CNRS On an early spring day in 2016, teams of engineers in Japan watched as their prized satellite spun out of control. The teams behind Hitomi, a satellite launched just 5 weeks earlier, had hoped the spacecraft would observe black holes, galaxy clusters, and other high-energy features. The satellite even had a prized X-ray calorimeter, a triumph of 3 decades of engineering. But a cascade of events that began with encountering the South Atlantic Anomaly seemed to spell doom for Hitomi. Passing through the anomaly, the onboard system that controlled the satellites orientation glitched while it was pivoting to observe a new star cluster. The manoeuvre kicked off a series of software errors that left Hitomi spinning madly. Before long, the satellite broke into 11 pieces. Its a scientific tragedy, Richard Mushotzky, an astronomer at the University of Maryland in College Park, told Nature at the time. Other spacecraft have fallen prey to the South Atlantic Anomaly. The magnetic field intensity at the altitude of many satellites is half as strong in the anomaly compared with elsewhere, and the weak field does not repel radiation as effectively. The inner Van Allen radiation belt, a doughnut-shaped disk of radiation around Earth that traps high-energy particles, hugs much closer to the surface at the anomaly because of the weakened field. Any satellite in near-Earth orbit a common altitude for Earth observing satellites must travel through the anomaly. The Hubble Space Telescope spends 15% of its life in the region and routinely shuts down its light-sensitive cameras to avoid damage. Some instruments, like NASAs Ionospheric Connection Explorer, power down electrical components of an ultraviolet photon detector every time they pass through. In the early days of the International Space Station, the anomaly would crash astronauts computers. Radiation leaves splotches of green and red on Hubble Space Telescope images during a transit through the South Atlantic Anomaly. One camera aboard the telescope can stay awake in the anomaly, but its images are noisy. Photo: ESA But sometimes a satellite is just unlucky. Ashley Greeley, a postdoctoral scholar at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, recalled a CubeSat that died shortly after launch. During start-up checks and the commissioning phase, we think that an energetic particle hit it in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we never got data, unfortunately, she said. A Growing Anomaly Researchers discovered the South Atlantic Anomaly in 1958 when satellites first began measuring radiation in space. Now the region shows up prominently in most models, said NASAs Terence Sabaka. Everybody is pretty much in agreement on its size, shape, and strength. Although its still a matter of speculation, there is some evidence that the anomaly has been around since the very early 19th century and maybe even earlier. The real debate surrounds what the anomaly will do next. Greeley took her first look at the anomaly during her doctoral work. Peering through 20 years of satellite data, she calculated the extent of the anomaly during each pass of the Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer. Satellites in low Earth orbit pass through the region every week or so, and the transit lasts for several minutes, she said. Also read: The Story of the Electron That Was Affected by Fields That Werent There Over time, Greeley found that the South Atlantic Anomaly is moving westward (at about 1º longitude every five years) and ever so slightly northward. Eventually, the bulk of it will be over land, she said. The bulls-eye of the anomaly will pass over Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay. A forecast from NASA scientist Weijia Kuang and University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor Andrew Tangborn shows that in addition to migrating westward, the anomaly is growing in size. Five years from now, the area below a field intensity of 24,000 nanoteslas (about half the normal magnetic strength) will grow by about 10% compared with 2019 values. The dent may also be splitting, Kuang said, or perhaps another weak spot is emerging independently and biting into it. The South Atlantic Anomaly currently covers parts of southern Africa, much of the southern Atlantic Ocean, and South America. In 5 years, the region is forecast to grow and bifurcate. Click image for larger version. Photo: Weijia Kuang and Terence Sabaka/NASA GSFC Although the dent is projected to grow in the next five years, its impossible to make predictions further into the future, said Kuang. Fluid movement in Earths core is so turbulent that a small perturbation to the system could lead to a cascade of outcomes that we cant foresee. The further you go in time, the more runaway situations abound. Although the future is uncertain, studying the anomaly provides a very good window for us to understand not only the core dynamics, said Kuang, but also the regional properties of this area. Luckily, the anomaly cant hurt life on the surface, said Kuang. But if it continues to weaken over time, this may eventually impact us. The hole in our field would expose us to high-energy particles that could surge power grids and eat away at protective gases in our atmosphere. Magnetic Shudders and a Wandering Pole Chengli Huangs daughter would often hear a familiar story at bedtime. One day, four blind men decided to go to the zoo to visit an elephant. Theyd never met one before, and they wanted to know what it looked like. The first man approached the elephant, felt its trunk, and declared it a curved paddle. The second touched its tail and concluded it was like a stick. The third man gingerly patted the body and pronounced that the animal looked like a wall, whereas the fourth felt its leg and said it was like a pillar. Separately, the four men understood only one part of the elephant. But together, they had a clearer picture of the elephants true nature. Huang tells this story to colleague Pengshuo Duan, too. As astronomers peering into Earths interior, there is no way for them to feel the true nature of the core. But they can probe different aspects and collaborate and compare with others to make a more complete picture. Scientists have long been on this quest, sometimes with fatal consequences. Explorers of old perished trying to set up monitoring stations in far-flung locales, like the doomed English explorer Sir John Franklin, whose expedition to take magnetic observations of the North Pole in 1845 ended with 129 men dead and two ships lost. As soon as long-lasting ground observatories sprung up around the world, scientists noticed strange deviations in the field, including for example, that our magnetic North and South Poles roam freely around the planet. Its true that the poles sit off-kilter to Earths rotational axes because of the uneven and turbulent flow in the core, but they also drift gradually as the cores dynamics swirl field lines. Last century, the magnetic North Pole paraded through the Canadian Arctic, and since the 2000s, its been sauntering across the Arctic Ocean. But occasionally, this gradual movement accelerates seemingly at random, and the drift of Earths magnetic field skirts in another direction. These diversions are called geomagnetic jerks. Jerks in the V-shaped graphs of the magnetic fields change in direction over time. Image: Julien Aubert, IPGP/CNRS from French BCMT data Scientists also call the jerks V-shaped events based on their appearance in plots of the fields rate of change over time. The events usually last between 1 and 3 years, and the first documented case was recorded in 1902. Dozens of jerks have happened since. The last jerk was in 2016, when it jostled the field and dramatically shifted the North Pole drift. The event was rather inconvenient because scientists had just issued a 5- year model of Earths magnetic field called the World Magnetic Model (WMM). The WMM team had to update the model ahead of schedule to avoid unacceptable navigational errors. Although the origin of jerks is a subject of active research, a recent study in Nature Geoscience by Aubert and Chris Finlay at the Technical University of Denmark suggests that jerks may originate from the push and pull of forces in Earths interior. When a hot plume shoots up through the outer core, the delicate balance between planetary, rotational, and electromagnetic forces careens out of whack. The off-balance forces send a shudder along magnetic field lines in the form of waves. The next jerk may already be under way. A recent analysis by Huang and Duan predicted that the next event would occur in 2020 or 2021. If thats the case, scientists may need to update magnetic maps on which industry and government activities rely. Companies drilling for oil and gas, for example, use fine-tuned magnetic models to dig boreholes. But not all jerks cause directional changes, so time will tell what the outcome will be. Its too soon to know whether a jerk is happening right now, however. Finlay, part of a group that publishes magnetic field models every six months, said its impossible to identify geomagnetic jerks until well after theyve happened because researchers must look at the data over time. It would take about 2 years to know for sure, Finlay said. Regardless of whether the next event is upon us, geomagnetic jerks are one part of seeing the elephant of Earths magnetic field. Jerks may illuminate the cores thermal properties, a hotly debated topic that affects our ideas about everything from the age of the core to the onset of plate tectonics. Solving the mystery of the jerks origin will remove a stumbling block of future magnetic field predictions, said Aubert, something well sorely need to better understand our planets protective armour. Avoiding Doomsday Vladimir Airapetian does not mince words when it comes to apocalyptic scenarios and our magnetic field. An artists rendering shows a solar flare leaving the Sun and hurtling towards Earth. Image: NASA In one grim scenario, a catastrophically massive solar flare envelops Earth and knocks out the ozone layer, exposing us to damaging ultraviolet radiation known to cause cancer. In the 612 months it would take to rebuild our ozone layer, wed live like nocturnal animals, Airapetian said. Youd have to go underground and go out during the nighttime, said Airapetian, a NASA scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Centre. Thats the Hollywood-type scenario. Tales of our field catastrophically failing are part of the lore of working on Earths magnetic field. People always want to know, When is the really, really bad stuff happening? said Aubert. Although the prevailing science suggests that these doomsday scenarios are possible, they are highly unlikely. Earths magnetic field is fickle, cratered, and ever changing, but scientists have no reason to believe that the field wont protect us for decades and most likely centuries to come. Even one of the most dramatic of the scenarios, a magnetic reversal, is implausible in the foreseeable future. The last reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, and over the multibillion-year lifetime of the magnetic field, researchers guess that the poles have switched hundreds of times. But scientists have no compelling evidence to suggest that a field reversal is upon us, said Catherine Constable, a scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies magnetic reversals. The field changes so gradually that well have fair warning, at least a few decades, Constable said. Perhaps the more worrisome danger comes from space. The magnetic field is our main line of defence against the onslaughts of high-energy particles from the Sun. Recent research by Airapetian suggests that gigantic solar flares are possible in our solar system. Observations of other stars similar to the Sun reveal that our Sun may be capable of shooting out a flare of epic proportions. Congress passed PROSWIFT (Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow Act) in 2020 to pour money into space weather research, which the acts authors called a matter of national security. Heliophysics is the smallest division at NASA, so Airapetian is so excited for the additional funding and support to discover what space hazards lie ahead. Until then, our magnetic field will continue to do what it does best: drift, shiver, and morph into its next grand configuration. Jenessa Duncombe is a staff writer at Eos. Eos thanks Weijia Kuang, who generously provided a forecast of the South Atlantic Anomaly upon request. This article was originally published by Eos and has been republished here under a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license.
'Clever Approach': Scientists Create GM-Free Organisms Using Genetic Engineering - The Wire Science
At the heart of the technique is a genetic pathway called a lethal circuit.
An Aedes aegypti mosquito in Tanzania, 2009. Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim/Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2. A new year means new beginnings. But for the residents of Florida Keys, a small archipelago off Florida’s coast, the dawn of 2021 seems to portend ill winds. In August 2020, the local government approved a plan to release 750 million genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes. A British biotech company named Oxitec has planned to execute this release over two years. However, over 236,000 people have signed a petition against this decision because they fear the unknown long-term effects of releasing GM mosquitoes in the environment. Oxitec’s foray in the US followed a decade of trial runs in the Cayman Islands and in Brazil. On its website, the company showcases publications spanning two decades. The Florida government has given Oxitec an ‘experimental use permit’. Pursuant to this, the country’s Environment Protection Agency and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention assessed 25 scientific studies. But the presence of GM material in these mosquitoes has proved sufficient to stoke the apprehensions of Florida Keys’ residents. Farther to the north, researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a novel way to resolve this problem. They used genetic engineering to create organisms for release that are not genetically modified. Maciej Maselko was a postdoctoral associate at the university when he was part of the study. “Slow and expensive regulatory approvals for GM insect release” inspired the team’s work, he told The Wire Science. “We looked for a way to get the benefits achieved with GM insect release but without needing to release GM insects.” He conceptualised the experiment with PhD scholar Siba Das and molecular biology professor Michael Smanski. The results were published in November 2020. In a typical control intervention, researchers release sterile male mosquitoes into the environment. These compete with wild males to mate with wild females. Mosquitoes mate only once in their lifetime. Since mating with sterile mosquitoes produces no offspring, the local mosquito population begins to fall. The methods to select these male mosquitoes to subsequently release are either labour intensive or need specialised equipment. The colony that scientists rear is also often three times larger than the number of males released. Third, a mosquito lives typically for 8-10 days. So scientists must select the males to release close to the site of intervention. Genetic modification eases these issues. In Oxitec’s method, males carry a self-limiting gene. When these males mate with an unmodified female in the wild, the resultant offspring inherits the gene. This gene pushes the insect’s protein production machinery to over-produce a particular protein, which then interferes with normal development of the offspring. Eventually, the young mosquito dies before maturing into an adult. In genetic engineering parlance, this genetic pathway is called a lethal circuit. Maselko’s method took the lethal circuit a few notches up the difficulty graph. By way of demonstration, the team used two strains of the model organism of genetic modification experiments: the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Like humans, fruit flies have two sex chromosomes, X and Y. Females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y. In Maselko’s method, one strain has a lethal circuit on the X chromosome (XL) while another has a lethal circuit on the Y chromosome (YL). These lethal circuits can be switched on and off as required by modifying the composition of the substance in which the flies are nurtured. In the first step, the team grew the YL strain in conditions where the lethal circuit is activated. These mate with wild type females (XX). All males (XYL) die, leading to female offspring, XX, that don’t have the lethal circuit. In a separate second step, the team grew the XL strain in conditions where the lethal circuit is activated. Males carrying only one copy of the lethal variant (XLY) survive, while all females (XLXL) die. In the third and final step, the surviving females from the first step (XX) are mated with surviving males (XLY) from the second step. The team again grew the offspring in conditions where the lethal circuit is activated. This produced only males (XY) that don’t have the lethal circuit. “Our approach enables a more centralised production approach, where only eggs can be shipped,” Maselko said. “This needs modest facilities to rear, sterilise and release the males.” Also read: ‘Why Im Quitting GMO Research’ Max Scott, a professor of entomology at Genetic Pest Management, North Carolina State University, called the approach “a clever scheme for producing only non-GM males”. He also said “the Y chromosome has few genes. Finding a location where the lethal circuit works is a real challenge.” Maselko’s team seems to have addressed this challenge. In the three batches that the researchers raised using this method, 2,932 males were generated, and one female. Omar Akbari, an associate professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of California, San Diego, echoed Scott’s assessment. He said he would like to see this model work in actual mosquitoes. In response to Akbari’s point that the resulting males are not sterile, Maselko said the team would “either sterilise them with X-rays or use the Wolbachia infection approach.” Wolbachia are bacterial species that occur naturally in 60% of insect species but they don’t occur in Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. A 2009 study showed that infecting Aedes mosquitoes with Wolbachia reduces the transmission of dengue, Zika and other viruses. Scientists are trialling the technique in many countries, under the World Mosquito Program. At least one scientific paper discussing trial results is expected later this year. The Minnesota team screened over a thousand fruit flies looking for lethal circuits. They found none. The mathematical possibility of the lethal circuit surviving their experimental process, according to the team’s estimate, is 0.1%. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organisation that verifies the absence of GM material in seeds, retail goods, drugs, livestock feed and supplements. According to its latest standards, its threshold for certification ranges from 0.25%-1.5%. However, Scott is unsure if this will help people. “Whether a non-GM male derived from two GM strains would be acceptable [to people] is hard to know.” Phil Taylor, director of the ARC Centre for Fruit Fly Innovation, Australia, said that “from a regulatory perspective, it does test the boundaries a bit as most novel technologies do.” Maselko is now a CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Fellow at Macquarie University in Australia. He wants to conduct larger trials in mosquitoes before scaling up their solution. Ameya Paleja is a molecular biologist based in Hyderabad. He blogs at Coffee Table Science.
With No Citizenship Rights, Pakistani Women in Kashmir Have Nowhere to Go - The Wire
Nearly 350 Pakistani brides living in Kashmir – who married former militants – have no citizenship rights or travel documents, and cannot visit their parents in the neighboring country.
Srinagar: Living in Kupwara, every moment reminds 43-year-old Saira Javid of her home, childhood, relatives and the dusky lanes of Karachi. She has been craving to visit her parents home in Pakistan but cannot go back due to existing laws. Saira, who traces her roots to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, says her ancestors came from Muzaffarabad and settled in Karachi. In 2001, she married Javid Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri who crossed the Line of Control (LoC) for arms training but had given up insurgent activities to live a peaceful life. The couple had two children and were living happily in Karachi. Her bad days started with her arrival in Kashmir in 2011. We returned to Kashmir on repeated insistences of my husbands family. I was not willing to come here but Javid persuaded me, she says. On their arrival in Kashmir, the couple along with their two children were arrested and had to spend three to six months in Central Jail Srinagar before being released. I tried to visit Pakistan through Wagah border in 2018 but emigration authorities did not allow me, she says. Saira, who is now a mother of four children, laments the day when she decided to move to Kashmir. It was my biggest mistake. I did not even have the luxury of seeing the face of my father when he passed away two months ago. I am living in an open prison here, she told The Wire. This is not the tale of Saira alone. It is the story of every stateless Pakistani bride married to Kashmiris who went to Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) for arms training after an armed conflict broke out in the region in 1989 and returned back to the Valley to live a peaceful life, especially after the Omar Abdullah-led government unveiled a policy for their return. These women can neither go back nor stay with their rights in Kashmir. Also read: Collective Silence on Violence Against Women Rings Loud in the Kashmir Valley Status of women from PoK in Kashmir Nearly 350 such Pakistani brides living in Kashmir have no citizenship rights or travel documents. All of them want to go back and meet their parents but cannot do so. For the past 10 years, they have been staging protests in different parts of Kashmir to seek citizenship rights and travel documents to visit Pakistan. We have now lost hope of getting citizenship rights. Now they should declare us illegal immigrants and deport us back to Pakistan along with our husbands and children, they told a news conference in Srinagar last week. They also threatened to march towards the LoC to highlight their plight. Many such women in Kashmir are struggling to make the both ends meet and are facing immense mental trauma and agony. Nusrat Begum of Athmuqam of PoK, who arrived in Kashmir in 2008, is facing financial constraints to bring up her children after her marriage ended up in divorce. Women go to parents home after divorce. But where will I go? I am alone here. Please deport me back to Pakistan, says Nusrat, who is living in a rented accommodation in Kupwara town and works in a boutique run by Saira. One such Pakistani bride committed suicide in Naidkhai area of north Kashmirs Bandipora district in 2014. Most of these women along with their husbands entered India through Nepal route without a visa after travelling to Kathmandu on Pakistani passports. In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir government informed the assembly that 377 former militants along with 864 family members have returned to Kashmir via Nepal since 2010. Even Pakistani women with valid passports have faced problems in visiting their in-laws in Kashmir. In 2006, Asma Khan Lone, wife of Kashmiri politician Sajad Gani Lone, was denied a visa to visit India by the Congress-led government. Recently, questions were also raised over participation of such women in the electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir, though some of them have become sarpanchs in the past. The authorities stopped counting of votes in two district development council seats in Jammu and Kashmir after it came to fore that two women from PoK married to Kashmiris were contesting polls. Somiya Sadaf from Drugmulla and Shazia Aslam from Sonawari, both inhabitants of PoK, which India considers as its integral part, were contesting polls from these segments. The authorities are yet to decide on whether their participation was legal or illegal. Also read: From One Year of the Gag to the Next, Normalcy in Kashmir Comes at a Price Government policy for return of youth from PoK In 2010, Omar Abdullah-led National Conference and Congress government unveiled a policy to facilitate the return of youth who belong to Jammu and Kashmir and had crossed over to PoK for arms training, but have given up the insurgent activities due to a change of heart and are willing to return to the state. All those who had crossed into PoK and Pakistan between January 1, 1989, and December 31, 2009, were eligible for consideration under the policy. Under the policy, Wagah-Attari, Salamabad, Chakan-da-Bagh and Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, were notified as entry points for return of the youth. However, most of them came through Nepal route, which was not designated as entry point under the policy. The policy allowed spouses of such youth to enter India but remained silent on granting rights to them. The spouses and children who are dependents of the returnees, who wish to accompany them would be considered for entry into India as per the existing laws. The entry of all such persons into the country would be communicated by BOI (Bureau of Immigration) immediately to J&K Police/ CID from the entry point, read the policy.
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm for 3 Million Years - The Wire Science
Scientists have projected that the Arctic will be completely ice-free in summer within the next two decades.
Chunks of ice float inside of meltwater pools on top of the Helheim glacier near Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 19, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44 million square miles (3.74 million square kilometers) the second-lowest value in the 42 years since satellites began taking measurements. The ice today covers only 50% of the area it covered 40 years ago in late summer. This years minimum ice extent is the lowest in the 42-year-old satellite record except for 2012, reinforcing a long-term downward trend in Arctic ice cover. Each of the past four decades averages successively less summer sea ice. Photo: NSIDC As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher than at any time in human history. The last time that atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached todays level about 412 parts per million was 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene Epoch. As geoscientists who study the evolution of Earths climate and how it creates conditions for life, we see evolving conditions in the Arctic as an indicator of how climate change could transform the planet. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, they could return the Earth to Pliocene conditions, with higher sea levels, shifted weather patterns and altered conditions in both the natural world and human societies. Also read: Why Antarctica’s Record Warm Weather Is More Than Just About Global Warming The Pliocene Arctic We are part of a team of scientists who analyzed sediment cores from Lake Elgygytgyn in northeast Russia in 2013 to understand the Arctics climate under higher atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Fossil pollen preserved in these cores shows that the Pliocene Arctic was very different from its current state. Today the Arctic is a treeless plain with only sparse tundra vegetation, such as grasses, sedges and a few flowering plants. In contrast, the Russian sediment cores contained pollen from trees such as larch, spruce, fir and hemlock. This shows that boreal forests, which today end hundreds of miles farther south and west in Russia and at the Arctic Circle in Alaska, once reached all the way to the Arctic Ocean across much of Arctic Russia and North America. Because the Arctic was much warmer in the Pliocene, the Greenland Ice Sheet did not exist. Small glaciers along Greenlands mountainous eastern coast were among the few places with year-round ice in the Arctic. The Pliocene Earth had ice only at one end in Antarctica and that ice was less extensive and more susceptible to melting. Boreal forest near Lake Baikal in Russia. Three million years ago these forests extended hundreds of miles farther north than they reach today. Photo: Christophe Meneboeuf/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA Because the oceans were warmer and there were no large ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere, sea levels were 30 to 50 feet (9 to 15 meters) higher around the globe than they are today. Coastlines were far inland from their current locations. The areas that are now Californias Central Valley, the Florida Peninsula and the Gulf Coast all were underwater. So was the land where major coastal cities like New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle stand. Warmer winters across what is now the western US reduced snowpack, which these days supplies much of the regions water. Todays Midwest and Great Plains were so much warmer and dryer that it would have been impossible to grow corn or wheat there. Also read: A Trip to the Top of the World, Where the Climate Crisis Is All Too Clear Why was there so much CO2 in the Pliocene? How did CO2 concentrations during the Pliocene reach levels similar to todays? Humans would not appear on Earth for at least another million years, and our use of fossil fuels is even more recent. The answer is that some natural processes that have occurred on Earth throughout its history release CO2 to the atmosphere, while others consume it. The main system that keeps these dynamics in balance and controls Earths climate is a natural global thermostat, regulated by rocks that chemically react with CO2 and pull it out of the atmosphere. The Greenhouse Effect leads to increases in surface temperatures and, in some places, rainfall. Together these accelerate silicate rock weathering. Faster weathering in turn removes more CO2 from the atmosphere (yellow arrow). The strength of the Greenhouse Effect relies on atmospheric CO2 levels. Photo: Gretashum/Wikipedia In soils, certain rocks continually break down into new materials in reactions that consume CO2. These reactions tend to speed up when temperatures and rainfall are higher exactly the climate conditions that occur when atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations rise. But this thermostat has a built-in control. When CO2 and temperatures increase and rock weathering accelerates, it pulls more CO2 from the atmosphere. If CO2 begins to fall, temperatures cool and rock weathering slows globally, pulling out less CO2. Rock weathering reactions also can work faster where soil contains lots of newly exposed mineral surfaces. Examples include areas with high erosion or periods when Earths tectonic processes pushed land upward, creating major mountain chains with steep slopes. The rock weathering thermostat operates at a geologically slow pace. For example, at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs about 65 million years ago, scientists estimate that atmospheric CO2 levels were between 2,000 and 4,000 parts per million. It took over 50 million years to reduce them naturally to around 400 parts per million in the Pliocene. Because natural changes in CO2 levels happened very slowly, cyclic shifts in Earths climate system were also very slow. Ecosystems had millions of years to adapt, adjust and slowly respond to changing climates.Summer heat waves are altering northern Siberia, thawing permafrost and creating conditions for large-scale wildfires. A Pliocene-like future? Today human activities are overwhelming the natural processes that pull CO2 out of the atmosphere. At the dawn of the Industrial Era in 1750, atmospheric CO2 stood at about 280 parts per million. It has taken humans only 200 years to completely reverse the trajectory begun 50 million years ago and return the planet to CO2 levels not experienced for millions of years. Most of that shift has happened since World War II. Yearly increases of 2-3 parts per million now are common. And in response, the Earth is warming at a fast pace. Since roughly 1880 the planet has warmed by 1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) many times faster than any warming episode in the past 65 million years of Earths history. Also read: COVID-19 Is a Cautionary Tale for Climate Change Related Health Hazards In the Arctic, losses of reflective snow and ice cover have amplified this warming to +5 C (9 F). As a result, summertime Arctic sea ice coverage is trending lower and lower. Scientists project that the Arctic will be completely ice-free in summer within the next two decades. This isnt the only evidence of drastic Arctic warming. Scientists have recorded extreme summer melt rates across the Greenland Ice Sheet. In early August, Canadas last remaining ice shelf, in the territory of Nunavut, collapsed into the sea. Parts of Arctic Siberia and Svalbard, a group of Norwegian islands in the Arctic Ocean, reached record-shattering high temperatures this summer. Coastal cities, agricultural breadbasket regions and water supplies for many communities all will be radically different if this planet returns to a Pliocene CO2 world. This future is not inevitable but avoiding it will require big steps now to decrease fossil fuel use and turn down Earths thermostat.Julie Brigham-Grette is the Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Steve Petsch is an Associate Professor of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
COVID-19: As Vaccine-Makers Press Ahead, Let’s Not Pretend Everything Is Okay - The Wire
India stands at the cusp of one of the world's largest vaccination drives – but while the moment is suffused with hope, a lot still depends on good luck.
In a short, eight-minute statement at 11 am on January 3, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) Dr V.G. Somani announced that his office had authorised two COVID-19 vaccine candidates for restricted use in the country. With the statement, India officially stood at the cusp of one of the world’s largest vaccination drives. But while the moment is suffused with hope, it will pay to remember at all times what exactly will happen from today: not a well-understood or well-planned event, and still hinged for all the celebration of the science on good luck. Within hours of the UK approving AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the company began rolling out thousands of doses for distribution among the country’s high-priority groups. This kind of speed would have been possible only if AstraZeneca had assumed the candidate would be approved and had amassed enough doses for distribution at the country’s doorstep. But while this attitude could seem presumptuous and off-putting at other times, it’s apparently necessary during an ongoing pandemic especially with a more contagious form of the virus showing up recently, and the AstraZeneca candidate being the cheaper option by far. At least, this is the excuse many people, including some experts, are advancing for rushing various aspects of vaccine production and distribution as much as possible. This is unfortunate. The pandemic is only part of the reason, and perhaps even in the minority, among all reasons that AstraZeneca is accelerating its candidate’s availability. A major one is that the Pfizer/BioNTech collaboration has taken a big lead in the US and the UK with its high-efficacy mRNA vaccine candidate, with Moderna a close second in the US market. All three candidates are two-shot vaccines, and the total population of the US and the UK is nearly 400 million. So given current manufacturing capacity, no single candidate will single-handedly be able to sate demands in both markets, especially since demand is also high. So all three candidates are certainly in contention. However, these companies have all been making their moves with at least one eye planted on the stock-markets. Stories of Pfizer’s windfall and the profits for its CEO when its candidate was approved for emergency use in the US are already part of pandemic lore. According to one estimate, the company is set to make $13 billion in profits in 2021 alone. So as such AstraZeneca is already late, and if it is to catch up, it must become available asap in the US and the UK, and try to press a first-mover advantage where it can. Pressing the advantage India is one such place. The Serum Institute of India has a deal with AstraZeneca to manufacture its candidate for sale in other markets, as well as to make and distribute doses for sale in India, under the name ‘Covishield’. On January 1, the subject expert committee of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) recommended that the vaccine candidate be approved for restricted use. On January 3, DCGI Dr Somani approved the candidate, as well as Bharat Biotech’s counterpart, named Covaxin. The speed is awe-inspiring but in India, it may also be a quirk of doing business. As The Wirehas reported, “American and European governments have promised vaccine-makers billions of dollars to offset potential losses” in exchange for the makers to start manufacturing even before candidates are approved. But at least as of August 2020, the Indian government hadn’t made any such promises, leaving only companies that could afford to write-off large losses with the ability to start manufacturing early. Serum Institute was one such company. Its CEO Adar Poonawalla told New York Times that it wanted to get a head-start because it could afford to, after investing upwards of Rs 3,300 crore. Happy new year, everyone! All the risks @SerumInstIndia took with stockpiling the vaccine, have finally paid off. COVISHIELD, India’s first COVID-19 vaccine is approved, safe, effective and ready to roll-out in the coming weeks. pic.twitter.com/TcKh4bZIKK Adar Poonawalla (@adarpoonawalla) January 3, 2021 However, all of this is scant justification for how much we don’t know about Covishield, or about the other candidates for that matter if only because we are at risk of fooling ourselves. In Covishield’s case at least, there is an unsettled dispute between one of its vaccine trial participants and Serum Institute. The former has sued the latter for Rs 5 crore, by way of compensation for a neurological side-effect that the participant has claimed arose as a result of being administered Covishield. Serum Institute subsequently threatened to counter-sue for Rs 100 crore, alleging defamation. As Shreya Dasgupta reported for The Wire Science, Serum Institute’s response doesn’t inspire confidence in its version of events more so since informed consent in the context of clinical trials is not as iron-clad an indemnification as some might think. Also read: India Set up a Code to Use Experimental Drugs in an Outbreak Then Ignored It AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is also knee-deep in trouble in the UK, where an advisory group to the government has expressed doubts about the company’s claim that the candidate could be more effective if the first of its two doses is halved in quantity. This claim arose from an accident during its phase 2 clinical trials, when a subgroup of participants received a full dose + half dose regimen by mistake, but which still reported 28 percentage points more efficacy. The company got in even more trouble after it became known that it may have cherry-picked data from its trials to share with governments for approval. Serum Institute only appears to be following suit. The company is conducting bridging trials in India, which can help find if a vaccine candidate tested elsewhere will elicit an immune response in the Indian population as well. Out of a pool of 1,600 participants, Serum Institute submitted data pertaining to only 100 volunteers to the CDSCO’s subject expert committee, The Hindu reported. Bear in mind that this is a vaccine to be distributed to over a billion people in India alone, and the committee has recommended it based on data from only a hundred of them. As for Bharat Biotech: the Covaxin vaccine candidate’s efficacy data isn’t in the public domain nor are details from its phase 1 and 2 clinical trials and about how the company has estimated the figure to be around 60%. That the DCGI’s approval is entirely opaque only makes this more of a problem. Sidestepping criticism Dr V.G. Somani addressing the press on January 3, 2021. Source: PIB/YouTube That’s not all. The head of the UK advisory group, Munir Pirmohamed, recently said that when the group analysed the data AstraZeneca had submitted for its candidate’s approval, it found that the higher efficacy in the subgroup of participants that received the full-dose/half-dose regimen could in fact have been the result of a longer gap between the two doses, and not the altered dose volume. The UK has since approved a strategy to distribute the first dose to recipients as quickly as possible, since there is enough data to believe it provokes an immune response. However, we don’t know how the strength and duration of the response will vary in time, and whether the candidate will be just as efficacious if the second dose is delayed by more than a certain period. And yet again there is a caveat: the strategy to increase the gap between the two doses may not just be because the efficacy may be higher, but also because AstraZeneca may be having issues with supply! Isn’t this a shoddy path to vaccine approval, full of serendipities and experimental manoeuvres? As drug-discovery chemist Derek Lowe said, the pandemic, and the virus’s new mutation that allows it to spread faster through populations, may still be able to make a good case to support this kind of breakneck speed but neither the UK government nor anyone else actually knows what they are doing. It’s a dice-roll (with a somewhat loaded die, but still) to be performed with millions of people, in the hopes that a vaccine candidate will work as intended. And AstraZeneca is not alone here. As Sandhya Srinivasan, consulting editor at the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, wrote late last year, we don’t have vaccines we have vaccine candidates. This is an important distinction because the candidates have been or are being tested in a way that doesn’t check if they’re good at preventing severe illness and if they are safe for the high-priority groups who will receive the first doses especially the elderly. Both Srinivasan and S. Swaminathan, a retired scientist in New Delhi, have also expressed concerns about clinical trials overestimating vaccine efficacy by relaxing the threshold of effects. But the most pernicious defence of these practices has been to accuse anyone who asks uncomfortable questions of being “anti-vaxxers”. Anti-vaxx is short for ‘anti-vaccination’, a movement opposed to using vaccines to eliminate diseases because its members believe vaccines cause diseases instead. Anti-vaxxers are typically supporters of far-right ideologies, but those heaping the accusation on demands for accountability are assuming a similarly extreme, and unfeasible, position. In India at least, the drug approval process might as well not happen, considering the extent to which it is shrouded in secrecy, even as corporate leaders use high-handed tactics and even arguments of nationalism to shutdown complaints of malpractice and wrongdoing. Also read: Itolizumab for COVID-19: Who Benefits When the Drug Regulator Is Opaque? Vaccine apartheid Piling on top of this is the newly emerging but historically familiar “vaccine apartheid”. As The Intercept reported on December 31, 2020, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine candidate was tested in clinical trials with almost 44,000 participants across “Argentina, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, and Turkey as well as the US”. However, Argentina, South Africa, Brazil and Turkey will have to be satisfied with Pfizer’s gratitude, because they won’t be receiving enough of the vaccine to inoculate their populations, at least not anytime soon. Meanwhile, the US and Germany along with Canada and the rest of the EU have contracted for enough doses of various COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate their populations several times over. A similar story of discrimination played out vis-à-vis severe adverse events during the trials of AstraZeneca’s candidate. When such an event was reported in the UK trials, the company responded by temporarily halting the trials and launching an enquiry based on a set of predetermined, well-understood guidelines. News of the event also hit the headlines worldwide within a day or two. Once the enquiry concluded, the trials resumed without any glitches. In India, however, Serum Institute claims it followed a similar process, as required under Indian law, but which culminated with the participant filing a case against the company. In addition, the event had occurred in early October but came to light only in late November. Other participants of the same trial also said they were contemplating legal action because they hadn’t been informed of the event. In the richer west, vaccine-makers’ attitude seems to be “what’s there to hide”. But in India, and other similar ‘developing countries’, it’s “what’s there to see”. This is why stakeholders which is practically everyone must ask more questions and seek more clarity about how vaccine candidates are being approved and sold in India. ‘Cancelling’ those who disagree would be tantamount to ‘cancelling’ ourselves.
Dung Beetles Use the Sky to Navigate – but How Exactly? - The Wire Science
In experiments with a species of the dung beetle under a simulated night sky in a planetarium, scientists found that the Milky Way’s path could steer the insects’ course.
A pair of dung beetles. Photo: Kev Gregory/Flickr Placed over the heart in the wrappings of Egyptian mummies, archaeologists have often found carved amulets of scarab beetles, a species of dung beetle. The amulets, many with spells inscribed on them, were intended to help the dead in a final judgment by the jackal-headed god of death, Anubis, who would weigh the hearts of the deceased to assess whether they were worthy of the afterlife. The ancient Egyptians also believed that a dung beetle drove the movement of the sun, because the sacred scarab (Scarabaeus sacer) which sculpts dung into balls for meals, gifts for potential mates or repositories for eggs rolls the balls across the ground in a manner that reflects the suns journey across the sky. In fact, its the sun that steers the movement of dung beetles. And so does light from the moon, and from the distant stars of the Milky Way. With a life devoted to excrement but guided by the heavens, dung beetles might embody the famed Oscar Wilde quote, We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. Tiny brains can solve fantastic tasks, says neurobiologist Marie Dacke of Lund University in Sweden, one of a small cadre of researchers who have worked for years, often as a team, to piece together the tricks the insects use to roll balls in their eerily straight lines. The best escape Roughly 600 of the 8,000-plus known dung beetle species roll such balls, scurrying away from mounds of animal dung with spheres of excrement for about six minutes before they bury the balls, along with themselves, so they can dine underground in peace. (Many more species dont roll balls, but stow dung away in long tunnels burrowed directly under dung pats.) To keep their cargo from getting stolen by rivals, ball rollers have evolved to escape from dung piles in the fastest, most efficient way possible a straight line, as the scientists describe in an article in the Annual Review of Entomology. In South Africa, elephant dung is just alive with dung beetles you can find hundreds or even thousands of dung beetles in a dung pile, and theyll happily smash each other up to steal a ball, says neuroethologist Eric Warrant at Lund University. The last place theyd want to end up is back at the dung pile with all the others, so theyll roll in a straight line in any direction, as fast as they can. Also read: More Fun Than Fun: Dung Beetles, the Milky Way and the Marvels of Animal Navigation But travelling in a straight line is surprisingly difficult. A 2009 study found that human volunteers in a German forest and in the Sahara Desert repeatedly plodded around in circles when they could not see the sun, and blindfolded participants walked in circles as small as 20 meters wide. Without a point of reference, the paths that people and other animals take can easily drift from straight to spiral, due to factors such as uneven terrain. Remarkably, dung beetles keep straight even though they cant see where they are going while rolling. They propel their balls with their hind legs, moving backwards with heads pointed at the ground (bringing to mind the quote of how dancer Ginger Rogers did everything her renowned partner Fred Astaire did, save backwards and in high heels). As far back as the fifth century, Egyptian scholar Horapollo described the beetles movement as rolling its ball from east to west, while looking east. Remarkably, it took until 2003 for Horapollos observation to be confirmed. When entomologist Marcus Byrne at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, along with Dacke, Warrant and others, placed five species of dung beetles in little arenas on farmland in South Africa, the creatures usually rolled dung balls in the direction of the sun. But when the team reflected the sun off a mirror while hiding the real sun from view, the insects followed the reflected sun instead. Similar responses are seen in the lab when using an LED as an artificial sun, Dacke says. Going with the wind But what happens around noon when the sun is at its zenith, halfway between sunrise and sunset, making it an unreliable cue for distinguishing east from west? A 2019 study revealed that the South African dung beetle Scarabaeus lamarcki can rely on the wind instead. We believe theyre detecting the wind via their antennas, Dacke says. This strategy makes sense at the edge of the Kalahari Desert, where these insects live. The wind there blows strongest when the sun is at its highest, driven by heat rising from the land after a mornings baking. In experiments, neuroscientist Basil el Jundi at the University of Würzburg in Germany, with Dacke, Byrne and their colleagues, placed a pair of table fans facing each other across a ball-rolling arena. When one fan blew, the dung beetles rolled their balls in a variety of directions. But when they switched to the other fan, each insect typically rolled its ball in the opposite direction from before. In other words, the precise direction the wind is blowing doesnt seem to matter to the insects what matters is that it blows constantly, in mostly the same direction, for the six or so minutes that the insects roll their balls before burrowing into the ground, helping them keep a straight course. And the beetles ignore the wind entirely as a navigational cue when the sun is not directly overhead. They have all these fallback mechanisms if one system fails, they can switch over to another, Byrne says. Guided by moonlight Sun and wind work very well as cues for dung beetles that are active during the daytime. But a few of the ball-rolling species are nocturnal. For them, a 2003 study revealed that guiding light can ripple from the moon. Light waves can ripple up and down, left and right, or at any angle in between. But when light from the sun or moon strikes tiny particles in the atmosphere, some of it gets polarised: The waves ripple in the same direction. Scientists know that bees, ants and many other insects can orient themselves using polarised sunlight, but dung beetles are the first known to orient themselves using the million-times-dimmer polarised light that emanates from the moon. Dacke, Byrne, Warrant and their colleagues noticed that the nocturnal African dung beetle Scarabaeus zambesianus could roll in straight lines on moonlit nights but not on moonless ones. To figure out if these insects depended on the moons position or the polarised light that it emits, the researchers used a board to hide the moon from view, though its light was still visible in the night sky. They next placed a polarising filter over the insects to rotate the rays of moonlight 90 degrees. This made the beetles turn abruptly showing that polarised light was the orienting cue. Also read: Why Dung Beetles Are the Unsung Heroes of Our Environment The Milky Way shows the way But the moon isnt out every night. What then? Another potential cue came to Byrne and colleagues one night in 2007. After a great days work, the moon goes down, and were sitting and having a beer under the beautiful desert sky of the Kalahari, and theres the Milky Way, Byrne recalls. And one of us said that, if we can see that, they must be able to see that. And they do. Although the insects eyes are too small and weak to navigate from single stars, a 2013 study revealed that they apparently see the brighter, wide band of light that the Milky Way draws across the night sky. In experiments with the dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus under the simulated night sky of the Johannesburg planetarium, Dacke, Byrne, Warrant and colleagues found that the Milky Ways path could steer the insects course making dung beetles the first known animals capable of orienting themselves using this cue. This presented a puzzler, however, since the researchers had earlier observed that the insects meandered on moonless nights. But when the worried scientists reviewed their notes, they found that these earlier experiments took place in months when the Milky Way was too low in the night sky for the beetles to see it. By the sky only One set of cues that dung beetles dont rely on for navigation are landmarks or anything else on the ground. Weve created arenas with high walls and a 30-centimeter opening, and we thought, OK, guys, solve this one, theres only one way to get away from the dung pat and they fully ignored it, Dacke says. In another study, the scientists filled half the arena with dung beetles tied to the floor. One might imagine that beetles rolling their dung balls would steer clear of their tethered brethren but no, they just rolled over the tied-down beetles, Dacke says. The scientists conducted still other experiments in which dung beetles wore broad-brimmed cardboard caps so they could not see the sky. The haberdashery caused the beetles to roll around in circles, fully lost, Dacke says confirming their dependence on celestial cues. Since they dont have permanent nests, instead regularly moving from one ephemeral dung pat to another, memorizing landscapes may not prove useful when they spend their life wandering about, says neuroethologist Emily Baird of Stockholm University. Wonders of tiny brains Though much has been learned about the dung beetles tricks and traits, theres a lot more still to understand. It never fails to surprise me how complex insects can be, Baird says. Were looking at these tiny animals with brains the size of poppy seeds that use the sun and the wind to guide them … We have these massive brains, and we still dont yet understand how these small brains work. As far as scientists can tell, dung beetles are the only animals to use visual cues for orientation but ignore landmarks, Baird says. She and Dacke are comparing dung beetle brains with those of beetles that do use landmarks for navigation to learn more about how these complex behaviours evolved. Also read: Why India’s Insects Are Disappearing And to shed light on the neural circuits dung beetles use for orientation, Dacke, el Jundi and post-doctoral researcher Cody Manchester aim to record signals from neurons as the creatures roam the African savannah using tiny electronic backpacks connected to the beetles brains. These beetles are very, very strong, one of the strongest animals for their body size, so theyre very useful to attach things to, Dacke says. The scientists also want to learn more about a strange dance the dung beetles do after theyve rolled up their balls of dung: mounting the ball and, for a few seconds, gyrating on top before climbing down and setting off with the ball. This dance may help the insect take a snapshot of the skys features at the start of its journey, to match with its view of the heavens as it moves, in order to maintain a straight path. Its a very elegant strategy, el Jundi says. Understanding how these insects can solve complex navigational tasks might help computers use as few computations as possible to perform similar feats, the scientists speculate. Byrne notes that a $1 million cash prize was offered in the DARPA Grand Challenge, which had autonomous vehicles drive a desert course more than 200 kilometers long weighed down with cameras, proximity sensors and GPS. The more we can learn about dung beetles, he says, the more we can maybe get tiny robots to behave in a similar fashion in completely unknown landscapes. This article originally appeared in Knowable Magazine on December 22, 2020. Knowable Magazine is an independent journalistic endeavour from Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society. Sign up for Knowable Magazines newsletter.
Take a Virtual Tour of a Million Previously Undiscovered Galaxies - The Wire Science
Researchers have spotted millions of galaxies in the most detailed radio survey of the southern sky ever conducted. It has smashed previous records for survey speed.
With the RACS survey, 903 images were produced, each requiring 15 minutes of exposure time, and then combined into one map covering the entire area. Photo: CSIRO, Author provided Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves. The Rapid ASKAP Continuum Survey (or RACS) has placed the CSIROs Australian SKA Pathfinder radio telescope (ASKAP) firmly on the international astronomy map. While past surveys have taken years to complete, ASKAPs RACS survey was conducted in less than two weeks smashing previous records for speed. Data gathered have produced images five times more sensitive and twice as detailed as previous ones. What is radio astronomy? Modern astronomy is a multi-wavelength enterprise. What do we mean by this? Well, most objects in the universe (including humans) emit radiation over a broad spectrum, called the electromagnetic spectrum. This includes both visible and invisible light such as X-rays, ultraviolet light, infrared light and radio waves. To understand the universe, we need to observe the entire electromagnetic spectrum as each wavelength carries different information. Radio waves have the longest wavelength of all forms of light. They allow us to study some of the most extreme environments in the universe, from cold clouds of gas to supermassive black holes. Long wavelengths pass through clouds, dust and the atmosphere with ease, but need to be received with large antennas. Australias wide open (but relatively low-altitude) spaces are the perfect place to build large radio telescopes. We have some of the most spectacular views of the centre of the Milky Way from our position in the Southern Hemisphere. Indigenous astronomers have appreciated this benefit for millennia. Also read: Fewer Stars Are Being Born Today Than Before. a Pune Telescope Might Know Why. A stellar breakthrough Radio astronomy is a relatively new field of research, dating back to the 1930s. The first detailed 30cm radio map of the southern sky which includes everything a telescope can see from its location in the Southern Hemisphere was Sydney Universitys Molonglo Sky Survey. Completed in 2006, this survey took almost a decade to observe 25% of the entire sky and produce final data products. Our team at CSIROs Astronomy and Space Science division has smashed this record by surveying 83% of the sky in just ten days. With the RACS survey we produced 903 images, each requiring 15 minutes of exposure time. We then combined these into one map covering the entire area. The resulting panorama of the radio sky will look surprisingly familiar to anyone who has looked up at the night sky themselves. In our photos, however, nearly all the bright points are entire galaxies, rather than individual stars. Take our virtual tour below. Astronomers working on the catalogue have identified about three million galaxies considerably more than the 260,000 galaxies identified during the Molonglo Sky Survey. Why do we need to map the universe? We know how important maps are on Earth. They provide crucial navigational assistance and offer information about terrain which is useful for land management. Similarly, maps of the sky provide astronomers with important context for research and statistical power. They can tell us how certain galaxies behave, such as whether they exist in clusters of companions or drift through space on their own. Being able to conduct an all-sky survey in less than two weeks opens numerous opportunities for research. For example, little is known about how the radio sky changes over timescales of days to months. We can now regularly revisit each of the three million galaxies identified in the RACS catalogue to track any differences. Also, some of the largest unanswered questions in astronomy relate to how galaxies became the elliptical, spiral, or irregular shapes we see. A popular theory suggests large galaxies grow via the merger of many smaller ones. But the details of this process are elusive and difficult to reconcile with simulations. Understanding the 13 billion or so years of our universes cosmic history requires a telescope that can see across vast distances and accurately map everything it finds. The giant Centaurus A galaxy was one elliptical galaxy captured in the RACS survey. Although more than ten million light years away, its one of the closest radio galaxies to Earth. You can see its intensity represented by different colours. Photo: CSIRO, Author provided High technology putting new goals within reach The CSIROs RACS survey is an amazing advance made possible by huge leaps in space tech. The ASKAP radio telescope, which became fully operational in February last year, was designed for speed. CSIROs engineers developed innovative radio receivers called phased array feeds and high-speed digital signal processors specifically for ASKAP. Its these technologies that provide ASKAPs wide field of view and rapid surveying capability. Over the next few years, ASKAP is expected to conduct even more sensitive surveys in different wavelength bands. In the meantime, the RACS survey catalogue is greatly improving our knowledge of the radio sky. Itll continue to be a key resource for researchers around the world.Aidan Hotan is the ASKAP lead scientist at CSIRO. This article is republished fromThe Conversationunder a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
How BJP Influenced Nitish Kumar’s Sudden Transfer of Power to 'RCP' - The Wire
The restructure of the JDU after the Arunachal debacle points ever more clearly to a certain ‘sourness’ between the BJP and the JD(U).
Patna: In a surprise move on Sunday, Nitish Kumar, chief minister of Bihar, relinquished his position as the national president of the Janata Dal (United) (JDU) in favour of Ram Chandra Prasad Singh, erecting a wall between the JD(U) and its ally, the BJP, with Singh as its gatekeeper. Nitish had been elected the JD(U)s national president in 2019 for a three-year term to be concluded in 2022, but he instead stepped down and proposed RCP (as Singh is widely known) to assume the position. The move was unanimously approved by the partys executive members at their meeting at Nitishs residence. Now, the BJPs leadership will have to negotiate with RCP for access to Nitish, akin to Nitish’s access to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister for home affairs Amit Shah through J.P. Nadda, the BJPs national president. Arunachal fallout? Except for Modi and Shah, no one knows the terms on which Nitish suddenly dumped the Mahagathbandhan (the coalition of anti-BJP parties) two years after it came to power in Bihar in 2015 and allied with the BJP instead. But between 2017 and 2019, Nitish had direct access to the prime minister and union home minister. However, just ahead of the 2020 assembly elections, the BJP began talking to Nitish via Nadda and Bhupendra Yadav, the BJPs general secretary and the person-in-charge of Bihar. File photo of Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar. Photo: PTI According to the grapevine, Nitish was “viciously” anguished by this lack of “trust” on the part of the BJP leadership. So when six MLAs in Arunachal Pradesh quit the JD(U) and joined the BJP this month, Nitish restructured the party. The JD(U)s executive members then formally adopted a resolution condemning the BJP for splitting the JD(U) in Arunachal Pradesh. “The JD(U)s split in Arunachal Pradesh amounts to a grave violation of the spirit of coalition dharma,” said K.C. Tyagi, party’s secretary general and spokesperson. The partys executive members also attacked the BJPs love jihad campaign, which has sharpened the divide between Hindus and Muslims. BJP-ruled states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have already begun arresting men from the minority community for marrying Hindu girls. “Framing youths in the name of love jihad is illegal. It has aggravated the atmosphere of hate in different parts of India. The constitution and the laws guarantee that consenting male and female adults can choose their partners as they wish, irrespective of their religious or caste identities. The JD(U) doesnt approve of the so-called love jihad,” said Tyagi, quoting the JD(U)s official resolution on the matter. The background The restructuring of the JDU and its resolutions against the BJP is rooted in the belief of the JD(U) that the BJPs leadership “clandestinely” propped up Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) chief, Chirag Paswan, to rebel against the JD(U) and contest elections against it. More than 15 hardcore RSS-BJP functionaries contested against JD(U) nominees on the LJPs tickets, leaving the JD(U) to win only 43 seats in the 2020 assembly elections. The JD(U) has made it clear its poor show is due to the LJPs rebellion. Also read: We’re Witnessing the Irrevocable Loss of ‘Brand’ Nitish Kumar After Nitish became Bihars chief minister again, the BJP, with 74 MLAs against the JDUs 43, has been brazenly showing that it represents the ‘big brother’ in the JD(U)-BJP alliance. It has not taken any action against the LJP for its rebellion. It has insisted on making Vijay Kumar Sinha the speaker of the state assembly and foisted two deputy chief ministers, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi, on Nitish without consulting him. Some BJP legislators have openly asked Nitish to give BJP the home portfolio, which has traditionally been with the chief minister. The expansion of the council of ministers is still pending and Nitish has blamed the BJP for the delay. Sources say that the BJP is insisting on “lucrative” portfolios and Nitish is in no mood to “succumb”. Who is RCP? Born in 1958, RCP was an Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer, who served as district magistrate in various districts of UP. Though RCP shares his Kurmi caste and native place of Nalanda with Nitish, his first brush with politics was through UPs socialist leader Beni Prasad Verma. RCP worked as Vermas private secretary when the latter was a Union minster in the 1990s. Verma apparently introduced RCP to Nitish and Nitish worked with RCP when he became railway minister in the Attal Bihari Vajpayee government. Ram Chandra Prasad Singh. Photo: Facebook. In 2005, RCP went to Bihar on deputation and became principal secretary to Nitish when the latter became the chief minister. RCP had taken voluntary retirement in 2010 and became a JD(U) member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha. Nitish renewed RCPs term to the Rajya Sabha in 2016. Before he became the JD(U)s national president, RCP had been the partys general secretary (organisation). Though he is known for his “knowledge” on politics, RCP has, by and large, operated as a “faceless” party worker. Also read: The End of the Road for Nitish Kumar Such a leader suits Nitishs style of functioning, who does not like his party presidents to have minds of their own. In 2003, Nitish had even replaced the towering George Fernandes with Sharad Yadav when the former showed a “proclivity” to differ with Nitish. Similarly, Nitish became JD(U) president replacing Sharad Yadav before severing ties with Mahagathbandhan and going back to the BJP in 2017. A low-profile operator, RCP is Nitishs loyal protégée. Possible consequences While it is premature to predict the long-term consequences of the “sourness” in the JD(U)-BJP relationship, the fact, however, remains that it is now out in the open. Now, the BJPs Nadda and Bhupendra Yadav will have to talk to Nitish via RCP, particularly on political and policy issues. Tyagi, speaking on behalf of his party, said: “The JD(U) has resolved to contest the assembly elections in Bengal. The partys national president has been authorised to find out whom the party should strike alliance with (sic).” Now it seems, the JDU has opened itself to options beyond the NDA in states beyond Bihar. Nalin Verma is a senior journalist and author of Gopalganj to Raisina – My Political Journey, an autobiography of Lalu Prasad Yadav. He has also authored The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.
Delhi Riots' Advocate Mehmood Pracha Blames Amit Shah for Police Raid at His Office - The Wire
Pracha also claimed that the police has been forcing Muslim victims to withdraw their complaints and charged that a forcibly extracted statement from a complainant was being used to target him.
New Delhi: Hours after the Delhi Police ended a 15-hour raid at his Nizamuddin West office, advocate Mehmood Pracha alleged that the raids were conducted at the behest of Union home minister Amit Shah. Pracha who has been fighting the cases of a large number of victims of northeast Delhi riots alleged that he has been trying to establish Shah’s links with the violence. Pracha also claimed that the police has been forcing many Muslim victims to withdraw their complaints and charged that a forcibly extracted statement under section 164 from a complainant was being used to target him. Talking to The Wire, Pracha said that during the raid, a team of the Delhi Police Special Cell made a copy of the data from his computer. They had brought specialised equipment with them and they hacked my computer too. He said it was clear to himthat [home minister] Shah sent them. The raid, which began at 12:40 pm on December 24, continued till around 3 am on December 25. It was related to a case in which a Delhi court had asked the Delhi Police to probe allegations that Pracha had “tutored” some victims and witnesses in the Delhi riots case to give “false statements”. According to the police report, Ali, a victim of the riots, told the police that he was asked to identify an eyewitness named Sharif, a witness in another case, who he allegedly didnt know. In his order, additional sessions judge Vinod Yadav had directed the Delhi Police commissioner to issue directions to the special cell or crime branch to probe the allegations against Pracha. Pracha had denied these allegations saying: The allegations against me are that a client came to me, and after a few days left because he was disappointed that I wouldnt do any setting for him with the judge or the police that I only fight the case legally. However, in pursuance of the order, Delhi police additional PRO Anil Mittal said, A criminal case under appropriate sections of law was registered and investigation was taken up. He added, During the course of the investigation, search warrants to look for electronic and other evidence from the premises of two members of the Bar were obtained from the court and the same are being executed in a professional manner in Nizamuddin and Yamuna Vihar. The search warrant, issued on December 22, read: This is to authorise and require investigating officer of this case to search for the said incriminating documents and metadata of outbox of email ID wherever they may be found whether in computer or in the office/premises including outbox of email ID as well as other offices/premises where presence of such evidence are detected during the search/investigation, and, if found, to produce the same forthwith before this court. However, Pracha alleged, The real intent was that they wanted to take my hard disk because it contained complaints against the RSS and the BJP with which we would have connected Shah to the northeast Delhi riots. But how could they have taken it. Also, did they expect me to have only one copy of it. Pracha said all central agencies were after him. Be it the IB, NIA they are all after me. The NIA has questioned me earlier too but they too couldnt find anything against me. Shah is after me but I am also after him”, he said, claiming there was a nexus between the minister and BJP leader Kapil Mishra, widely accused of being a key instigator of the riots. Also read: As Complaints Go Unprobed, Muslim Riot Victims Accuse Delhi Police of Bias ‘Attack on lawyers’ “The biggest issue here is that this is an action against a lawyer,” he said. He explained that a lawyer cannot be faulted if a client makes a false submission. For the sake of argument, if a person goes to a lawyer and says that such and such thing has happened to him and you kindly draft my complaint, or that you file a reply on our behalf to a police notice, then a lawyer would only draft the complaint or reply on the basis of what is disclosed to him. If the information conveyed to the lawyer is incorrect, then will the police proceed against the advocate or the complainant? he asked. Also, he said, a lawyer is legally bound to not disclose to a third party what is discussed between him and his client. I told the raiding team about it. So this is an attack on the lawyer who represents the last bastion that is prepared to take on the powers that be. Talking about the present case, he said that a person had approached him to file a complaint on his behalf, or reply to a notice under section 160 or file a statement under section 161 (of CrPC). Now they [the police] are saying that he [the person] had filed a ‘false complaint’ and he is saying that he did not file this complaint. This is the issue for which over 200 police personnel reached my office and surrounded it. How was this such a big issue? Pracha also claimed that Muslim victims of the riots were being forced by the police to withdraw their complaints. Secondly, they threatened hundreds of people from the Muslim community or filed ‘false cases’ against them to force them to withdraw their complaints [in the northeast Delhi riots cases]. In this case too they threatened him [the person mentioned above] and got a statement recorded under section 164. How difficult is that for the police? he again asked. Also, Pracha insisted that there were hundreds of examples of such pressure being mounted on the complainants. People whose video recordings are there later claimed that no harm came to them, their shops were not looted, because the police scared them. These have been our complaints since the beginning. This is what we have been fighting for. We have also been trying to establish the link between the riots and Shah and we are confident of [proving] that… It is not possible for them to scare me, they can only kill me, he said. Pracha said he has full faith in the judicial proceedings and wants people to also retain their faith in the constitution. We are doing everything through the courts. We want to ensure that ordinary citizens do not lose their faith in the constitution of the country. We want to show that even in such tough times people can get relief from courts. Also we want to send out a message to the weaker sections of the society that no matter how many sections of the judiciary, media or police may get compromised, dont lose faith in the constitution our system can still get you justice. ‘Leading advocates criticise raid’ Meanwhile, a number of advocates have criticised the raids on Pracha. Senior Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising termed it a direct attack on the fundamental right to legal representation. The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence in the Delhi riots case is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation , all lawyers must condemn this attack — Indira Jaising (@IJaising) December 24, 2020 Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy too urged lawyers to stand up for Pracha and tweeted that through the raids the police will get access to a lot of data thats protected by attorney-client privilege. By seizing Adv Mehmood Pracha's computers for particular emails, police will get a lot of data that's protected by attorney client privilege. This goes to the heart of rule of law. Lawyers must stand up for Adv Pracha as much as for Adv P. Bhushan. https://t.co/t9YHTIwNDh — Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) December 24, 2020 Another advocate Rishikesh Kumar, who is an additional standing counsel for the Delhi government, too expressed his anger on Twitter by tweeting: An office of a lawyer to be raided like this is highly condemnable. The raids on Mahmood Pracha, lawyer for the defence is a direct attack on the fundamental right to legal representation . As a lawyer I strongly condemn this, not acceptable at all. An office of a lawyer to be raided like this is highly condemnable. The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation .As a lawyer I strongly condemn this ,not acceptable at all. — RishiKesh Kumar (@rishikeshlaw) December 24, 2020
'Great Conjunction': Earthlings Treated to Rare Alignment of Jupiter and Saturn - The Wire Science
At the point of convergence, Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be just one-tenth of a degree apart, roughly equivalent to the thickness of a dime held at arm's length.
Featured image: Jupiter (below) and Saturn (above) are pictured on the sky during the closest visible conjunction of them in 400 years, in La Linea de la Concepcion, southern Spain December 21, 2020. Reuters/Jon Nazca New York: The evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere treated stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion on Monday as the solar system’s two biggest planets appeared to meet in a celestial alignment that astronomers call the “Great Conjunction“. The rare spectacle resulted from a near convergence of the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn that happened to coincide with Monday’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. For those able to observe the alignment in clear skies, the two frozen-gas spheres appeared closer and more vibrant almost as a single point of light than at any time in 800 years. Jupiter the brighter and larger of the pair has been gradually nearing Saturn in the sky for weeks as the two planets proceed around the sun, each in its own lane of an enormous celestial racetrack, said Henry Throop, an astronomer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration headquarters in Washington. Also read: All You Need to Know About This Years Winter Solstice and the Great Conjunction “From our vantage point, well be able to be to see Jupiter on the inside lane, approaching Saturn all month and finally overtaking it on Dec. 21, Throop said in a statement last week. At the point of convergence, Jupiter and Saturn appeared to be just one-tenth of a degree apart, roughly equivalent to the thickness of a dime held at arm’s length. In reality, of course, the planets remained hundreds of millions of miles apart, according to NASA. A conjunction of the two planets takes place about once every 20 years. But the last time Jupiter and Saturn came as close together in the sky as on Monday was in 1623, an alignment that occurred during daylight and was thus not visible from most places on Earth. The last visible great conjunction occurred long before telescopes were invented, in 1226, halfway through construction of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Thao Galvan holds her son Nathan while they view Jupiter and Saturn during a planetary conjuction, as they appear close together in a rare celestial event in Houston, Texas, US, December 21, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Callaghan O’Hare The heightened brightness of the two planets as they almost merge in the sky has invited the inevitable speculation about whether they formed the “Christmas star” that the New Testament describes as having guided the three wise men to the baby Jesus. But astronomer Billy Teets, acting director of Vanderbilt Universitys Dyer Observatory in Brentwood, Tennessee, said a Great Conjunction is only one of several possible explanations for the biblical phenomenon. “I think that there is a lot of debate as to what that might have been, Teets told WKRN-TV in Nashville in a recent interview. Astronomers suggested that the best way to view Monday’s conjunction was by looking toward the southwest in an open area about an hour after sunset. Also read: All You Need to Know About This Years Winter Solstice and the Great Conjunction “Big telescopes don’t help that much, modest binoculars are perfect, and even the eyeball is okay for seeing that they are right together, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, wrote in an email to Reuters. The next Great Conjunction between the two planets though not nearly as close together comes in November 2040. A closer alignment similar to Mondays will be in March 2080, McDowell said, with the following close conjunction 337 years later in August 2417. (Reuters)