Insights Daily Current Affairs, 08 May 2017

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Insights Daily Current Affairs, 08 May 2017


Paper 3 Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.


A century of looking at our closest star, the sun


Data from the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in Tamil Nadu, spanning a hundred years and more, has now been digitised by astrophysicists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, and opened up to the public.

  • Apart from use in academic studies of long-term behaviour of the sun, the data can be used to better understand sunspot activity which impacts climate and affects telecommunication systems.
  • It also throws light on major events that had an impact on the earth’s magnetic field.


Significance of this data:

  • The 100-year data is unique also for its three sets of images, taken using different filters – White light, H-alpha and Calcium-K. It is known that the sun has a layered structure, and each of the data sets exposes a different layer.
  • Under white light filtering, the sun’s photosphere and the sunspots are visible, while the Calcium-K light can show layers some 2,000 km above this, in the chromosphere.
  • The H-alpha images show up layers a little above the Calcium-K images. Features called “filaments” which are related to large expulsions of material from the sun’s surface can be viewed in the Calcium-K sets.


About IIA:

The Indian Institute of Astrophysics is a premier institute devoted to research in astronomy, astrophysics and related physics. It traces its origins back to an observatory set up in 1786 at Madras which from the year 1792 began to formally function at its Nungambakkam premises as the Madras Observatory. In 1899, the observatory moved to Kodaikanal. In the year 1971, the Kodaikanal Observatory became an autonomous society, the Indian Institute ofAstrophysics.

Funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the Institute ranks as a premier institution devoted to research and education of astronomy and physics in the country.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 3 Topic: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.


Driving towards safer roads


In the WHO South East Asia Region, it is estimated that approximately 3,16,000 people die every year on roads, which is around 865 fatalities each day. Twenty to 50 times that number are injured or disabled and require long-term care. Road fatalities are the leading cause of death among young persons, while road safety incidents cost upwards of 3% of GDP. That’s before accounting for medical expenses.


Who is to be blamed?

Though the behaviour of road users matters, poor public policy is at the root of the problem. The vast majority of ‘accidents’ could have been avoided by better use of road safety technology such as barriers, rumble strips or signage. Their impact could also have been lessened by safer vehicles. Good policy can also bring about immediate change.


What needs to be done now?

Action in four key areas can diminish injury and death on roads across the South East Asia Region, and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of halving the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020. These include:

  • First, road safety authorities must have the data needed to act efficiently. Good data allow authorities to analyse and understand the factors causing road crashes, as well as to devise and implement cost-effective solutions. This could be as minor as installing a guardrail on a switchback, or as substantial as demolishing a high-risk road and building it anew. Clear lines of responsibility and partnership among government agencies and stakeholders can help this process, especially given the problem’s multi-sectoral nature.
  • Second, infrastructure must be tailored to the needs of vulnerable road users. On average 50% of road deaths occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. In some countries, this figure rises to more than 80%. Bicycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and enforcement of helmet laws among other interventions can dramatically reduce these numbers. And they can do so in a way that makes our cities less car dependent.
  • Third, motor vehicles must be manufactured to higher safety standards. Just two of the region’s countries currently apply any of the seven priority international vehicle safety standards, such as seat belts and electronic stability control. These are India which implements two of the seven priorities, and Thailand which implements one of the seven. Not a single country applies all.
  • Finally, the response to post-crash emergencies must be increased. When every second counts, a nationwide emergency phone service is critical. So too are efficient pre-hospital response and hospital trauma care systems. In addition, steps should be taken to enhance early rehabilitation and support for road crash victims. This will help avoid long-term complications and enhance quality of life. It will also reduce health-care usage over the life-course.


What is expected from citizens?

Each one of us can limit the prospect of an incident and protect ourselves and our loved ones by slowing down, by desisting from drink-driving, by using seat belts and child restraints, and, when riding a motorcycle, by wearing a helmet. These actions will reinforce government-led initiatives, and will also promote society-wide change.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 3 Topic: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.


European XFEL generates its first laser beam


The European XFEL is going to be the world’s biggest X-ray laser when it launches in September, but the science team is already celebrating as the device just completed its last major test, shining its powerful X-ray beam for the first time.


About XFEL:

The European XFEL is a research facility in Hamburg and Schenefeld. Eleven countries are involved in the European XFEL. XFEL stands for free-electron lasers for X-ray light.

  • The facility is 3.4 kilometers (2.1 miles) long and produces X-rays through the acceleration of electrons, the so-called synchrotron radiation. The tiny particles are first pushed to almost the speed of light in a 2.1-kilometer (1.3-mile) accelerator tunnel and then 17,290 permanent magnets with alternating poles get them on a slalom course, forcing them to release short X-ray bursts.
  • These X-rays have a wavelength of 0.8 nanometers, about the width of an atom and 500 times smaller than visible light. Their size makes the European XFEL an important instrument, as it can create pictures and movies with atomic resolution. Powerful X-ray lasers around the world have already been used to look at biological and chemical reactions, peering futher and further into the nano world.


Potential applications:

The X-ray laser light of the European XFEL is extremely intense and a billion times brighter than that of conventional synchrotron light sources. The achievable laser light wavelength corresponds to the size of an atom, meaning that the X-rays can be used to make pictures and films of the nanocosmos at atomic resolution – such as of biomolecules, from which better understandings of the basis of illnesses or the development of new therapies could be developed. Other opportunities include research into chemical processes and catalytic techniques, with the goal of improving their efficiency or making them more environmentally friendly; materials research; or the investigation of conditions similar to the interior of planets.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 3 Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.


A way to use water to convert methane into methanol


A team of researchers has developed a one-step process that uses water to convert methane to methanol. This method in addition to offering a simple and relatively cheap way to make methanol, offered hydrogen as the only byproduct.


Significance of this move:

Methane has been identified as a greenhouse gas, one that is perhaps more of a problem even than carbon dioxide because it traps more heat (some studies have suggested 25 times as much)—fortunately, not nearly as much of it is emitted by humans into the atmosphere. It makes its way into the atmosphere due to animal flatulence and some industrial processes. It is also a byproduct at gas wells, where it is generally burned.

Methanol, on the other hand, has been considered a good alternative to gasoline for use in automobile engines. It is currently made using a variety of techniques and basic materials including coal, natural gas and even municipal waste.


How was it converted?

Water is used to oxidize methane over a bed of copper containing zeolite—the unique structure of the mineral lets the water behave as an oxidant. The team claims the process is 97 percent efficient, emitting only methanol and hydrogen. The method, the researchers note, is simple and easy enough that it could be used at drilling sites and the resulting methanol could be used as a liquid fuel or as an ingredient in making resins or plastics. The hydrogen could be used in any number of ways, including in fuel cells.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 2 Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


‘Quality of water has improved’


The World Water Council recently carried out a major survey on water awareness in major parts of the world, including India. Based on its observations, the council has observed that the standard of drinking water in India has improved in the last five years but a lot of work still remains to be done.

  • The survey was done ahead of the 8th World Water Forum that is scheduled to take place in the Brazilian capital Brasilia in March 2018.

water quality

Highlights of the survey:

  • As per the survey, more than one-third of Indians think that not enough is being done to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals to make water and sanitation for all a reality by 2030.
  • According to the survey, 31% of Indians said they had been in a situation where it was unsafe to drink water but they had no other choice and suffered from diseases like diarrhoea and gastroenteritis.
  • A majority (71%) of Indians said that safe drinking water had improved over the last five years.
  • The survey stated that 62% of the Indians said they believed that the government was doing enough to support access to safe drinking water.
  • The council praised the Swachh Bharat Campaign.


About the World Water Council:

The World Water Council is an international multi-stakeholder platform. It was established in 1996 on the initiative of renowned water specialists and international organisations, in response to an increasing concern about world water issues from the global community. 

  • It has 341 members which include organizations from the UN and intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, governments and ministries, academic institutions, international organizations, local governments, and civil society groups.
  • Founders and constituent members of the World Water Council include the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature(IUCN), the International Water Association (IWA), Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, the United Nations agencies UNDP and UNESCO, and the World Bank.
  • The World Water Council’s mission is to promote awareness, build political commitment and trigger action on critical water issues at all levels, including the highest decision-making level, to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions on an environmentally sustainable basis for the benefit of all life on earth.
  • By providing a platform to encourage debates and exchanges of experience, the Council aims to reach a common strategic vision on water resources and water services management amongst all stakeholders in the water community. In the process, the Council also catalyses initiatives and activities, whose results converge toward its flagship product, the World Water Forum.
  • Every third year the World Water Council organizes the World Water Forum in close collaboration with the authorities of the hosting country. The Forum is the largest international event in the field of water.


Sources: the hindu.


Paper 2 Topic: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.


Japan pitches for Chabahar port


Japan has shown interest in collaborating with India on projects in Asia and Africa as a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative (B&RI). Categorically, it has shown interest in Chabahar port development.


Where is Chabahar port?

It is located on the Makran coast, Chabahar in southeastern Iran. Its location lies in the Gulf of Oman. This coast is a relatively underdeveloped free trade and industrial zone, especially when compared to the sprawling port of Bandar Abbas further west. Also, it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the ocean.


For India, Chabahar is of strategic importance for the following reasons:

  • It is the nearest port to India on the Iranian coast, which provides access to the resources and markets of Afghanistan and Central Asia.
  • It is located 76 nautical miles (less than 150km) west of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, being developed by China. This makes it ideal for keeping track of Chinese or Pakistani military activity based out of Gwadar.
  • Also, Chabahar port is suitably located to serve India’s outreach in the region to Afghanistan and beyond as well as link with International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to which India is one of the initial signatories.
  • The port will cut transport costs/time for Indian goods by a third.
  • From Chabahar, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan, about 883 kms from the port. The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan’s Garland Highway, setting up road access to four major cities in Afghanistan — Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.


Sources: the hindu.


Facts for Prelims:

Places in News- Men only Island:

  • It is a Japanese island where women are not allowed to set foot. It has been recommended for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • The home to the Munakata Taisha Okitsumiya shrine, which honours a goddess of the sea, Okinoshima was the site of rituals for the safety of ships, and successful exchanges with the people of the Korean Peninsula and China between the fourth and ninth centuries.


Scientists use satellites to count endangered birds from space:

  • Scientists have started counting individual Northern Royal Albatrosses from space, the first time ever that the global population of a species has been assessed from orbit.
  • Using the highest-resolution satellite images available, scientists from Britain and New Zealand are calculating the number of the endangered albatrosses, which breed on New Zealand’s remote and virtually inaccessible Chatham Islands.
  • The study used the DigitalGlobe WorldView-3 satellite, which can observe objects as small as 30 cm across, to locate and count the birds.