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Daily Category  (Nano-technology)

Asteroid Bennu


NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft touched asteroid Bennu, from where it is meant to collect samples of dust and pebbles and deliver them back to Earth in 2023.

  • OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer.
  • The asteroid was named after an Egyptian deity by a nine-year-old boy from North Carolina in 2013. 


  • These are rocky objects that orbit the Sun, much smaller than planets. They are also called minor planets. 
  • According to NASA, there are around 994,383 known asteroids, the remnants from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Asteroids are divided into three classes:
    1. Tose found in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which are estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids.
    2. Trojans: These are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet. NASA reports the presence of Jupiter, Neptune, and Mars trojans. In 2011, they reported an Earth trojan as well.
    3. Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA): These have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers. More than 10,000 such asteroids are known, out of which over 1,400 are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).

OSIRIS-REx mission:

  • This is NASA’s first mission meant to return a sample from the ancient asteroid. 
  • The mission was launched in 2016, it reached its target in 2018 and since then, the spacecraft has been trying to match the velocity of the asteroid using small rocket thrusters to rendezvous it. 
  • The mission is essentially a seven-year-long voyage and will conclude when at least 60 grams of samples are delivered back to the Earth.
  • The mission aims to bring the largest amount of extraterrestrial material back to our planet since the Apollo era.

Recent developments: 

  • Recently, the spacecraft’s robotic arm called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), made an attempt to “TAG” the asteroid at a sample site which was no bigger than a few parking spaces and collected a sample.
  • The spacecraft contains five instruments meant to explore Bennu including cameras, a spectrometer, and a laser altimeter.
    • The departure window for the mission will open up in 2021, after which it will take over two years to reach back to Earth.

Asteroid Bennu:

  • Bennu is an asteroid about as tall as the Empire State Building and located at a distance of about 200 million miles away from the Earth. 
  • Scientists study asteroids to look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun since asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system.
    • Another reason for tracking them is to look for asteroids that might be potentially hazardous.
  • Bennu hasn’t undergone drastic changes since its formation over billions of years ago and therefore it contains chemicals and rocks dating back to the birth of the solar system.
    • It is also relatively close to the Earth.

Source: Indian Express 

Frontier Technologies Cloud Innovation Center


NITI Aayog and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have announced the establishment of a Frontier Technologies Cloud Innovation Center (CIC).

Cloud Innovation Centers:

  • The Cloud Innovation Centers (CIC) Program provides an opportunity for non-profits, education institutions, and government agencies to collaborate with other public sector organizations.
  • Objective: To test new ideas with Amazon’s innovation process and access the technical expertise of AWS.
  • Eligibility: Any non-profit, education or government organization can apply to work on a challenge with a global network of public sector-led innovation centers.


  • Frontier Technologies CIC will be a great enabler to budding innovators and start-ups.
  • It will help in piloting state-of-the-art, cloud-centric digital innovations by leveraging emerging technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics, blockchain, etc.
    • The internet of things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals, or people.
    • Blockchains are a new data structure that is secure, cryptography-based, and distributed across a network. The technology supports cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and the transfer of any data or digital asset.
  • It is also aligned to the Prime Minister’s vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat, as well as that of NITI Aayog and Atal Innovation Mission.
  • Frontier Technologies Cloud Innovation Center will enable government stakeholders, start-ups, and local organizations in India to innovate and create new approaches to solving problems.
  • The center will identify and prioritize projects as well as collaborate with local leaders, including subject matter experts at the state and district levels, to solve critical challenges.

National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog):

  • The Government constituted the NITI Aayog to replace the Planning Commission instituted in 1950. 
  • It was formed in 2015 as a premier policy ‘Think Tank’ of the Government of India, providing both directional and policy inputs.
  • NITI Aayog designs strategic and long term policies and programs for the Government and also provides relevant technical advice to the Centre and States.
  • Prime Minister of India is the Chairperson of NITI Aayog.
  • Chief Ministers of all the States and Lt. Governors of Union Territories are in the governing council.


  • Part-time: Maximum of 2 members from foremost universities, leading research organizations, and other innovative organizations in an ex-officio capacity. Part-time members will be on a rotational basis.
  • Ex Officio: Maximum of 4 members of the Council of Ministers which is to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
  • Chief Executive Officer: CEO will be appointed by the Prime Minister for a fixed tenure. He will be in the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.

Source: PIB

New Species of Sub-Aerial Diatoms


The seven new species of sub-aerial diatoms have been discovered from some areas of Western Ghats by city-based scientists from the Agharkar Research Institute (ARI).


  • Diatoms are single-celled algae which generate nearly 25 % of global oxygen.
  • They are the only organism on the planet with cell walls composed of transparent, opaline silica.
  • They are commonly found in streams, rivers, lakes, and seas.


  • Diatoms have light-absorbing molecules (chlorophylls a and c) that collect energy from the sun and turn it into chemical energy through photosynthesis.
  • The diatoms remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through carbon fixation.
  • The CO2 is converted to organic carbon in the form of sugar, and oxygen (O2) is released.
  • Diatoms produce long-chain fatty acids.
  • Diatoms are an important source of energy-rich molecules that are food for the entire food web, from zooplankton to aquatic insects to fish to whales.
  • Zooplanktons depend on phytoplankton for their food and other matter found in the sea (heterotrophs).
    • Phytoplankton and zooplankton: ‘Phyto‘ is used for small plants like diatoms and algae and ‘zoo‘ is used for small animals like tiny fish, crustaceans, which are weak swimmers and just move along the currents.
    • Plankton refers to the smallest aquatic plants or animals that float and drift in the limnetic zone of water bodies.

Carbon fixation:

  • It is also called ?arbon assimilation.
  • It is the process by which inorganic carbon (particularly in the form of carbon dioxide) is converted to organic compounds by living organisms.
  • The organic compounds are then used to store energy and as building blocks for other important biomolecules.
  • Photosynthesis is the most prominent example of carbon fixation. Chemosynthesis can take place in the absence of sunlight.
  • Organisms that grow by fixing carbon are called autotrophs, which include photoautotrophs (which use sunlight), and lithoautotrophs (which use inorganic oxidation).
    • Heterotrophs are not themselves capable of carbon fixation but are able to grow by consuming the carbon fixed by autotrophs.

Source: Indian Express

Vessel traffic services (VTS) and Vessels Traffic Monitoring Systems (VTMS)


The Union Ministry of Shipping launched the development of an Indigenous Software solution for Vessel traffic services (VTS) and Vessels Traffic Monitoring Systems (VTMS).


  • VTS and VTMS are Softwares that determine vessel positions, the position of other traffic or meteorological hazard warnings, and extensive management of traffic within a port or waterway.
  • The Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) contribute to the safety of life at sea, safety, and efficiency of navigation, and protection of the marine environment.
  • The VTS provides protection to adjacent shore areas, worksites, and offshore installations from possible adverse effects of maritime traffic.
  • The Vessels Traffic Management Systems are installed at the busiest waters in the world and are making valuable contributions to safer navigation, more efficient traffic flow, and protection of the environment.


  • VTMS is mandatory under the IMO Convention SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea).
  • The VTMS traffic image is compiled and collected by means of advanced sensors such as radar, AIS, direction finding, CCTV, and VHF.
  • Currently, India has approximately 15 VTS systems operational along the Indian Coast and there is no uniformity of VTS software as each system has its own VTS software.

Significance of VTS software:

  • VTS Software can be provided to Indian trade-friendly nations viz. Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Bangladesh, and Gulf countries.
  • Minimize the cost for future upgradations of software.
  • Easier to interconnect with MIS/ERP software of ports.
  • Saving of foreign exchange for various VTSs in India.
  • The availability of Indian VTS software shall make Indian companies be competitive commercially in global bids.

Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS):

  • It was born after the sinking of the 1914 RMS Titanic.
    • The third version of the Convention was adopted in 1960 and entered into force in 1965.
  • It is an international maritime treaty that requires signatory flag states to ensure that flagged vessels meet minimum safety standards for operation, equipment, and construction.
  • It contains various chapters dealing with ship-building, security, cargo transport, and International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.
  • It provides for international maritime safety for flag vessels to meet minimum safety standards with reference to the construction, equipment, and operation.

Source: PIB

Science-Society-Setu for Aatmanirbhar Bharat (S34ANB)


The Ministry of Science & Technology has launched the Science-Society-Setu for Aatmanirbhar Bharat (S34ANB).


  • It is a web-clinic series by Science for Equity Empowerment and Development SEED Division, Department of Science and Technology (DST).
  • The initiative is being jointly organized by DST, in collaboration with the office of the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA), Vigyan Prasar, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI), Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations (AGNIi), World Wide Fund for Nature India (WWF-India), and Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organization (HESCO).
  • It aims to reach the unreached through ‘vocal for local approach’ to strengthen the social infrastructure and technology-driven pillars of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’.
  • It aims to cover four broad sectors i.e. agriculture and allied sectors, MSME & economic sector, social infrastructure, and cross-sectoral areas.

The objectives:

  • To bridge the systematic gaps in the S&T absorption capacity of the community;
  • To enhance the knowledge capacity and livelihood systems for sustainable development at the local level by strengthening the S&T capacity of NGOs and communities.
  • It intends to align Technology, Knowledge, Skills, and Resources at local levels to strengthen the pillars of ‘Social Infrastructure’ and ‘Technology Driven System’.
  • It is being launched, implemented, and managed using the India Science, Technology, and Innovation (ISTI) Web Portal of Vigyan Prasar.

India Science, Technology and Innovation Web Portal:

  • It is a one-stop window for information about developments in India on science, technology, and innovation.
  • It focuses on bringing all stakeholders and Indian STI activities on a single online platform.
  • The portal brings on the table the storehouse of technologies developed in India, the organizations that have developed these technologies, those that have funded them, and the status of the technologies.

Source: PIB

A quest for order amid cyber insecurity


The present time is both, the best and worst for cyberspace.

Apple, Amazon and Microsoft have amassed over a trillion dollars in market value since the beginning of the year 2020.

However, on the other hand, cyber-attacks have grown as well.


2.1 Increasing malwares

  • A report puts the number of daily malware and phishing emails related to COVID-19 to over 18 million in a single week in April 2020 monitored by a single email provider.
  • This was in addition to more than 240 million COVID-19-related daily spam messages.        
  • Twitter hackers and ransomware targets too are increasing by the day.

2.2 Cyber-attacks and States

  • Concerns about role of states in cyber-attack are also surfacing as mentioned by Australia.
  • There are also allegations on China regarding hacking health-care institutions in the U.S. doing research on COVID-19 treatment.
  • The United Kingdom has warned Russian state backed hackers targeting pharmaceutical companies working on COVID-19 vaccine.
  • India has recently banned specified Chinese Apps stating that they are “engaged in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India”.
  • This act of the Indian Government adds another layer of complexity to the contestation in cyberspace.
  • Therefore, clearly the cyber insecurity of individuals, organisations and states is expanding amidst the COVID-19 atmosphere.

2.3 Better understanding of Global Cyberspace

  • The world is increasingly moving in the digital space. People are adapting to new ways of digital interaction and an increasing number of critical infrastructure is turning digital.
  • However, despite the accelerated pace towards digital technologies, most of us do not understand the parameters of the transformation towards digital.
  • Much like the global public health, cybersecurity too is considered a niche area and is left to the experts.
  • The covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of the global public health infrastructure and the need to abide by agreed rules.
  • On similar lines, a better understanding of the global cyberspace architecture is also imperative.


3.1 The global commons

  • International law identifies four global commons viz. the High Seas, the Atmosphere, the Antarctica and the Outer Space.
  • The borderless global cyberspace is also considered a part of the “global commons”, however experts are of the view that it does not exist.

3.2 Border control on cyberspace

  • The view of cyberspace in terms of connectivity across national boundaries is an illusion.
  • Since the internet is dependent on the physical infrastructure that is under national control, the internet too is subjected to border control.
  • States control the national networks through laws in accordance with their international commitments.

3.3 Responsibility of States vis-a-vis cyberspace

  • States are also responsible for the following:
    • Ensuring cybersecurity,
    • Enforcing laws related to cyberspace
    • Protection of public good
  • Apart from their own actions, States are also responsible for actions taken from within their sovereign territory.
  • However, the implementation of the States' responsibilities towards cyberspace is difficult, since the infrastructure on which the Internet is dependent, falls within the jurisdictions of multiple states.
  • These states have differing approaches towards the view of cyberspace and cybersecurity.

3.4 Multiple Stakeholders

  • There are multiple stakeholders in the cyberspace including both states and non-state actors.
  • The non-state actors play key roles with both benign and malignant intentions.
  • Furthermore, some networks are private which have different objectives than the states have.
  • At last, the cyber tools too have dual use, cheap and make attribution and verification of actions quite a task.

3.5 Developing cyber norms

  • Despite the presence of both state and non-state actors, only the states have the right of oversight.
  • There is no single authority for the global cyberspace like the World Health Organization, which can monitor, assess, advise and inform about fulfilment of state commitments, in however limited or unsatisfactory a manner.
  • To put it simply we are still searching for the cyber "rules of the road".
  • Presently we are in the developing stage of “cyber norms” that can provide a balance between the competing demands of national sovereignty and transnational connectivity.


4.1 UN and Cybersecurity

  • In 1998, Russia raised the issue of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in international security on the UN agenda.
  • Since then, six Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) with two-year terms and limited membership have been working on the issue.
  • In addition to the GGE, last year, an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) began working on the same issue with similar mandates. The group is open to all and many states have shown interest in the group.
  • A report is expected by the next year.

4.2 Discussions in the group

  • The discussions are focussed narrowly in line with the mandate.
  • Issues that have been kept out are:
    • Internet governance
    • Development
    • Espionage
    • Digital privacy
  • Issues like terrorism and crime are acknowledged as important but the discussions on these topics are not as thoroughly done as in other UN bodies.

4.3 Outcome of the UN Exercise

  • The net outcome of the UN exercise on cyberspace is the acceptance that international law and the UN Charter applies to cyberspace as well.
  • On these lines, a set of voluntary norms of responsible state behaviour was agreed to in 2015.
  • However, the aspects are circumstances in which the international law will be applicable have still not been addressed and various reports on the matter call for action including the recent report by UN Secretary General AntónioGuterres’s entitled “Roadmap for Digital Cooperation”.
  • However, given the present geopolitical circumstances there is very little hope of such processes being undertaken.


5.1 Expanding cyberspace in India

  • Generally speaking, technologies move faster and are ahead of the development of associated norms and institutions, similar is the case with cyberspace.
  • This provides India the opportunity with the time and space to develop our approach in tune with relevance of cyberspace to India's future economic, social and political objectives.
  • Despite the digital divide, India’s cyber footprint is expanding at an accelerated rate and therefore the rate of conflicts and crimes will increase too.
  • Under these circumstances, the Shared “rules of the road” become imperative.

5.2 India and Cybersecurity

  • The Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology is a very active nodal agency for cybersecurity.
  • Five of the six GGEs formed had representatives from India.
  • India is also an active participant at the OEWG.
  • India is also a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has also shown support for a code of conduct.
  • India also joined the Christchurch Call, which brought countries and corporations together on order for an increased effort in stopping the use of social media for promoting terrorism and violent extremism.

5.3 Need of active engagements

  • The cyberspace is becoming an increasingly contested and fragmented domain.
  • Going forward, the issue of cybersecurity will require better arrangements and more intense partnerships with additional safeguards.

5.4 India and Global Efforts

  • India needs to turn attention immediately on the issue of cybersecurity.
  • India needs to take both domestic and global efforts in this regard.
  • India should be an active participant in shaping and defining cyber norms.
  • India can also consider acceding to the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe (Budapest Convention).
  • There should be increasing participation and engagement in multi-stakeholder orientations as the Paris Call for trust and security in cyberspace.

5.5 India and domestic Efforts

  • There should be more clarity on legislation on data protection.
  • The private sector in India should be encouraged to participate increasingly in industry-focused processes such as the Microsoft-initiated Cybersecurity Tech Accord and the Siemens-led Charter of Trust.


Present there is a huge digital divide in India. However, the coming future is going to bridge this gap and India is expected to have a major portion of the next billion smartphones.

Therefore, it is imperative that cybersecurity is going to play a large role in the lives of Indians.

To prepare for the larger role of cyberspace in India, we need to work on a deeper public understanding of cyberspace, cybersecurity and its various dimensions.

Given the size and scope of cyberspace in India, it is too important to be left only to the experts.


Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In)

  • CERT-In is a functional organization under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of the Government of India.
  • CERT-In is the national nodal agency to deal with cybersecurity incidents.
  • The CERT-In was established in 2004.
  • The Information Technology (Amendment) Act 2008 has provided for the following functions to be undertaken by CERT-In and has designated it to serve as the national nodal agency:
    • Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on cyber incidents.
    • Forecast and alerts of cybersecurity incidents
    • Emergency measures for handling cybersecurity incidents
    • Coordination of cyber incident response activities.
    • Issue guidelines, advisories, vulnerability notes and whitepapers relating to information security practices, procedures, prevention, response and reporting of cyber incidents.
    • Such other functions relating to cybersecurity as may be prescribed.

Mars Opposition 2020


According to NASA, this year Mars’ closest approach to Earth was on October 6, the opposition will happen on October 13, which will give the planet its “biggest, apparent size of the 2020s”.

The opposition:

  • It is the event when the sun, Earth, and an outer planet are lined up, with the Earth in the middle.
  • The event of Opposition, in the case of Mars, takes place every two years and two months (26 months).
    • During this event, Mars outshines Jupiter and becomes the third brightest object (moon and Venus are the first two) in the night sky.
  • The time of opposition is the point when the outer planet is typically also at its closest distance to the Earth for a given year.
  • An opposition can occur anywhere along Mars’ orbit, but when it happens when the planet is also closest to the sun, it is also particularly close to the Earth.
  • As per NASA, from an individual’s perspective on the Earth, Mars rises in the east and after staying up all night, it sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
  • The Sun and Mars appear to be on the opposite sides of the sky and that is why Mars is said to be in “opposition” because of the perspective on the Earth

Occurrence of Opposition:

  • Earth and Mars orbit the sun at different distances (Mars is farther apart from the sun than Earth and therefore takes longer to complete one lap around the sun).
  • The event of opposition can happen only for planets that are farther away from the sun than the Earth.
  • In case of opposition, Mars and Sun are on directly opposite sides of the Earth i.e. the Earth, sun, and Mars all lie in a straight line, with the Earth in the middle.
  • As per NASA, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 2003 in nearly 60,000 years and it won’t be that close to the planet until 2287 because the orbits of Earth and Mars are not perfectly circular and their shapes can change slightly because of gravitational tugging by other planets.

Why opposition doesn’t always mean the closest point to Earth?

  • Mars' orbit is more elliptical than Earth's which causes the difference between perihelion and aphelion to be greater.
  • The gravity of Jupiter tugs on Mars and causes its orbit to be a bit off-kilter compared with Earth.
  • The orbital quirks can lead to Mars sometimes be closest before opposition, and therefore before it appears brightest.

Source: Indian Express

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020


Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 for discovering one of gene technology’s sharpest tools i.e. the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors.


  • Emmanuelle Charpentier was studying a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes and noticed a previously unknown molecule called tracrRNA.
  • The tracrRNA was part of the bacteria’s immune system and it helps the bacteria destroy viral DNA.
  • In 2011, Charpentier and Doudna succeeded in recreating the bacteria’s scissors and reprogramming it and then proved that they can now use these scissors to cut any DNA molecule at a required site.

CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors:

  • CRISPR is an abbreviation for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.
  • The CRISPR-Cas9 system consists of two molecules that make an edit in the DNA.
    • Cas9: An enzyme that functions as a pair of ‘molecular scissors’. It has the ability to cut the two strands (sense and anti-sense) of DNA at a specific location in the genome.
    • guide RNA (gRNA): A short (20 bases or so) piece of pre-designed RNA sequence located within a longer RNA scaffold. The gRNA guides the Cas9 to the planned part of the genome ensuring the right place is cut.
    • The gRNA has bases that are complementary to the target sequence in the DNA like a very specific lego piece. This in theory ensures that the gRNA binds only to the desired sequence and not somewhere off-target.
  • The Cas9 scissor enzyme is guided to the desired location and snips across both strands of the DNA. Once this happens the cellular mechanism understands that the DNA is damaged so initiates a repair mechanism. At this juncture, it is possible to use this opportunity to introduce changes to the genes of their design.

Possible Applications with CRISPR-Cas Systems:

Gene silencing:

  • With the use of a target-specific CRISPR RNA (crRNA) and trans-activating crRNA (tracrRNA), or a fused format called a single guide RNA (sgRNA), locations within complex mammalian genomes can be targeted by the Cas9 endonuclease for a double-stranded break.
  • The crRNA, tracrRNA, and sgRNAs can either be transcribed intracellularly, in vitro transcribed or custom synthesized and introduced through transfection.
  • The Intracellular expression of Cas9 endonuclease can be accomplished by plasmid or integrated lentiviral expression vectors driven by constitutive or inducible promoters.

DNA-free CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing:

  • The system uses no CRISPR-Cas9 components in the form of DNA vectors i.e. each component is either RNA or protein.
  • The use of DNA-based Cas9 or guide RNA expression systems carries with it the possibility of undesirable genetic alterations due to plasmid DNA integration at the cut site or random lentiviral vector integrations.
  • A DNA-free gene editing system can be a good choice for creating engineered cell lines.

Homology-directed repair (HDR):

  • The CRISPR-Cas9 induced double-strand break can also be used as an opportunity to create a-knockin, rather than a target gene knockout.
  • The precise insertion of a donor template can alter the coding region of a gene to “fix” a mutation, introduce a protein tag, or create a new restriction site.

Embryonic stem cell and transgenic animals:

  • CRISPR-Cas systems can be used to rapidly and efficiently engineer one or multiple genetic changes to murine embryonic stem cells for the generation of genetically modified mice.

Transient activation of endogenous genes (CRISPRa or CRISPR on):

  • By employing a Cas9 mutant that cannot cut DNA and to which a transcriptional activation domain has been fused, the expression of endogenous genes can be up-regulated by targeting the Cas9 fusion protein to the promoter region of an endogenous target gene, or multiple genes simultaneously.

Source: Indian Express

Nobel Prize in Physics


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award one half of the 2020 Nobel Prize in physics to Roger Penrose and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for furthering the understanding of black holes.

Black Holes:

  • A black hole is formed when stars collapse and can be defined as a space in the universe with an escape velocity so strong that even light cannot escape it.
    • The escape velocity is the speed at which an object must travel to override a planet or an object’s gravitational force.
  • Since light cannot get out, black holes are invisible and can only be tracked with the help of a space telescope or other special tools.
  • The reason light cannot escape is mainly that the gravity inside a black hole is very strong as a result of a lot of matter being squeezed into a small space.

Observations on Black Holes:

  • Penrose has been awarded the prize for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.
  • Penrose’s work has shown that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
  • Penrose used Einstein’s general theory of relativity in order to prove that the process of formation of black holes is a stable one.
  • Genzel and Ghez have been awarded the prize for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy.
  • Genzel and Ghez, on the other hand, have discovered that an invisible and an extremely heavy object govern the stars’ orbit at the centre of the Milky Way.
  • The work of Genzel and Ghez tells us that at the centre of our galaxy the Milky Way lies an invisible supermassive object, of which a black hole provides a reasonable explanation.

Nobel Prize:

  • Alfred Nobel in his last will and testament in 1895, gave the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology/Medicine, Literature, and Peace, to be called the “Nobel Prizes”.
  • In 1968, the sixth award, the Prize in Economic Sciences was started.

The nomination of candidates:

  • The Nobel Committees invite thousands of members of academies, university professors, scientists, previous Nobel Laureates, and members of parliamentary assemblies among others to submit candidates for the Nobel Prizes for the coming year.
  • The nominators are selected in such a way that as many countries and universities as possible are represented over time.
  • One cannot nominate himself/herself for a Nobel Prize.

 The institutions that choose winners:

  • Nobel Prize in Physics, Nobel Prize in Chemistry: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: The Karolinska Institutet
  • Nobel Prize in Literature: The Swedish Academy
  • Nobel Peace Prize: A five-member Committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting)
  • Prize in Economic Sciences: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

 Source: Indian Express

Nobel Prize for Medicine


Americans Harvey J Alter and Charles M Rice, and British scientist Michael Houghton were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus.

  • WHO estimates there are over 70 million cases of hepatitis worldwide and 400,000 deaths each year. The disease is chronic and a major cause of liver inflammation and cancer.
  • The award is the first of six prizes being announced through October 12.
  • The other prizes are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.

Significance of discovery:

  • The Nobel Committee noted that the trio’s work helped explain a major source of blood-borne hepatitis that couldn’t be explained by the hepatitis A and B viruses.
  • Their work makes possible blood tests and new medicines that have saved millions of lives.
  • Now, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world.
  • Their discovery also allowed the rapid development of antiviral drugs directed at hepatitis C. For the first time in history, the disease can now be cured, raising hopes of eradicating the hepatitis C virus from the world population.


  • It refers to an inflammatory condition of the liver and commonly caused by a viral infection,
    • However, there are other possible causes of hepatitis like autoimmune responses, medications, drugs, toxins, and alcohol.
  • There are 5 main hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D, and E.

Hepatitis C:

  • Hepatitis C is caused by the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV).
  • It is transmitted through direct contact with infected body fluids, typically through injection drug use and sexual contact.
  • A vaccine for the disease has still not been developed but it can be treated with the help of anti-viral drugs.


  • The Indian government has included Hepatitis B under India's Universal Immunization Programme.
    • Objective: To provide free of cost vaccination against a total of 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme (NVHCP):
    • It was launched in 2018 with an objective to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030.
    • The program is the largest program for Hepatitis B and C diagnosis and treatment in the world.

Source: The Hindu

Artemis Program


NASA plans to send the next man and first woman to the lunar surface by the year 2024 under its Artemis program. The last time NASA sent humans to the Moon was in 1972, during the Apollo lunar mission.

Artemis program:

  • Under this program, NASA will demonstrate new technologies, capabilities, and business approaches that will be needed for the future exploration of Mars.
  • The program is divided into three parts,
    • Artemis I: It is most likely to be launched next year and involves an uncrewed flight to test the SLS and Orion spacecraft.
    • Artemis II: It will be the first crewed flight test and is targetted for 2023.
    • Artemis III: It will land astronauts on the Moon’s the South Pole in 2024.


  • For NASA, going to the moon involves various elements such as:
    • Exploration ground systems (the structures on the ground that are required to support the launch),
    • Space Launch System (SLS), Orion (the spacecraft for lunar missions),
    • Gateway (the lunar outpost around the Moon), lunar landers (modern human landing systems) and
    • Artemis generation spacesuits 
  • NASA’s new rocket called SLS will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft a quarter of a million miles away from Earth to the lunar orbit.
    • Once the astronauts dock Orion at the Gateway (small spaceship in orbit around the moon) they will be able to live and work around the Moon, and from the spaceship, will take expeditions to the surface of the Moon.
  • The astronauts going for the Artemis program will wear newly designed spacesuits, called Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU.
    • These spacesuits feature advanced mobility and communications and interchangeable parts that can be configured for spacewalks in microgravity or on a planetary surface.

Moon exploration:

  • In 1959, the Soviet Union’s uncrewed Luna 1 and 2 became the first rover to visit the Moon. Since then, seven nations have followed suit.
  • Before the US sent the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, it sent three classes of robotic missions between 1961 and 1968. After July 1969, 12 American astronauts walked on the surface of the Moon until 1972.
    • Together, the Apollo astronauts brought back over 382 kg of lunar rock and soil back to Earth for study.
  • Then in the 1990s, the US resumed lunar exploration with robotic missions Clementine and Lunar Prospector. In 2009, it began a new series of robotic lunar missions with the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).
  • In 2011, NASA began the ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence, and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) mission and in 2012, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory spacecraft studied the Moon’s gravity.
  • The European Space Agency, Japan, China, and India have sent missions to explore the Moon. China landed two rovers on the surface, which includes the first-ever landing on the Moon’s far side in 2019.
  • ISRO recently announced India’s third lunar mission Chandrayaan-3, which will comprise a lander and a rover.

Source: Indian Express

Data Sonification


NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Center (CXC) has unveiled a new ‘sonification’ project that transforms data from astronomical images into audio.

Data sonification:

  • It refers to the use of sound values to represent real data. It is the auditory version of data visualization.
  • In NASA’s recent Chandra project data is represented using a number of musical notes. With this data sonification project, users can now experience different phenomena captured in astronomical images as an aural experience.
    • The birth of a star, a cloud of dust, or even a black hole can now be ‘heard’ as a high or low pitched sound.


  • Users can now listen to images of the Galactic Centre, the remains of a supernova called Cassiopeia A, as well as the Pillars of Creation Nebula, which are all located in a region around 26,000 light-years away from Earth.
  • The data has been collected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, and Spitzer Space Telescope.

Process of images into sound translation:

  • Telescopes in space collect digital data in the form of ones and zeroes (binary), before converting them into images.
  • The images are visual representations of light and radiation of different wavelengths in space, that can’t be seen by the human eye.
  • The Chandra project has created a celestial concert by translating the same data into sound. Pitch and volume are used to denote the brightness and position of a celestial object or phenomenon.
    • Pitch is related to the frequency of sound waves. Changing the number of vibrations per second changes the pitch.
    • Volume, or loudness, is related to the strength, intensity, pressure, or power of the sound. Bigger/amplified vibrations result in bigger/louder sounds.
  • Project Chandra has released three examples - the Galactic Centre, Cassiopeia A, and Pillars of Creation Nebula.

The Galactic Centre:

  • It is the rotational center of the Milky Way galaxy.
  • It comprises a collection of celestial objects like Neutron, white dwarf stars, clouds of dust and gas.
  • A supermassive black hole called Sagittarius A*(weighs four million times the mass of the sun).

Cassiopeia A:

  • Located around 11,000 light-years away from Earth in the northern Cassiopeia constellation.
  • Cassiopeia A is a well-known remnant of a once-massive star that was destroyed by a supernova explosion around 325 years ago.

Pillars of Creation Nebula:

  • It is located in the center of the Eagle Nebula (it is a constellation of stars), which is also known as Messier 16.

Significance of sonification project:

  • The sonification project was led by the Chandra X-ray Center in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning Program.
  • The project aims to incorporate NASA science content into the learning environment effectively and efficiently for learners of all ages. 
  • NASA has been working towards making data about space accessible for a larger audience. Chandra, sonification projects like this allow audiences including visually-impaired communities to experience space through data.

Source: Indian Express

RAISE 2020 Summit


The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and NITI Aayog will organize a Mega Virtual Summit on Artificial Intelligence (AI), RAISE 2020- ‘Responsible AI for Social Empowerment 2020,’ from October 5-9, 2020.

About RAISE 2020:

  • RAISE 2020 is a first of its kind, a global meeting of minds on Artificial Intelligence to drive India's vision and roadmap for social transformation, inclusion, and empowerment through responsible AI.
  • It is organized by the Government of India along with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the event will witness robust participation from global industry leaders, key opinion makers, Government representatives, and academia.
  • RAISE 2020 will be a global meeting of minds to exchange ideas and chart a course for using AI for social transformation, inclusion, and empowerment in areas like Healthcare, Agriculture, Education, and Smart Mobility, among other sectors.


  • The Summit will feature some of the most exciting startups working in Artificial Intelligence-related fields. Startups chosen through the AI Solution Challenge will showcase their solutions. 
  • The Summit will explore in-depth, the role of AI in accelerating social empowerment.
  • RAISE 2020 has tracks like AI for Health, Agriculture, Education, Skilling, Mobility, Fintech, Research, Inclusive AI, Future of Work, and Responsible AI, and the Summit will serve as a platform for the meeting of some of the best minds in the world on AI.”

Artificial Intelligence in India:

  • As per the reports, AI could add up to 957 billion USD to India’s economy by 2035.
  • India can leverage AI for inclusive development, representing the country's 'AI for All' strategy.
  • Recently, India joined the 'Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)' as a founding member to support the responsible and human-centric development and use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  • India has launched National AI Strategy and National AI Portal and has also started leveraging AI across various sectors such as education, agriculture, healthcare, e-commerce, finance, telecommunications, etc.

Source: PIB

Discovery of Phosphine Gas in the Atmosphere of Venus


An international team of astronomers have discovered phosphine gas in the atmosphere of Venus and the possibility of the presence of lifeforms on the neighbouring planet.


  • It is a colourless but smelly gas, is known to be made only by some species of bacteria that survive in the absence of oxygen.
  • It is produced in industrial processes.

Key findings:

  • A team of scientists have reported traces of phosphine in a concentration of approximately 20 parts per billion, thousands to millions of times more than what could be expected.
  • Scientists have discovered it in the presence of a chemical which is known to be produced only through a biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
  • There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations.


  • This is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life on Venus. Scientists say it is more significant than the discovery of water on the Moon or Mars.
  • In the search for extraterrestrial life, this is the biggest finding.
  • The detection of phosphine had raised Venus “higher up on the ladder of interesting targets” where the possible presence of life-forms can be explored.
  • The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus. Missions to Venus are not new. Spacecraft have been going near the planet since the 1960s, and some of them have even made a landing.
  • ISRO is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan, in the near future. 
  • All future missions to Venus would now be attuned to investigating further evidence of the presence of life.

Life on Venus:

  • The temperature of Venus is too high, and its atmosphere is highly acidic, just two of the things that would make life impossible.
  • But Scientists suggested that this phosphine could be remnants from a time when Venus was a much more hospitable place.
  • This finding opens up many interesting possibilities. Scientists don’t know how long phosphine molecules survive. 


  • it is also called Earth’s twin.
  • It is called the morning or an evening star, although it is not a star.
  • Venus has no moon or satellite of its own.
  • It rotates from east to west while the Earth rotates from west to east.
  • It takes 5,832 hours to complete a rotation.

Source: Indian Express



ISRO’s maiden mission to the Moon Chandrayaan-1 has sent images that show that Moon may be rusting along the poles.  


  • It was launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • It is India's first mission to the moon. The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor.
  • India launched the spacecraft using a PSLV-XL rocket.
  • The mission was a major boost to India's space program, as India researched and developed its own technology in order to explore the Moon.

Key Finding:

  • Chandrayaan-1 Moon data indicates that the moon's poles are home to water that scientists are trying to decipher.
  • As per the data from the Mineralogy Mapper (M3), there is the presence of hematite at the lunar poles.
    • Hematite is a form of iron oxide, or rust, produced when the iron is exposed to oxygen and water.
  • The sign of this finding is that even though the surface of the moon is known to have iron-rich rocks, it is not known for the presence of water and oxygen, which are the two elements needed to interact with iron to create rust.
  • Recently, NASA has found evidence of greater quantities of metals such as iron and titanium on the moon’s subsurface.

Reasons for Rusting:

  • The presence of oxygen on Earth could be driving the formation of hematite. Earth’s magnetotail ferries oxygen to the moon and also blocks 99% of the solar wind during certain periods of the moon’s orbit.
  • The solar wind that flows out from the sun bombards earth and the moon with hydrogen.
  • Hydrogen makes it harder for hematite to form. It is a reducer, meaning it adds electrons to the materials it interacts with. That’s the opposite of what is needed to make hematite or iron to rust, which requires an oxidizer, which removes electrons.


  • It will launch somewhere in 2021.  Chandrayaan-3 will be a mission repeat of Chandrayaan-2 and will include a Lander and Rover similar to that of Chandrayaan-2, but will not have an orbiter. 

Source: PIB

The power of democracy and the challenge from big tech


Recently, four of the United States' big tech companies viz. Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appeared before the US Congress Antitrust Subcommittee to defend their business practices.

This editorial analyses the challenge from big tech companies and the power of democracy to address those challenges.


2.1 The giant four

  • The four companies in question have a combined market capitalization of $5 trillion, which is twice India's GDP.
  • The leaders of the four companies were confronted by the US Congress Antitrust Subcommittee, for
    • using their market power to crush competitors
    • amassing data and customers to realize the sky-high profit
  • All four executives testified virtually at the 'big tech hearing'.

2.2 The power of democracy

  • The 'big tech hearing' reflected the power of the US Congress as a co-equal branch of government in a presidential system.
  • The four CEOs viz. Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos who are technology and management behemoths in their own right behaved with the utmost deference, being aware of the power of the US Congress to affect their businesses through acts and new regulations.


Both, the Republicans and the Democrats criticized the companies in a unique display of 'bipartisanship', albeit for different reasons.

3.1 Criticism from Democrats

  • The Democrats criticized the tech giants for:
    • monopolistic practices
    • buying up potential rivals
    • disadvantaging competitors on their platforms
    • impacting small business negatively
    • using data generated by rivals for developing their own competing products
    • deriving profit from user data, often without explicit consent
    • not paying for news content carried on their sites

3.2 Criticism from Republican

  • The Republican criticism of the tech giants focused on:
    • perceived censorship of conservative viewpoints - these tech giants was perceived to be influenced by Left-of-Centre views of their employees
    • A case in point is the incident at Google when it backed out from participating in Project Maven of the Pentagon at one stage.
    • The reason for walking back by Google was backlash faced from the employees since the project involved of the use of AI for drone strikes.
    • Furthermore, Facebook was criticized for not taking enough measures to keep a check on the proliferation of fake accounts which are to the tune of nearly 6.5 billion every year as investors and advertisers are lured by the user base

3.3 Remarks by David Cicilline

  • The chairman of the subcommittee, David Cicilline, held that "these companies are so central to our modern life, their business practices and decisions have an outsized effect on our economy and our democracy. Any single action by any one of these companies can affect hundreds of millions of us in profound and lasting ways....Their ability to dictate terms, call the shots, upend entire sectors, and inspire fear represent the powers of a private government".
  • Cicilline concluded by saying that these tech giants wield unacceptable power and there is an urgent need to break up these companies or further regulate them.
  • Instances from the bygone times were cited to illustrate how the Rockefellers and Carnegies of yore had used their monopoly to extract huge profits and trample competition.


4.1 Need of further regulation

  • Today, there is an urgent need to put more regulations on these tech giants, especially on their data usage practices.
  • The debate around the use of data by these technology behemoths has been centered around privacy, but now has gone beyond privacy and there are talks on putting bulk anonymized data tin the public domain for competitor use and to stimulate innovation.

4.2 Similar debate in India

  • A similar debate regarding non-personal data and its use for a public purpose beyond private profit and market power of the data aggregator is presently underway in India as well.
  • There could be opportunities for Indian companies as well in case there is an attempt to unravel some of the acquisitions of these companies.
  • The restrictions put on Amazon from using the competitor data from its platform is very similar to the restrictions put on Amazon in India on its inventory-based model.

4.3 Measures taken by other countries

  • Other countries are also taking various measures on the issue, some of which include:
  • Australia
    • Australia has granted three months to Google and Facebook to negotiate with Australian media regarding fair pay for news content.
  • There are several measures being considered in Europe as well. Some of which are:
    • making the preferential treatment given by Amazon and Apple to their own products an illegal act
    • mandating Google to share search data with smaller competitors
    • requiring Facebook to make its services work more easily with rival social networks
    • levying a digital tax on the tech giants to enable a revenue for government and society where data is being generated and then using it to earn profit


51. Impact of COVID-19 pandemic

  • The concerns regarding data privacy, data security and unfair business practices are much more relevant today.
  • This is because, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital space in making further inroads in our daily lives.
  • Given the increased role of cyberspace and digital in public life, it is very likely that the power of there companies will come under further scrutiny.

5.2 Underlying personal interest

  • The probability further increases as Europe will want to promote competition through its own champions.
  • China will also need to assess the impact on its own companies, as there is an increased debate on security and data privacy challenges globally.

5.3 Breaking up – not an easy task

  • However, breaking up these companies or putting them under effective and strict control and regulation is not going to be an easy task because:
    • these companies have a tremendous power of lobbying Congressmen and Senators and
    • these companies will make a case for the need for size and flexibility to meet the challenges thrown by Chinese companies who have the backing of their government
    • many regulations that were imposed on banks and financial companies in the US aim the wake of 2008 financial crisis have slowly been eased out

5.4 Need of national champions

  • There are talks in India as well, of the need of national champions across the sector to address the competition from China, South Korea, the US, Europe and others.
  • While there is a definite need of indigenous tech giants, this needs to be balanced by ensuring :
    • the due power to the consumer
    • space for the innovator
    • due diligence by elected representatives.


The 'Big tech hearing' has shown the true power of democracy.

It has also shown that despite the technological and financial dominance of these tech giants, smaller businesses and consumers have the power to make their voices and concerns heard through their representatives.

Source: Money Control

Destination Mars


Recently on 30 July 2020, NASA launched its latest rover to Mars named Perseverance under the ‘Mars 2020’ Mars rover mission.

This editorial discusses NASA’s previous rovers to Mars and the new features in this the fourth-generation rover.

The editorial also explores the recent interest in Mars.


2.1 A brief history

  • NASA's first rover mission to Mars began about 23 years ago in 1997 with the Pathfinder Mission in which the Sojourner rover drove on the Martian Soil for the first time.
  • The success of Mars Pathfinder changed the subsequent history of Mars Exploration.
  • Consequently, NASA sent twin rovers to Mars in 2003 named Spirit and Opportunity, followed by rover Curiosity in 2012.

2.2 Mars Pathfinder Mission

  • Mars Pathfinder was a technology demonstration mission.
  • It was put together on a very tight budget and many had thought that it would fail.
  • However, its success changed the due course of Mars Exploration in the years to come.
  • It was designed to demonstrate the delivery of a lander (Carl Sagan Memorial Station) and a free-ranging robotic rover (Sojourner rover) on Martian surface in a cost-effective and efficient manner.


3.1 Significance of Rovers

  • Rovers are very helpful in studying the local area in a much higher resolution than can be done from an orbiting spacecraft.
  • Additionally, rovers carry a suite of instruments ranging from drills to spectrometers to microscopic imagers.
  • These complex scientific instruments are very helpful in understanding the local geology in a manner similar to a field geologist studying rocks on Earth.
  • Furthermore, beginning with Spirit and Opportunity, rovers have also acted as mobile weather stations on Mars.
  • These rovers continuously monitor changes in the Martian atmosphere for many years.

3.2 Instrument suite

  • NASA has added new capabilities and different instrument suite to explore new scientific frontiers with subsequent generation of rovers.
  • A drill was added in Spirit and Opportunity while additions for Curiosity included
    • a mass spectrometer
    • an instrument to measure isotopes of different elements
  • NASA has continued the tradition of enhancing instrument suite with the launch of its fourth generation Mars rover, the Mars Perseverance.

3.3 Size of the rovers

  • While the Sojourner rover lasted for 83 days, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity lasted for 6 and 15 years respectively setting up new paradigm of a long-term robotic presence on Mars.
  • The Curiosity rover, landing in 2012 continues to operate even today.
  • The count and complexity of the scientific instruments increased with the subsequent generation on rovers.
  • At a couple of feet in length and width, Sojourner was a small rover.
  • On the other hand, rovers Spirit and Opportunity were about the size of a golf cart and Curiosity and Perseverance are the size of a small car.


  • Going forward with the tradition of enhancing capabilities and instrument suits in its subsequent generation of rovers, NASA has added the following new capabilities in Mars Perseverance:

4.1 Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE)

  • It is a unique instrument, which will for the first time, manufacture molecular oxygen on Mars using carbon dioxide from the carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere of Mars.
  • NASA is increasingly pushing for In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), which is the use of local resources to meet the requirements of the spacecraft or human needs.
  • Without ISRU, the future explorations of MARS will become very expensive rendering it impossible.
  • Carrying Oxygen or water or rocket fuel for a two-year journey to Mars and back will be incredibly expensive.

4.2 Manufacturing oxygen on Mars

  • Successful extraction of oxygen on Mars itself will have two direct advantages:
    • The oxygen can be used for human exploration of Mars.
    • The oxygen can be used for manufacturing rocket fuel for the return journey.
  • Hence, the successful technology demonstration of MOXIE would allow NASA to scale up oxygen generation rate per day for MOXIE by a hundred times very easily.
  • This could be of tremendous significance to future human mission to Mars.

4.3 Ingenuity

  • The second addition to Mars Perseverance is 'Ingenuity', which will become the first ever helicopter to fly on Mars.
  • This is going to be the first time when NASA will fly a helicopter on another planet or satellite.
  • Tasked with the challenge of flying a helicopter in the thin atmosphere of Mars, Ingenuity is also a technology demonstration.
  • Helicopter 'Ingenuity' will help in rover drive planning and in fetching samples from places where the rover reach or safely drive to, in a similar fashion as drones are used on Earth.
  • Successful demonstration of this technology will lead to an increased role for such helicopters in future missions.

4.4 Biosignatures

  • Third and the most important enhancement in Mars Perseverance is that it is the first planned trip to bring back rock samples from Mars for analysis in sophisticated laboratories on Earth.
  • The goal of analysis is to look for biosignatures or signatures of present or past life on Mars.
  • Perseverance is supposed to collect the rock samples and NASA will plan a second rover mission within a decade to transport the rock