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We are not alone? Possible sign of alien life detected on Venus

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Scientists have spotted a possible marker of life on Venus, a planet which has not been a significant part of the search for life because of its extreme temperatures, atmospheric composition and other factors. The astronomers were surprised when they found the presence of a chemical called “phosphine” in the atmosphere of Venus, named after the Roman goddess of beauty.

Doing an analysis of the source of the chemical, the scientists ruled out non- biological sources, according to a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday and another paper submitted to the journal Astrobiology.

“When we got the first hints of phosphine in Venus’s spectrum, it was a shock!”, said team leader Jane Greaves of Cardiff University in the UK, who first spotted signs of phosphine in observations from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope ( JCMT), operated by the East Asian Observatory, in Hawai’i.

Confirming their discovery required using 45 antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a more sensitive telescope in which the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is a partner.

Both facilities observed Venus at a wavelength of about one millimetre, much longer than the human eye can see — only telescopes at high altitude can detect it effectively. The international team, which includes researchers from the UK, US and Japan, estimates that phosphine exists in Venus’s clouds at a small concentration, only about twenty molecules in every billion.

Following their observations, they ran calculations to see whether these amounts could come from natural non-biological processes on the planet.

Some ideas included sunlight, minerals blown upwards from the surface, volcanoes, or lightning, but none of these could make anywhere near enough of it. These non-biological sources were found to make at most one ten thousandth of the amount of phosphine that the telescopes saw.

To create the observed quantity of phosphine (which consists of hydrogen and phosphorus) on Venus, terrestrial organisms would only need to work at about 10 per cent of their maximum productivity, according to the team.

Earth bacteria are known to make phosphine: They take up phosphate from minerals or biological material, add hydrogen, and ultimately expel phosphine. Any organisms on Venus will probably be very different to their Earth cousins, but they too could be the source of phosphine in the atmosphere.

While the discovery of phosphine in Venus’s clouds came as a surprise, the researchers are confident in their detection. “In the end, we found that both observatories had seen the same thing — faint absorption at the right wave- length to be phosphine gas, where the molecules are backlit by the warmer clouds below,” added Greaves, who led the study published in Nature Astronomy.

With IANS inputs

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Some coronavirus patients are showing signs of heart damage months later, says a new Study

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Researchers in the US have found that Covid-19 can leave some patients with signs of heart inflammation and injury months after they get sick with the virus, even in non-severe cases.

 The findings could help explain the symptoms of recovered Covid-19 patients, some of whom are struggling with such issues as shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

 “We basically die with the heartmuscle cells we’re born with, so anything that results in the death of heart muscle has the potential to irreversibly damage the heart’s mechanical ability and the heart’s electrical function,” Charles Murry, director of the University of Washington’s Center for Cardiovascular Biology, was quoted as saying to WSJ.

 According to the study, heart inflammation can follow cases of seasonal flu or other respiratory viruses and lead to irregular heartbeats or even heart failure in some cases. 

The mounting evidence of Covid-19’s toll on the heart stems from studies probing the effect of the coronavirus on heart-muscle cells, and autopsying people who died from the disease, as well as looking at the hearts of patients who have recovered.

 The researchers said that the findings are still preliminary, especially those gleaned from testing in lab-grown cells. “More research, including studies in patients, needs to be done before scientists can reach any conclusions,” they wrote. 

The research team suspected there are two ways the coronavirus could cause heart inflammation and injure heart muscle. 

According to the study, one possibility is that the heart becomes collateral damage in a patient’s intense immune reaction to the virus.

 The other suspicion is that the virus invades heart tissue, which contains the molecular parts known as ACE2 receptors that the virus uses to enter cells. 

The researchers found that the coronavirus could infect and replicate in lab-grown heart-muscle cells, impairing their ability to contract and to conduct the electrical signals required for regulating heartbeat, eventually killing them.

 They reported their findings in a paper that was posted in August on a preprint server, but it hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet. Earlier this month another study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress, revealed that Covid-19 patients can suffer long-term lung and heart damage but, for many, this tends to improve over time. 

Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than three crore people and killed almost 10 lakh people, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of worldwide recoveries is more than 2.1 crore. 

With IANS inputs

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Harley-Davidson plans to close India manufacturing facility

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During a visit to Sri Lanka last Diwali, we found the markets of the island nation glutted with Chinese goods. The largest road connecting the two ends of the country has been built by China. In addition to this, the maintenance of a Sri Lankan port is handled by Beijing. On observing all this, we asked officials there as to why Sri Lanka is handing over most of the infrastructure works to China despite the fact that India has done a lot of work in the island nation. 

The Sri Lankan officials replied that Colombo’s ties with Beijing have cemented further over the last four to five years and this, according to them, is attributable to China funding their country immensely with the result that unprecedented development has taken place in the island nation. According to them, China not only provides Sri Lanka with loans but also gets the work done at a low cost. They further said that India does not help them in the similar manner and, therefore, Sri Lanka cannot compromise the interests of its citizens.

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‘Left supporters have made a tactical shift towards BJP to fight Mamata’

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Snigdhendu Bhattacharya’s new book, Mission Bengal: A Saffron Experiment (HarperCollins, Rs 599), narrates how Mamata Banerjee’s attempts to reduce the Opposition to insignificance in the state backfired. In an interview with The Daily Guardian, the author shares how the saffron camp’s push for Hindutva and a tactical shift of the Left’s supporters have created a tough road ahead for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

 Q: The book is about the rise of the BJP in West Bengal. How is the party making inroads into the state?

 A: The origin of Hindutva can be traced back to the second half of the nineteenth century in Bengal. Some of the principal components of Hindutva — the concept of Bharat Mata, the very coinage of Hindutva, ‘Bande Mataram’, the very notion that Hindus were facing the danger of extermination — they were all born in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bengal. It was a heartland of nationalism and that nationalist movement centred on Kolkata was predominantly Hindu in nature. The BJP and the RSS have been trying to remind Bengal’s people of exactly this. 

Q: It was the RSS which described Mamata as ‘Maa Durga’ for demolishing the Left in the state. Now it’s the saffron party versus Mamata. How do you see this change? 

A: Mamata Banerjee was called ‘Maa Durga’ at an RSS event in New Delhi in 2003. At that time, her party was in alliance with the BJP. After breaking out of the Congress in 1998, she had seen the BJP as a ‘natural ally’ against the Left because she thought the Congress would never go wholeheartedly against the Left in Bengal due to its national compulsion of keeping the BJP out of power. However, Mamata’s policies took a left turn towards the end of 2006. She started distancing herself from the BJP and, subsequently, snapped her ties with the NDA. She started proclaiming that she was the true torchbearer of leftist ideology. Besides, she took to the overt appeasement of Muslims in her bid to wean them away from the influence of the Left. So, from a natural ally they turned into principal opponents.

 Q: Bengal was the Left citadel. From there to a scenario where the BJP has become a force to reckon with, how do you see the state’s journey? 

A: The Left mismanaged its industrialisation drive in 2006-07 and could never recover from the electoral blows they received in the 2008 panchayat elections and the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Possibly, having been in power for three decades had drained them of their energy and ability to fight back, especially after the loss of power in 2011. First, supporters and grassroots-level organisers and even some district level leaders left the Left camp for the TMC. Then, the TMC’s consistent efforts at weakening the Left parties prompted a section of Left supporters and organisers to switch to the BJP after Narendra Modi came to power. Some Left leaders claimed that their supporters made a ‘tactical shift’ towards the BJP to get shelter from the Centre’s ruling party against the TMC’s highhandedness. However, I have also seen Left supporters who joined the BJP primarily to fight the TMC ultimately transformed into Hindutva warriors. 

Q: You have said “Bengal has become a political laboratory”. Why? 

A: It has become a political laboratory, indeed. On the one hand, the Sangh Parivar is trying to popularise Hindutva in the Hindu Bengali society by adopting myriad ways. After they managed to influence a large number of the Hindu population, Mamata Banerjee started changing her approach towards communities. Prashant Kishor’s team is trying many innovative ideas to weaken the strong wave of anti-incumbency that can be felt across rural Bengal. Both parties are adopting policies for particular segments — Dalits, tribals, migrants from Bangladesh, the unemployed youth and migrant workers, for example. There is an intense battle on social media, including the mushrooming of fake news peddlers masquerading as digital news platforms. Veteran political analysts I spoke to said they could not remember political campaigns at so many layers.

 Q: The BJP lacks a prominent Bengali face. How is it going to tackle this challenge? 

A: The BJP is preferring to go to the elections seeking votes in the name of PM Modi for a number of reasons. First, even though Dilip Ghosh is doubtlessly the most popular BJP leader in the state, a section of the BJP and RSS think tank believes Ghosh would not be accepted by the educated and cultured middle-class, especially the bhadralok community that held influence over Bengal’s public psyche for decades. The second reason is that Bengal BJP is fraught with factionalism — from the state-level to the districts. At the state level, we, the journalists, get to hear of three groups functioning in their own ways. By not announcing a CM candidate, the BJP wants to turn the battle into one between Mamata and Modi on the one hand, and on the other, keep all factions working towards the common goal of toppling the TMC government. To my understanding, not announcing a CM candidate is the BJP’s best choice at the present juncture.

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India readies to counter Xi Jinping’s UN address aimed at China’s image makeover

Indian diplomats say that Beijing is facing widespread criticism across the world for its aggressive and expansionist behaviour. Therefore, China’s leadership is using the UN forum to try and impress the global community by talking about peaceful negotiations

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Chinese President Xi Jinping may have said that Beijing has no intention to fight either a “Cold War” or a “hot war” with any country, but India looks askance at his observations. New Delhi believes that Xi’s statement in his UN address is only an “image makeover” exercise.

 Indian diplomats say that Beijing is facing widespread criticism across the world for its aggression and expansionist behaviour. Therefore, China’s leadership is using the UN forum to try to impress upon the global community that he believes in adopting the path of peaceful negotiations, diplomats add. “This is not what China actually thinks and does. There is a sharp contrast in what Beijing says and does,” say officials. 

Sources told The Daily Guardian that External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has been given a full transcript of Xi Jinping’s speech in which he sought to sound like a peace-loving and honest leader. Sources also said that the MEA is not buying what Xi has said, and has, therefore, decided to pursue the strategy of stalling China’s diplomatic moves aimed at “image makeover”. According to sources, Indian embassies have been given a briefing about how to go about this. “Ambassadors and High Commissioners have been asked to counter China’s image-makeover exercise,” said an official. 

Indian diplomats got a boost when US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus came down heavily on China just a day after Xi Jinping’s speech at the UN. “While China continues to use bullying tactics to meet its goals, it has called for international cooperation and win-win solutions during the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session,” said Morgan. The US spokesperson said, “Beijing called for cooperation and win-win solutions at UN75. But in practice, Beijing uses bullying tactics to advance its goals, including illegal claims in the South China Sea, border disputes with India, and manipulating water flow in the Mekong River.”

 This is how the US official took a potshot at Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement in which he had said, “We have no intention to fight either a cold war or a hot one with any country. We will continue to narrow differences and resolve disputes with others through dialogue and negotiation. We will now seek to develop only ourselves or engage in zero sum game.” 

With China’s ties with both India and US getting strained, Xi’s statement was taken by both Washington and New Delhi with a pinch of salt. It augurs well for India’s diplomatic mission that Washington has stepped up its attack on Beijing over a host of issues including handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, trade war and so on. What is more significant is that Morgan also referred to China’s misdeed along the LAC. 

“When Xi, who is also the General Secretary of the ruling Communist Party of China and the Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese military, said his country will not pursue development behind closed doors and will not pursue an expansionist agenda, it should reflect on the ground. But nothing is there in reality,” diplomats argue. 

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Covid-19 herd immunity may be impractical strategy to fight the pandemic: Study

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Achieving herd immunity to Covid-19 is an impractical public health strategy, say researchers, adding that, immunity is not perfect and achieving it through widespread exposure is very unlikely. 

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated the suppression and mitigation approaches for controlling the spread of SARSCoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

 “The herd immunity concept is tantalising because it spells the end of the threat of Covid-19,” said study lead author Toby Brett from University of Georgia in the US. “However, because this approach aims to avoid disease elimination, it would need a constant adjustment of lockdown measures to ensure enough people are being infected at a particular point in time,” Brett added. 

The research team sought to determine if and how countries could achieve herd immunity without overburdening the health care system. They developed an age-stratified disease transmission model to simulate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the UK, with spread controlled by the self-isolation of symptomatic individuals and various levels of social distancing. 

Their simulations found that in the absence of any control measures, the UK would experience as many as 4,10,000 deaths related to Covid-19, with 3,50,000 of those being from individuals aged 60-plus. They found that using the suppression strategy, far fewer fatalities were predicted: 62,000 among individuals aged 60-plus and 43,000 among individuals under 60. If self isolation engagement is high (defined as at least 70 per cent reduction in transmission), suppression can be achieved in two months regardless of social distancing measures, and potentially sooner should school, work and social gathering places close.

 To instead achieve herd immunity given currently available hospital resources, the UK would need to adjust levels of social distancing in real time to ensure that the number of sick individuals is equal to, but not beyond, hospital capacity.

 “If the virus spreads too quickly, hospitals will be overwhelmed, but if it spreads too slowly, the epidemic will be suppressed without achieving herd immunity,” the team wrote. 

They further noted that much is unknown about the nature, duration and effectiveness of Covid-19 immunity, and that their model assumes perfect long-lasting immunity. 

The team cautioned that if immunity is not perfect, and there is a significant chance of reinfection, achieving herd immunity through widespread exposure is very unlikely. “We recognise there remains much for us to learn about Covid-19 transmission and immunity,” said study authors.

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China growing influence through affluence in Asia, it’s time India matched the Dragon’s might

Ajay Shukla

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During a visit to Sri Lanka last Diwali, we found the markets of the island nation glutted with Chinese goods. The largest road connecting the two ends of the country has been built by China. In addition to this, the maintenance of a Sri Lankan port is handled by Beijing. On observing all this, we asked officials there as to why Sri Lanka is handing over most of the infrastructure works to China despite the fact that India has done a lot of work in the island nation. 

The Sri Lankan officials replied that Colombo’s ties with Beijing have cemented further over the last four to five years and this, according to them, is attributable to China funding their country immensely with the result that unprecedented development has taken place in the island nation. According to them, China not only provides Sri Lanka with loans but also gets the work done at a low cost. They further said that India does not help them in the similar manner and, therefore, Sri Lanka cannot compromise the interests of its citizens. 

The Sri Lankan officials further said that China provided them advanced products at low cost. China’s aid has led to growing affiliation of every Sri Lankan sector with it and there is also a growing bonhomie between Colombo and Beijing, according to the officials there.

 With this feedback, we met the then Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, who is now Indian Ambassador to the US. We asked the High Commissioner as to why Sri Lanka goes on executing agreements with Chinese companies and the government relegating India to the background.

 He told us that India is also forging ahead as far as relations with Sri Lanka is concerned, and even there is a facility of visa on arrival and free visa. The High Commissioner further informed that India is going ahead with strengthening relations with Sri Lanka on age-old ‘religious bonds’ and this is being ensured by developing temples in the country. However, his reply forced us to introspect as to what kind of framework we are creating. 

There is no denying that the Chinese domination is increasing in the Asia-Pacific region. Majority of the countries in this region are not only debtors of China but the Dragon is also an important player in their infrastructure development. In this manner, China has maintained a grip over all these countries. In South Asia, China has tremendously burdened Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Nepal with its debt. 

According to an American report, three out of the four big Government Banks of China have advanced more loans to foreign countries than to corporates. China has adopted it as a strategy to disburse the loans. It is sending its companies to enter into commercial agreements with those countries of the world where there is only one-way profiteering.

 Sri Lanka being buried under a debt of more than a billion dollars had to hand over its Hambantota Port to China.

 Maldives snatched back all the projects from India and handed them over to China. Maldives withdrew the $511 billion international airport project from Indian firm GMR and handed over the same to China. Now many projects in Maldives are being developed by China. It is entrapped in the web of the Chinese debts. China is not only carrying out unprecedented development in Asian countries but is also doing the same in African countries.

 One such country Djibouti has handed over its most important port to China. America has established its armed bases in Djibouti and because of this, it is feeling insecure and on account of the same America is annoyed with Djibouti. 

The US Secretary of State has apprised the Congress that China is working in such a manner as to force all the countries to be dependent on it. It is in a position to enforce its dictates by advancing unaccountable loans and such countries are not only under the threat of losing their self-sufficiency but also their sovereignty.

 China is capable of building unprecedented infrastructure. The Centre for Global Development believes that 8 partner countries of “One Belt One Road” project namely Djibouti, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Monte Negro, Pakistan and Tajikistan are all buried under Chinese debts. This commercially important project is a reason for threat to both India and America. 

The agreement between Pakistan and China over Gwadar has resulted in the colonization of the former by the latter via financial investment. Now China has started projects in Bangladesh and Bhutan to build close relations with these nations also. In this chain, it will link Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh with a road network and on the linking India would be encircled from all sides. Work is under progress on this project. Chinese road has also been laid down in Doklam. 

Pakistan is connected with China through a direct road link and now there is a plan to lay down a railway line which is not only alarming development for India but it is a ticking time bomb. Whether it is Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh, China has captured thousands of kilometers of land and also massive infrastructure is being developed there. 

The manner in which China has backstabbed us has immensely weakened us and this is the reason why we have been forced to invest in purchase of defense equipment instead of improving our fiscal health at a time when the economy is deteriorating. 

We are in a race to create new infrastructures after demolishing the old ones but the infrastructure of our country is collapsing. We do not have a credible plan to challenge the Chinese dominance. In the recent days India, America, Australia and Japan entered into a strategic alliance against China and started the work when there was a regime change in Japan. However, it is yet to be seen how far Japan would work for the alliance in the time of economic crisis. 

The popularity graph of Trump has, at the same time, declined in America and the US elections are expected by this fall. If there is a change in the regime in Washington, then there would be a change in their policies, as a result of which this alliance would get weakened. It would have been beneficial if the trade chain in the Indo-Pacific region had been established but not much credible work could be done. India’s flawed economic policies, demonetisation, unsynchronised GST, the poor condition of states, and social unrest have all weakened the country with the result that our economic condition is in a bad shape. The Covid-19 pandemic made it worse and now we are among the worst economies of the world. 

The problem of our country is that our rulers do not frame the policies keeping in view the interests of the common citizens, consumers, poor farmers and laborers. Policies are framed keeping in view the interests of the corporates and big business houses, and this way common men are misled, sometimes on the issue of education or on the geopolitical history or on the issues related to communal hatred. As a result, there is neither peace/prosperity in the country, nor on its border. With this being the case, our enemies stand benefitted at the end. They encircle us from all sides, and as a result of this instead of spending our resources on the welfare of our citizens and on development, we are forced to spend it on procurement of weapons. And this is what is happening. If a timely action is not there, it shall be too late and everything would be lost.

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