29 th June, 2018-IAS Current Affairs
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Oumuamua (GS3: Science)
Issue: The reddish cigar-shaped object called ‘Oumuamua spotted last year tumbling through space is a comet, scientists said on Wednesday, solving the mystery over how to classify the first interstellar object found passing through our solar system.
About the comet’ Oumuamua’
‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh-MOO-uh-MOO-uh) initially was pegged as a comet, but it lacks the tail of gas and dust characteristic of many comets, and some scientists argued that it was perhaps a dry asteroid.
However, they found that it is deviating slightly from a path that would be explained purely by the Sun’s gravitational pull because of what apparently is a very small emission of gas from its surface, indicative of a comet.
What is a comet?
A comet is a very small solar system body made mostly of ices mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rock. Most comets are no larger than a few kilometres across. The main body of the comet is called the nucleus, and it can contain water, methane, nitrogen and other ices.
When a comet is heated by the Sun, its ices begin to sublimate (similar to the way dry ice “fizzes” when you leave it in sunlight). The mixture of ice crystals and dust blows away from the comet nucleus in the solar wind, creating a pair of tails. The dust tail is what we normally see when we view comets from Earth.
A plasma tail also forms when molecules of gas are “excited” by interaction with the solar wind. The plasma tail is not normally seen with the naked eye, but can be imaged. Comets normally orbit the Sun, and have their origins in the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt regions of the outer solar system.
- Material streams from comets and populates the comet’s orbit. If Earth (or another planet) happens to move through that stream, those particles fall to Earth as meteor showers.
- As a comet gets close to the Sun, it loses some of its mass due to the sublimation. If a comet goes around enough times, it will eventually break up. Comets also break up if they come TOO close to the Sun or another planet in their orbits.
- Comets are usually made of frozen water and super-cold methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide ices. Those are mixed with rock, dust, and other metallic bits of solar system debris.
- Comets have two tails: a dust tail (which you can see with the naked eye) and a plasma tail, which is easily photographed but difficult to see with your eyes.
- Comet orbits are usually elliptical.
‘Enceladus’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: Complex organic molecules have been discovered for the first time coming from the depths of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a new study reported.
The sixth largest of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus is only about 314 miles (505 kilometers) in diameter. In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft detected plumes of water vapor and icy particles erupting from Enceladus, revealing the existence of a giant ocean hidden under the moon’s frozen shell. Because there is life virtually wherever there is water on Earth, these findings suggested that life might also exist on Enceladus.
‘Indian Rupee’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: The Indian rupee dropped to a new record low of 69.09 per dollar on Thursday, giving out echoes of an earlier vulnerable period in 2013. At that time, India was clubbed into a cluster called “Fragile Five” with other economies that were seen as the most vulnerable to external shocks. While India may not be that fragile now, the country’s rupee-dollar exchange rate is still more vulnerable than other peers.
Reason for the slump in Indian Rupee value
- The rupee’s fall to fresh all-time lows against the dollar is the direct fallout of incessant flight of dollars from domestic equity and bond markets.
- Foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) have pulled out a cumulative $9.4 billion from equity and bond market since January.
- The US Federal Reserve’s rate hikes have made dollar assets give more returns to investors thereby making emerging market assets look less appealing.
- Another factor that has escalated dollar outflows is the perceived implications of the US-China trade war.
- India’s vulnerability to the sharp rise in crude oil prices has also worried foreign investors.
Implications of Rupee’s depreciation
- The currency’s weakness makes imports costlier.
- Importers of capital goods will see shrinkage in margins as well. An already weak gems and jewellery sector will be hit harder.’
- Sectors such as Information technology, textiles and others that export goods will benefit in a big way.
- The depreciation of the rupee has the potential to increase domestic inflation through the import route.
- A sharp rise in inflation will be detrimental to growth, especially when investment is just reviving. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimated in its monetary policy report in April that for every 5% fall in rupee, retail inflation will increase by 20 basis points.
Possible solution to this phenomenon
RBI is known to intervene in the forex market to slow the fall. The short-term solution is this intervention by the central bank. Over a longer period, reducing dependence on imports and attracting consistent foreign direct investment through friendly policies may make the currency less vulnerable to external shocks.
‘Climate change’ (GS3: Environmental Pollution)
Issue: Changing monsoon patterns and rising temperatures driven by climate change could cost India 2.8% of gross domestic product (GDP), says a new World Bank report.
Other observations made in the report
- Climate change could depress the living standards of nearly half the India’s population by 2050, which now lives in the vulnerable areas, said the report on the impact of climate change on countries in South Asia.
- In a country where over 75% of the population is dependent on agriculture, falling yields from climate change would lead to a decline in living standards for agriculture-dependent households, while the effect on people’s health would worsen the overall impact.
- Low-income states such as Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which are also home to large tribal populations, are predicted to be the top two climate hotspots by 2050 that are likely to experience a decline of over 9% in their living standards—followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Cities like Kolkata and Mumbai face a substantial risk of flood-related damage over the next century.
- The report also highlights that seven out of the top 10 most-affected hotspot districts would belong to the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.
- It is expected that India’s average annual temperatures could rise by 1- 2°C by 2050 even if preventive measures are taken along the lines of those listed in the Paris Agreement, while the rise would be 1.5-3°C if no steps are taken.
- To reduce the rising risk to living standards, the report suggests enhancing educational attainment, reducing water stress and improving job opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors.
‘Reserve Bank of India (RBI) (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: The rupee breached the 69-a-dollar mark for the first time ever in early trade on Thursday which prompted the central bank to intervene in the currency market that enabled the domestic unit to cut losses.
RBI is estimated to have sold dollars about $700-800 million through state-owned banks.
About Managed float system
Managed float regime is the current international financial environment in which exchange rates fluctuate from day to day, but central banks attempt to influence their countries’ exchange rates by buying and selling currencies. It is also known as a dirty float.
In an increasingly integrated world economy, the currency rates impact any given country’s economy through the trade balance. In this aspect, almost all currencies are managed since central banks or governments intervene to influence the value of their currencies. According to the International Monetary Fund, as of 2014, 82 countries and regions used a managed float
‘International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Indian Growth’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: India’s growth accelerated to 7.7 per cent in the fourth quarter of Financial Year (FY) 2017-18. That was up from 7 per cent in the previous quarter.
In order to sustain the high growth rate, IMF suggested three steps for India to follow.
- to revive a bank credit and enhance the efficiency of credit provision; by accelerating the cleanup of bank and corporate balance sheets and enhancing the government of public sector banks
- to continue fiscal consolidation and to lower elevated public debt levels supported by simplifying and streamlining the goods and services tax (GST) structure
- over the medium-term, renew impetus to reforms of key markets, for example, labour and land, as well as improving the overall business climate would be crucial to improving competitiveness and again, maintaining that very high level of growth in India
‘Swiss Money’ (GS3: Indian Economy)
Issue: Money parked by Indians in Swiss banks rose over 50% to Swiss Francs (CHF) 1.01 billion (₹7,000 crore) in 2017, reversing a three-year downward trend amid India’s clampdown on suspected black money stashed there.
Concerns for Indian authorities
- The surge in Indian money held with Swiss banks comes as a surprise given India’s continuing clampdown on suspected black money stashed abroad, including in banks of Switzerland that used to be known for their famed secrecy walls for years.
- The Indian money in Swiss banks had fallen by 45% in 2016, marking their biggest ever yearly plunge, to CHF676 million (about ₹4,500 crore) — the lowest ever since the European nation began making the data public in 1987.
While Switzerland has already begun sharing foreign client details on evidence of wrongdoing provided by India and some other countries, it has agreed to further expand its cooperation on India’s fight against black money with a new pact for automatic information exchange. On directions of the Supreme Court, India had constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe cases of alleged black money of Indians, including funds stashed abroad in places like Switzerland.
A number of strategies were deployed by the government to combat the stash-funds menace, in both overseas and domestic domain, which included enactment of a new law, amendments in the Anti-Money Laundering Act and compliance windows for people to declare their hidden assets.
‘Government Blockchain centre’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: The Centre is considering a proposal to set up a Centre of Excellence for blockchain technology in Hyderabad to drive innovation.
Other entities who have adopted blockchain technology
ICICI Bank successfully executed its first two transactions using Blockchain technology in October 2016. Yes Bank has implemented a multi-nodal Blockchain transaction in January 2017 to provide efficient services to customers. Kotak Mahindra Bank and Axis Bank have announced interest and started conduction pilot transactions
What is Blockchain Technology?
In 2008, Satoshi Nakamato conceptualized the distributed blockchain. It would contain a secure history of data exchanges, utilize a peer-to-peer network to time stamp and verify each exchange, and could be managed autonomously without a central authority.
How does Blockchain work?
- Blockchain keeps a record of all data exchanges — this record is referred to as a “ledger” in the cryptocurrency world and each data exchange is a “transaction“. Every verified transaction is added to the ledger as a “block”
2. It utilizes a distributed system to verify each transaction — a peer-to-peer network of nodes
3. Once signed and verified, the new transaction is added to the blockchain and cannot be altered
‘Biosimilar’ (GS2: Issues related to Health)
Issue: Lupin has partnered with Mylan N.V. to commercialize Lupin’s biosimilar Enbrel (etanercept) used in treating certain autoimmune diseases.
What is a Biosimilar?
A biosimilar (also known as follow-on biologic or subsequent entry biologic) is a biologic medical product which is almost an identical copy of an original product that is manufactured by a different company. Biosimilar are officially approved versions of original “innovator” products, and can be manufactured when the original product’s patent expires. Reference to the innovator product is an integral component of the approval.
Figure 1: Difference between a Biosimilar and Generic drugs
‘Conservation on Biological Diversity (CBD) (GS3: Conservation of Environment)
Issue: It’s a case of a “cure that kills”: an international conservation treaty is hampering conservation research, claim scientists.
Reasons cited in the study
The convention has generated “unintended consequences” for research; due to national-level legislations instituted by countries under the CBD, obtaining field permits for access to specimens for non-commercial research has become increasingly difficult
About the convention
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity in November 1988 to explore the need for an. international convention on biological diversity. Soon after, in May 1989, it established the Ad Hoc Working Group of Technical and Legal Experts to prepare an international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The experts were to take into account “the need to share costs and benefits between developed and developing countries” as well as “ways and means to support innovation by local people”.
By February 1991, the Ad Hoc Working Group had become known as the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee. Its work culminated on 22 May 1992 with the Nairobi Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The Convention was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Rio “Earth Summit”).
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:
- The conservation of biological diversity
- The sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
- The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources
The United Nations has proclaimed May 22, The International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. When first created by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in late 1993
|The Conference of the Parties (COP) has established seven thematic programmes of work (listed below) which correspond to some of the major biomes on the planet. Each programme establishes a vision for, and basic principles to guide future work. They also set out key issues for consideration, identify potential outputs, and suggest a timetable and means for achieving these. Implementation of the work programmes depends on contributions from Parties, the Secretariat, relevant intergovernmental and other organizations. Periodically, the COP reviews the state of implementation of the work programmes.|
National Biodiversity Authority is the nodal agency in implementing this convention
‘Black Beauty Meteorite’ (GS3: Science)
Issue: The bulk of rocks on the surface of Mars look similar to the ‘Black Beauty’ meteorite found a few years ago in the Moroccan desert
The meteorite NWA 7034 has been shown to be a 4.4 billion-year-old chunk of the Martian crust.
What the research into this rock show?
- The findings suggest that the meteorite, nicknamed Black Beauty, is representative of the “bulk background” of rocks on the Martian surface
- Its chemical makeup confirmed that it was a castaway from Mars, but it was unlike any Martian meteorite ever found.
- Black Beauty is a breccia, a mashup of different rock types welded together in a basaltic matrix.
- It contains sedimentary components that match the chemical makeup of rocks analysed by the Mars rovers. Scientists concluded that it is a piece of Martian crust – the first such sample to make it to Earth.
‘Agung Volcano’ (GS1: Geophysical Phenomenon)
Issue: The Indonesian tourist island of Bali closed its international airport on Friday, stranding thousands of travellers, as the Mount Agung volcano gushed a 2,500-metre column of ash and smoke
The regional volcanic ash advisory centre in Darwin, Australia, said winds could carry the ash southwest toward Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island. Volcanic ash is a potentially deadly threat to aircraft that can cause engines to “flame out.”
About the Mount Agung
Mt. Agung, about 70 kilometres northeast of Bali’s tourist hotspot of Kuta, last had a major eruption in the year 1963, killing about 1,100 people.
It had a dramatic increase in activity last year, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, but had quietened by early this year. Authorities lowered its alert status from the highest level in February.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.