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North Korea Goes Nuke
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The News - Science

The News:

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) or the US’ bete noire, North Korea did it. It "successfully conducted an underground nuclear [weapon] test under secure conditions" on October 9 2006.

North Korea did it in defiance of international pressure to desist from doing so and return to discussions. North Korea resorted to this test – purportedly as deterrence against USA – after the so-called ‘Six Party Talks’ (between North Korea, its four neighbours, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea and its sworn enemy the USA) failed.

What did it do?

The test was assessed to be carried out at 10.36 am local time ( 01.36 GMT) and gave an artificial tremour with seismic intensity of about 3.6 on Richter’s Scale. Describing this finding Japan stated that it is studying scientific implications of this “small experiment.” South Korea assessed the to be originated from ‘P’unggye-yok,’ a remote place in DPRK’s ‘North Hamgyeong’ province. The yield or firepower form this underground test was reported to be around 550 tonnes of TNT.

How the Nuclear Tests are done?

Nuclear weapons tests are classified in to three types based on the location/ medium of test. They are atmospheric, underwater, and underground.

Atmospheric tests include those in or above the atmosphere. Generally, these devices are detonated on towers, balloons, barges, islands, or dropped from airplanes. High-altitude nuclear explosions (upper atmospheric tests), generally fired from missiles can generate an electromagnetic pulse and the resulting charged particles can cross hemispheres in spectacular auroral display. Explosions close enough to the ground would form a mushroom cloud of hot gases, dirt and debris.

Underwater testing is ususlly done by weapon moored to a ship or a barge or buried in sea bottom at shallow depths. Tests of this nature make part of Naval Nuclear Strategy. These explosions can release large amounts of radiation into sea water, boils the nearby water into radioactive steam and destroy the marine life. The 1996 French tests at Marurova Atoll in South Pacific created fissures in the uninhabited island. France did them in a hurry, just before signing CTBT and sank Green Peace’s “Rainbow Warrior” ship mid-sea when the peace activists tried to stop the French tests.

Underground testing, by far the most frequent mode, involves detonation under the ground surface at different depths. The nuclear device is placed in a heavy secure canister and when it is to be exploded, a conventional igniter explosive is electronically ignited, which in turn sets off the nuclear fission. The bomb is buried at required depth and usually buried in large volumes of heavy concrete and the pit is fully refilled with earth. In this way the surface radiation is negligible. However, errors may cause radiation spewing to the surface. In 1976, the United States and the erstwhile USSR agreed to limit the maximum yield of underground tests to 150 kt. These tests result in seismic tremours create subsidence craters when the explosion settled. The rock surrounding the device will gets vapourised and leave ground.

There are also other types of tests: the sub-critical tests, which do not give any yield due to lack of critical mass of explosive and the Super Computer based Nuclear test simulations, which allow critical studies sans radioactivity.

Nuke Trivia:

The North Korean tests were greeted with universal outrage.

Pakistan’s AQ Khan’s alleged nuclear network might again come into highlight.

Indo-US Nuclear deal (pending a senate vote in the US parliament) might face rough weather, what with many so-called non-proliferationists loose no time to take a same yard stick to measure North Korea, Pakistan and Iran as well as India.

Like everything in international affairs, nuclear disarmament is never democratic. NPT reserves the right of Nukes only to the P5 of Security Council (US, Russia, UK, France and China). The NPT is clearly biased and India did not sign it nor proliferated its indigenous technology. Most others signed despite bias. Some of them, like Japan and Australia, safe under the US’ nuclear umbrella, preach others peace.

Total isolation of defiant North Korea is near certain.

As espoused by India, a time bound total nuclear disarmament can only make this third rock from the sun a safe place for humans.

 
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ESA’s SMART - 1 Lunar Probe Crashes on the Moon Surface
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The News - Science

The News:

European Space Agency’s Lunar mission ends with a planned crash. This is the Europe’s first ever probe to the Moon and its primary mission is to test a new, efficient ion propulsion system. Scientists hope to use this technology on future interplanetary missions. The probe also sent a veritable trove of data about Moon, it is reported.

The Innovation they tried and the Bonus they got:

“That’s it — we are in the Lake of Excellence,” said spacecraft operations Chief Octavio Camino as applause broke out in the European Space Agency’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, “We have landed.” The excitement is palpable every where, not only in ESA, as the mission did cost ESA only Euro 110 million, peanuts in terms space exploration projects’ costs, using a meager 80kg of xenon fuel to travel from earth to moon!

This novel lunar probe called SMART-1 was launched into Earth’s orbit by an Ariane-5 booster rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, on September 2003.

The novelty of the probe is its ion thruster engine, which uses electricity from the craft’s solar panels to power the electric guns used to charge the xenon gas. This produces stream of charged particles called ions, which are expelled from the rear of the space craft. This bluish glowing exhaust generates only a tiny thrust that is likened to be enough to lift an A$ sized paper! So, what? It used only 80kg of xenon fuel! This tiny engine is used to thrust the probe slowly to raise its orbit around earth over 14 months until the moon’s gravity grabbed it.

SMART 1 traveled some 100 million km as the probe need to circle and circle the earth before escaping its gravitational tug. Actually, it did about a dozen loops around earth before getting into a lunar orbit. This involved a very complex set of maneuvers and non-stop firing of its engine. The engine is said have been functioned excellently needing 14 months to reach moon for what an almost straight line trajectory of Apollo missions took three days to cover 347000 to 400000 kms.

This engine is used not for the first time, it has earlier been used in the NASA’s Deep Space Craft whose mission is a rendezvous with an asteroid and an comet. Deep Space used a straight line trajectory. SMART 1’s engine is only one metre across and weighed no more than 350 kilos.

As the main aim of the craft is to test the engine and its technology, they say they got the extra bonus of scientific data about moon form extreme close-ups. The craft’s X-ray and

Infrared spectrometers have relayed valuable information that would help enhance scientists’ knowledge about the moon’s geology, its surface evolution and also to test the theories of the evolution of the moon itself. The light weight of craft helped lowering its orbit so much, thanks to the lack of atmosphere on the moon, that the scientists could afford a better look at the surface. Actually, its lunar orbit was shrunk as much as to finish in five to six hours compared to 14 hours or so required for other crafts.

Finally, the craft ended its three year mission with a planned crash on to the lunar surface at what is called the “Lake of Excellence” at an astonishing 7200 kmph speed. It approached the surface so tangentially that the spatially extended fire works raked up dust more than expected that the astronomers down on earth could see a bright momentary glow on lunar surface. You can even see the video of the broght glow on internet.

So, low was its orbit that on September 2, the mission controllers in Darmstadt, Germany had to raise the craft’s orbit by 600 metres to avoid hitting a crater rim on final approach. Had that been not done quickly, the craft would have crashed too soon with one orbit less, making the impact difficult or impossible to observe from earth. Also, the maneuver

gave controllers some tense moments as it needed to be finished in an hour. The miniaturised camera had sent back close-up images even just minutes before the impact.

 
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International Space Station Construction Continues
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The News - Science

The News:

RIA Novosti (Russian News and Information Agency) has reported on September 11 that the crews of the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station have met, as per a NASA spokesman. It is stated that the meeting was delayed a little, as it is required to normalise pressure and verify containment. The docking took place at 10.48 a.m. GMT above the southeastern Pacific.

After many delays for two weeks due to technical malfunctions, storms and lightning strikes, the Atlantis was launched on September. The shuttle carried a new truss for ISS construction work, named P3/P4 truss. This truss will form a frame work for connecting existing ISS with new additional upcoming sections and a new set of solar arrays. Besides the truss fixing, the crew will prepare the truss and arrays ready for operation.

International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is an international joint project of five space agencies to build and operate a permanent settlement in space for humans. The permanency here means the human presence in the structure not of any individual inhabitant. There have always been at least two people on board the ISS since the first permanent crew entered the ISS on November 2, 2000. The three inhabitants keep periodically changing. It is maintained by supplies made from earth. Russia’s Soyuz and NASA’s space shuttles are doing these sorties.

Its direct partners are National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, United States), the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA, Russian Federation), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA, Japan), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA, Canada) and the European Space Agency (ESA, Europe).

One may think of the ISS as a union of space stations, previously planned to be independent, like Russia's Mir-2, the US’ Freedom, European Columbus and Japanese Experiment Module. Orbiting at an altitude of approximately 360 km, in what is called as low Earth orbit, it takes about 92 minutes for each orbit. Tentatively, it all began with the launch of the Zarya module of Russia on November 20, 1998 and the ISS is progressively built over the years with the addition of modules. The process of building is still on. Actually, the pending work is very large but a string os failures with NASA shuttles halted its construction / expansion work, only to resume in April, 2006.

Some 40 flights are palnned of them 33 are Space Shuttle flights, with 17 already completed and 16 more planned from 2006 to 2010. In addition to these, many other assembly flights are also made by the Russian Proton rocket, Progress and Soyuz modules. When completed, the ISS will have a pressurized space of some 1,000 cubic meters, weighs 400 tons, producing roughly 100 kilowatts of power for a crew of six to live in modules 74 meters long in all.

ISS Assembly

It makes an interesting reading of the ISS assembly. A total of 10 main pressurized modules (Zarya, Zvezda, US Lab, Node 1, Node 2, Node 3, Columbus, Kibo, MLM and the RM) are currently scheduled to be part of the ISS by its completion date in 2010. A number of smaller pressurized sections (Soyuz spacecrafts) will be attached to them permanently 2 as lifeboats. Currently, at least one Soyuz spacecraft has to stay docked permanently as a 'lifeboat' and is replaced every six months by a new Soyuz as part of crew rotation!

As the beleaguered American Space Shuttles were grounded for many months, the construction work on ISS came to a halt, till April 2006 when they resumed. The Russian Soyuz modules became the sole supporters of the ISS for supplies in the mean time.

What to expect later?

On the first post-docking day, the STS-115 crew will the removal the 17.5-ton Port 3/Port 4 (P3/P4) truss segments from Atlantis’ cargo bay. This will launch the addition of this crucial truss to the ISS. If you are interested in further details go to NASA websites or http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/060825_sts115_marathon.html

 
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Chandrasekhar Limit Violated by Supernova
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The News - Physics

Andrew Howell, formerly of the Physics Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and now at the University of Toronto, and Peter Nugent, an astrophysicist with Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division said in a report, which appeared in the September 21 issue of Nature, as lead authors that a Supernova called SNLS-03D3bb in galaxy 4 billion light years away, is found to be more than twice as bright as most Type Ia supernovae, has much less kinetic energy but startlingly appears to be half as massive as a typical Type Ia supernova. In other words, it simply has overgrown the famed Chandrasekhar Limit!

"Chandrasekhar's 1931 model of stellar collapse was elegant and powerful; it won him the Nobel Prize," says Nugent. "But it was a simple one-dimensional model. Just by adding rotation one can exceed the Chandrasekhar mass, as he himself recognized," he added.

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About The New Best Ever Atomic Clocks
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The News - Physics

Scientists in US have developed new ultra-precise clocks that may outsmart the existing atomic clocks in precision and economy and would render obsolete, the technology behind high precision clocks that reigned for 50 years. Moreover, eventually, it may force scientists to give a new definition to the second itself.

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Stuttering Traced to Brain and a Drug in the Offing to Cure It
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The News - Medicine

Indevus Pharmaceuticals of USA announced this May, some encouraging results from the largest ever clinical trial of a drug for stuttering. However, still larger trials stretching over two to three years are needed. The bright side of it all is that, if the trials succeed, the drug. pagoclone, could become the first ever medical treatment approved for stuttering.

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A Bionic Prosthetic Arm That Can Be Controlled By Mind
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The News - Medicine

Claudia Mitchell, a U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan war and lost her left arm, became first bionic woman of the world when she successfully received a bionic arm. She received this two years after losing her arm to a motorcycle.

Bionic arm is a mechanical arm fitted to an amputee, that can be controlled by the mere thoughts of the recipient! This not the first time to read mind but the level of success in functionality of this thought controlled arm is remarkable.

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India is Yaws Free
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The News - Medicine

“Yaws, a chronic infectious disease, has been eliminated from India”, said Mr. Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Health Minister of India, in New Delhi on September19, 2006. “However, it will be two years before the disease is eradicated,” he added.

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The Promise of a Gene Therapy for Deadly Cancers
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The News - Medicine

A team of researchers at The National Cancer Institute of USA have successfully reversed advanced melanoma skin cancer by manipulating the genes of white blood cells to get them to attack the cancer cells.

The experimental gene therapy for cancer treatment was published by the Science journal in its online edition.

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Indian Professor Suggests Solutions to Fermat’s Last Theorem
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The News - Mathematics

Prof V.K. Gurtu (66), a retired pro¬fessor and former head of the mathematics department at Laxminarayan Institute of Tech¬nology, Nagpur, India has claimed to have given two solu¬tions to Fermat’s Last Theorem (FLT). The 400 year old problem, which has its origin in the Historic Marginal Note (HMN), by Fermat (1601-1665) puzzled mathe¬maticians world over since then.

In the 28-page paper titled “On Fer¬mat’s Historic Marginal Note: Some Left Out Grains of Truth Leading to New Proof of FLT”, Prof. Gurtu have offered two solutions. One of them is based on the 17th century techniques, in the times of Pierre de Fermat time while, another is beased on modem methods. This paper is presented at the prestigious International Congress of Mathematicians, Madrid in August.

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Pentagon Supported Robot Race Through Mock Traffic is Back
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The News - Computer Engineering

Pentagon driven robot race are back in Los Angeles, California, USA. The winners of last year's are expected to take on another challenge this time too to develop a vehicle that can autonomously drive itself through congested city traffic, without any human intervention what so ever.

It is to take place in an undisclosed location in November 2007, and supported by the Pentagon's Defense’ Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to help development of autonomous military vehicles that could be deployed in war zones and emergency situations too risky for humans to enter.

The first prize, for the vehicle which finishes in less than six hours, is $2 million. Second and third prizes will be $500,000 and $250,000, respectively.

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Google Literacy - New Google Service Launched
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The News - Computer Engineering

Recently, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Google launched a website ded¬icated to literacy combining its books, video, mapping and blogging services together to help teachers and educational organisations share reading resources.

“Google’s business was born out of a desire to help people find information,” Mr. Nikesh Arora, vice-president of Google’s European operations was quoted as saying. The service is being projected as something that combines a rich set of re¬sources ostensibly to help global lit¬eracy. Critics note that it also, help the educational credentials of the IT giant. Google is perhaps the fastest growing company of this scale, given the fact that it reached this stage in a mere eight years after it’s inception.

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HP's Halo is now available in Asia Pacific
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The News - Computer Engineering

HP’s ‘Halo’, A breakthrough in videoconferencing, is now available in Asia Pacific. Hewlett Packard, the computer and peripheral giant, launched a thousand sighs of relief in business circles of Asia recently, with the launch of its new vedio-conferencing facility ‘Halo’. One can now think of the days of frozen frames, voice loss and other technical snags gone for good.

HP along with DreamWorks Animation SKG held a real time demonstration for a group of Journalists, flown from across the world to HP’s Palo Alto facility in USA and HP’s executives from London, New York and Singapore.

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Nicaragua Plans a Big Pacific-Atlantic Canal
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The News - Civil Engineering

On October 3 2006, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos formally announced ambitious plans to construct the “Grand Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal” through their country to connect Pacific and Atlantic.

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Freedom Tower and New Plans for WTC, New York
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The News - Civil Engineering

Architects have presented striking new plans for the site of former WTC twin towers in Lower Manhattan in New York, USA. These are in addition to the freedom tower and Ground Zero.

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California Scientists Test Earthquake Safety
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The News - Civil Engineering

Scientists in California, USA are experimenting with freeway overpasses for seismic safety by applying strong forces to full scale models of structures to assess their reaction and survivability of big quakes.

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Ethanol, the bio-fuel launched in England
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The News - Chemistry

In Somerset, England, a unique experiment is going on. A few cars, including 10 police cars using ethanol, a fuel made of fermented Brazilian sugarcane.

The supply chain now being limited to just five pumps, will be upgraded in about three years fuelling some 300 cars or so that run on this fuel made at a special plant using England’s surplus wheat.

There is a sort of dis-coordination in Britain, on bio-fuels, it seems. At Gleneagles summit of G8 leaders, all the VIP cars were flexi-fuelled, that can use bio and conventional fuels. But the green agenda announced with great fanfare seems to have lost.

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Gold and Silver for Water Purification
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The News - Chemistry

The precious metals of gold and silver got a more precious role to play - in the field of water purification. Two scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, T. Pradeep and A. Sreekumaran Nair, have patented technology to use gold and silver nano-particles to filter dreaded pesticides like endosulfan, malathion and chlorpyrifos from wa¬ter.

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System of Rice Intensification for More Rice Yield with Less Water
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The News - Biology

The, a novel technique to give double yields in rice production using less water, is gaining acceptance in parts of India, making India the second in popularity of SRI after Cambodia. Owing to certain apprehensions, however, acceptability of the concept has been a bit slow here as per Norman T. Uphoff of Cornell University in the US. He is Hyderabad on October 7 2006 as guest of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.

In Cambodia SRI became immensely popular and India too is said to have conducive environment for its dramatic growth. In Cambodia, it reportedly grew up from 28 farmers in 2000 to 55,000 this year.

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