SCIENCE & DEVELOPMENT

India Receives First Rafale, Questions Unanswered

ON October 8, 2019, in Dassault’s plant in Merignac in the south of France, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh personally took delivery of the first of the 36 Rafale multi-role fighter aircraft India had acquired from France in 2015-16, the latter year being when the deal was signed. The handover was, of course, mostly symbolic since the first 4 Rafale fighters would arrive in India only in May 2020, while the first full squadron of 18 fighters would hopefully be available in India only in mid-2021 and the remaining 18 more than a year later in April 2022.

Quantum Computers Brings Uncertainty Knocking at Our Doors

NO, quantum computing did not come of age with Google’s Sycamore, a 54-qubit computer solving a problem in 200 seconds, which would take even a super computer 10,000 years. Instead, it is the first step in showing that there is a functional computation that can be done with a quantum computer, and it does indeed solve a special class of problems much faster than a conventional computer. This is quantum supremacy, the day one quantum computer beats all classical computers in one specially constructed task.

Rakhigarhi Skeleton DNA: Indus Valley People were not Rig-Vedic Aryans

TWO recent studies on ancient DNA and migrations into South Asia appeared at the same time in two of the most prestigious journals of their disciplines, one in Science, and one in Cell. Both share a number of common authors and have used Harvard’s genetics laboratory resources. Each of the papers are important in their own right. The Science paper reports ancient DNA from 523 samples from a number of sites in Iran, Central Asia and Anatolia, and comparing it to the current population in the region and in south Asia.

Chandrayaan-2 Slips between Cup and Lip

AFTER a long, text-book Chandrayaan-2 mission since launch on June 22, right up till a mere 2 km or so above the lunar surface, the much awaited soft landing of the Vikram Lander in the south polar region of the Moon on September 7, 2019 could not be achieved due to reasons that are yet to be determined. From what little is known at present, it appears that control of the Lander was lost at the very last stage of its descent, and it made a hard landing or, to put it in plain language, crashed, although how badly, is still not known.

Amazon Fires, White Nationalism and the Logic of Capital

THE Amazon fires with Brazil at its epicentre, have become worldwide news. Explaining the fires recently, Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said that August 2019 stands out as a month with a far higher number of fires than any preceding year since 2010. This is similar to what the Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) had reported earlier.

West Asia: Cheap Drones and the Shifting Strategic Balance

SAUDI Arabia, which started the Yemen war with its own coalition of the willing, is now facing the blow-back with Houthis launching a series of drone and missile attacks on infrastructure. Earlier Houthi missile attacks on Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports seems to have led to a rethink in the United Arab Emirates leadership on the dangers of military interventions abroad, leading to their partial disengagement from Yemen. The US also has now announced direct talks with the Houthis.

IPCC on Climate Change and Land

THE ‘special report on climate change and land’, (SRCCL), was recently adopted at the 50th session of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at Geneva. Two of its recommendations in particular have drawn popular global attention-one calling for a sustainability-driven transformation in agriculture, especially focusing on reduction of GHG emissions and the other, emphasising the role of transforming diets to plant-based ones, with a steep reduction in meat consumption.

Hacking Elections: Tales from Far and Near

THE Netflix film, The Great Hack, relates Cambridge Analytica’s role in Trump’s 2016 elections to a much larger issue – the threat to our democracy from global tech giants.  It is not the Facebook data that Cambridge “hacked”, but the election itself.  And what is at stake is not just an election, but the very future of democracy. If elections can be hacked, so can our democracy. The film poses a fundamental question for our times: are more elections in more places going to be won by the best data “team” that money can buy?

Fifty Years of First Moon Landing

IT was one of those seminal moments in human history, when those fortunate to have been around ask “where were you when humans first landed on the Moon.” This writer was lucky to have been where he watched that electrifying moment live on television, when US astronaut Neil Armstrong first stepped on to the lunar surface (followed by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin) on July 20, 1969, from the lander named “Eagle”, the Apollo 11 spacecraft having been launched from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, USA, on July 16, 1969.

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