Prafulla Samantra

Indian activist Prafulla Samantra has won the Goldman Environment Prize, one of the world most important environment awards. He won the award for his action in stopping a large company from taking over tribal land for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa.

Samantra’s story

Samantra grew up in Orissa in a family of farmers. He trained as a lawyer when he grew up. In 2003, he read a news report about the plans of a mining company named Vedanta to take over land in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa and convert it into a mine. Mines are used to dig out rocks and minerals from deep within the ground. The Niyamgiri Hills are rich in bauxite deposits which are mined to make the metal aluminum. Aluminum is a shiny white metal that is used to make a variety of things-from plates and spoons to aircrafts.

The Dongria Kondh worship the Niyamgiri Hills as a living god
The Dongria Kondh worship the Niyamgiri Hills as a living god

Worried that the mine would destroy tribal and forest land important to the Dongria Kondh (the tribe that lives in the Niyamgiri Hills), Samantra worked hard to educate the local people to rise up in protest against the mine. He also filed a case in the Supreme Court. In 2013, the Supreme Court said that the local people of the Niyamgiri Hills alone could decide whether to go ahead with the mine or not. Thanks to the Samantra’s work, the village leaders of the area voted against the mine. Defeated, Vedanta cancelled the project in 2015. Samantra’s story shows how people can fight for their rights even when faced with a powerful company.

Samantra is the sixth Indian to win the Goldman prize. This year, six people from all over the world have been awarded the prize, one from each of the six continents where people live.

Who is an activist?

activistAn activist is someone who tries to bring about change in society through his direct actions. For example, some activists help poor children get into schools, others run shelters for the needy while yet others work to protect the environment.

 

 

 

United States (US) astronaut Peggy Whitson is a on a record breaking mission. Whitson, who has been on the International Space Station (ISS) since November 2016, will stay in orbit until September 2017. By the time she lands back on Earth, she would have spent more time in space than any other US astronaut and the most by a woman astronaut. Whitson is also the first woman to command (be in charge of) the ISS.

The ISS is a space craft that orbits (goes around) the Earth in space. It belongs to several countries, including the US.

Whitson’s long stay on board the ISS will help scientists study the effect that long term space travel has on the human body. This is important as humans will no doubt travel further and further away from earth as we explore our universe.

After five years, an all-India count of wild elephants is happening this year. While the count has already begun in eastern India, it will happen in the four southern states in May 2017. The elephant species found in India is the Asian Elephant.

During the last count, held in 2012, around 29,000-30,000 elephants were counted in India. This year, the count was held in the north-eastern states and Bengal at the end of March. The four southern states-Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh-will do the count in May. The count is being done at the same time in the north-east and southern India clusters (states that are next to each other) so that migrating elephants are not counted twice.

How are elephants counted?

Two methods are used for counting elephants. One is the direct counting method where elephants seen in the forest are counted in a list. In the second method, dung samples are studied to make the count. Counts from both methods are then cross-checked to arrive at the right number of elephants.

In addition to counting elephants, the study will also look at ways in which humans are coming into conflict with these wild animals. As humans take over land for farming and making villages, they are cutting into the habitat of these giant creatures. This creates conflicts (fights) between humans and elephants. As a result, both elephants and humans have lost their lives while farms and homes have been destroyed.

Without rain, the land has turned dry in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier this week, farmers from Tamil Nadu began a dramatic protest in Delhi. After a month of quietly asking the government for help, the farmers took matters into their own hands. Unable to meet the Prime Minister to present their demands, the farmers began dramatic forms of protest, which included rolling on the road, demonstrating with dead rats and snakes in their mouths and even taking off their clothes to get attention for their problems.

Why are they protesting?

Last year during October to December, the north-east monsoon was a failure, and as a result many farmers in Tamil Nadu lost their crops. Before that summer crops were affected as Karnataka refused to release River Cauvery’s water for Tamil Nadu farmers. With crops lost and no money, many farmers killed themselves. More than a 100 farmers died between October and December 2016.

These farmers want the government to help with money to tide over the problem. They also want help in repaying loans they took for buying seeds and farm machinery.

Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh

Farmers in Tamil Nadu are looking to the government in Delhi for help because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which runs the central government has recently agreed to a ‘loan waiver’ in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a state that is also run by the BJP. In UP, the government has promised to put aside loans taken by small farmers-this means the farmers won’t have to repay loans taken from government banks.

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Tamil Nadu farmers took to unique ways to show that they had lost all and had nothing else to eat

The UP move is having an effect on other states as well. Farmers in Punjab and Maharashtra would also like the government to help them pay off loans. Is this a good idea?

Experts say “No”

Small farmers typically take money from local moneylenders and not banks. As a result, they won’t benefit from the UP government’s move say experts. Plus it is going to cost the government a lot of money to pay back these loans, which is not good news. Experts say it would be a better idea to help farmers to cultivate crops better by providing seeds and tools and earn more from their existing lands.

Why are farm loans important to us?

Farmers grow our food, so anything concerning farmers affects all of us. If farmers are in trouble, it could affect food supply to all of us.

This is what TRAPPIST-1f would look like, as imagined by an artist. As it is one of the outer exoplanets, it would be icy. Notice how the other exoplanets are visible in the sky (Image courtesy: NASA)

The search for life in outer space has come closer to a discovery with scientists finding a solar system like our own 40 light years away. The system consists of a star like our sun called Trappist-1 that has at least seven planets, of which at least three could contain some form of life. This is the first ever time seven Earth-sized planets orbiting (going around) a single star have been found, said US space agency NASA which made the announcement of the discovery.

Exciting discovery

The new star system is called Trappist-1, after the telescope Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) that was used to find it. In 2016, a group of scientists studying data from TRAPPIST announced that they may have found three planets around a star close to Earth. Further study led to the latest discovery that TRAPPIST-1 is a solar system much like our own with seven planets orbiting the star. Since these planets are outside our solar system, we call them exoplanets.

 

What do we know about Trappist-1?

  • The star at the centre of TRAPPIST-1 is much smaller than our Sun and is called an “ultra-cool” dwarf star. It is so cool in temperature that liquid water could survive in planets orbiting quite near it. In fact all seven of exoplanets found are closer to the star than Mercury is to our Sun
  • The exoplanets have been named Trappist 1b, c, d, e, f, g, h with 1b being the one closest to the star. TRAPPIST-1d, e and f receive approximately the same amount of heat energy as Venus, Earth and Mars respectively. Each of these three rocky worlds could have liquid water on its surface-a key ingredient for life as we know it.

What’s next?

In 2018, NASA will be sending up a new telescope called the James Webb telescope. The new telescope will check the planets for the presence of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, any of which could prove life exists. The Webb telescope also will study the planets’ temperatures and surface pressures, which are also indications on how ‘livable’ these planets would be.

The planets are so close to each other that people standing on the surface of one planet could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

What’s a light year?

Three of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are most likely to have water on them, and the ones further away could be icy planets. (Image courtesy: NASA)
Three of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are most likely to have water on them, and the ones further away could be icy planets. (Image courtesy: NASA)

Distances in space are so vast that we measure them in light years, as light travels faster than most objects. A light year is the distance travelled by light in one year and is equal to 9.5 trillion kilometres. At 40 light years, TRAPPIST-1 is just right around the corner from Earth! 

 

India had reason to celebrate!

After losing the first test match to Australia, India pulled off a famous win against the Australians in Bangalore on Tuesday. The four match test series is now tied at 1-1 with two more matches to be played.

It was a test that didn’t begin too well for India with the team getting out for just 189 runs. Indian bowlers managed to get the Australians out for 276, and Indian batsmen such as Cheteshwar Pujara (92 runs) and Ajinkya Rahane (52 runs) managed to establish a 187 run lead for India. On the fourth day, the Australians came in to bat and began comfortably before Ravichandran Ashwin and the rest of the Indian bowlers struck.

Ashwin went on to pick up six wickets and was well supported by bowlers Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma. By the end of the day, India had won the series by 75 runs.

With both teams competing tremendously, there should be some exciting cricket ahead at Ranchi where the third match will be played.

United States (US) President Donald Trump has signed a new order concerning movement of people from certain countries to the US. The new order follows protests and legal cases against his earlier order in January where he ruled that people from seven Islamic nations were blocked from entering the US.

How is this order different?

  • It targets people from six nations-Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Iraq has been excluded from the ban
  • The new ban only blocks new visas (entry permissions) for people from these six countries. Those with valid visas will be able to travel
  • People from these nation who want new visas for entry to the US can request for special permission to enter the country and may be granted if the US doesn’t find them a threat (danger)
  • What remains unchanged from the earlier order is that the US refugee programme has been stopped for 120 days and when it re-opens, America will take in only 50,000 refugees, down from 110,000 last year. Refugees are people who flee their country to find safety in another land.

Trump says this order is necessary as he fears the entry of people from these countries whose aim may be to hurt America and Americans. His opponents however state that his order is part of Trump’s larger distrust of Muslims as the targeted nations have a mainly Muslim population.

The PSLV launch vehicle is set for take-off

Indian space agency ISRO made history on February 15 by blasting 100 + satellites into space, all aboard one of its rockets.

On that day, ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C37 carried into space a weather satellite for India (Cartosat-2 Series satellite) as well as 103 nano satellites, including 96 from the US. The PSLV launch ricket lifted off from ISRO’s launch centre at Sriharikota space centre in Andhra Pradesh. This is three times the previous record of 37 satellite launches in a single day (held by Russia).

Bang on target

It was a high risk launch for ISRO as numerous satellites were released by the PSLV rocket in rapid-fire fashion within seconds of each other. One mistake would have sent satellites colliding (dashing) into each other. But it was all done in 11 minutes, with each satellite placed into its precise orbit. It was a flawless (perfect) performance from ISRO, that was much admired all over the world.

The successful launch of so many satellites gives India a stellar (top) ranking among the space agencies of the world. Plus, the fact that ISRO’s satellite launches are much cheaper than those done by European agencies has given the Indian space agency a real edge. Bengaluru-based ISRO is now regarded as one of the best space research agencies in the world.

What next?

Later this year, ISRO will launch the GSLV Mark III, its biggest ever launch vehicle that can carry extremely heavy satellites into space. In early 2018, the second moon mission-Chandrayaan-2 will be sent up. This will be an advanced version of the Chandrayaan 1 space craft (launched in 2008) and will include an orbiter, lander and rover, which indicates that the craft will land on the moon and will move on the lunar surface to carry out scientific tasks.

What are Nano satellites?

nanoNano satellites are small satellites (nano means small) less than 500 kg in weight. In the case of this launch, the nano satellites weighed much less as the entire payload (weight carried by the spacecraft) was 1378 kg, of which the weather satellite weighed 714 kg. The rest of the weight (1378-714=664 kg) was distributed across the nano satellites.

 

Good to know: What happens during a space launch?

The rocket with its payload strapped on lifts off from a space station on Earth. Once it reaches the right altitude (height) it releases its payload, placing them into orbit around Earth.

Ben Stokes

Regardless of the fact that the English team lost badly to India in the three series’ played recently, English players were snapped up by Indian Premier League (IPL) teams at the player auction held on Monday. The IPL is the T20 league played by teams from eight Indian cities each summer.

During the auction, IPL teams bid for players and the team willing to pay the highest for a player gets him. For in-form players, severe competition can drive prices very high indeed.  At this auction, the English players got such high bids. Meanwhile old timers such as pace bowler Ishant Sharma remained unsold.

Much of the action centered around bowlers who attracted the highest bids. For the first time players from Afghanistan also participated in the auction and were selected by teams. Relatively less known players from India, some of whom have never played for major Indian teams, also made it big in the auction, including T Natarajan from Tamil Nadu. The pace bowler, who belongs to a poor family but came up due to talent for the game, was snapped up by  Kings XI Punjab.

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Note: Price refers to the amount to be paid to the player per season

 

 

India’s only volcano at Barren Island in Andaman and Nicobar is erupting again. In late January, a research team working in the sea nearby noticed that the volcano was throwing out ash. At night, red coloured lava was seen flowing down the volcano’s slope. Lava is molten (melted) material coming out from deep beneath the Earth.

The Barren Island volcano which lay dormant for more than 150 years started erupting in 1991 and since then has shown signs of volcanic activity from time to time. The volcano is located 140 kilometres north-east of Port Blair.

The Andaman region has many volcanoes that lie under the surface of the sea. These are formed due to movements of the Earth’s top layer called the crust, as a result of which magma (molten rock) oozes out and forms volcanoes.

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Molten material below the surface of the Earth is called magma. When it flows on the surface it is called lava.