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    Researcher finds new spider, names after wife

    Caleb of the Zoological Survey of India made the discovery when he tapped the bark of a mango tree in his backyard near the Araabath tank in Tirumullaivoyal. Though he is an arachnologist - a person who studies spiders - he was unable to identify the seven spiders that darted out. Further research led him to conclude that he had stumbled upon a new species from the jumping spider family.

Science News - All News India

  • Environment

    Pre-monsoon dust aerosol loading reduces over north India

    Whenever dust is high over north India, the early part of monsoon rainfall is higher Though the aerosol burden over north India is three times more than the global mean value and has been increasing at about 3% per year for the past few decades, the amount of dust aerosol during the pre-monsoon period has decreased by 10-20% during the period 2000 to 2015.

A robotic warplane began navigating the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier as a prelude to possible flight tests. The Navy's X-47B drone rolled around the deck of the USS Harry S. Truman under the guidance of human operators — going through the motions necessary for preparing to take off or taxiing around the busy flight deck. Such testing marked a historic step toward a future when the U.S. military replaces many of its manned fighter jets and bombers with robotic warplanes. "This type of innovation hasn't been seen since the first time an aircraft landed aboard a carrier, which puts us further ahead as a military," said Lt. Anthony Lee, Truman's flight deck officer.
The massive extinction that killed off the dinosaurs may have also decimated lizards and snakes, according to new research. In the past, researchers believed that the K-T extinction, which occurred around 65 million years ago, wiped out dinosaurs, but mostly spared lizards and snakes. But the new findings, published today (Dec. 10) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that about 83 percent of these reptiles went extinct. "I think it is a pretty important piece of work," said Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist from Columbia University who was not involved in the study. "It does a nice job of showing that extinction at the end of the Cretaceous really hit lizards and snakes hard."
Merging the Elements Photograph courtesy Robert Ferguson, Boeing/NASA An experimental Boeing X-48B aircraft sports a unique design that smoothly combines its body and wings. The X-48B's "blended wing body" could become a popular template for commercial passenger planes in the coming decades because of its fuel-saving potential, according to a new report by the U.K.'s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Entitled "Aero 2075: Flying Into A Bright Future?", the report examines game-changing concepts that could reshape air travel. The blended wing body design, for instance, merges the fuselage, wings, and engines in an airplane into a single surface, which "means you've only got one surface to lift, with increased aerodynamic efficiency," explained Philippa Oldham, head of transport at IMechE and the lead author of the new report. "With the current 'cigar tube with wings' design, which has a larger surface area, this leads to an increase in drag, and therefore the aircraft is less aerodynamically efficient."
The explosion of diversity, recognised as the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, brought about the rise of various marine life, tremendous change across species families and types, as well as changes to the Earth, starting at the bottom of the ocean floors. �This oxygenation is supported by two approaches that are mostly independent from each other, using different sets of geochemical records and predicting the same amount of oxygenation occurred at roughly the same time as diversification,� said Cole Edwards, assistant professor at Washington University in the U.S. �We made another link between biodiversification and oxygen levels, but this time during the Ordovician where near-modern levels of oxygen were reached about 455 million years ago,� said Mr. Edwards. �It should be stressed that this was probably not the only reason why diversification occurred then. It is likely that other changes � such as ocean cooling, increased nutrient supply to the oceans and predation pressures - worked together to allow animal life to diversify for millions of years,� he said. Chemical signatures Using geochemical proxies, high-resolution data and chemical signatures preserved in carbonate rocks formed from seawater, researchers were able to identify an oxygen increase during the Middle and Late Ordovician periods. They found a nearly 80% increase in oxygen levels where oxygen constituted about 14% of the atmosphere during the Darriwilian Stage (Middle Ordovician 460-465 million years ago) and increased to as high as 24% of the atmosphere by the mid-Katian (Late Ordovician 450-455 million years ago). �Major pulses� �This study suggests that atmospheric oxygen levels did not reach and maintain modern levels for millions of years after the Cambrian explosion, which is traditionally viewed as the time when the ocean-atmosphere was oxygenated,� Mr. Edwards said. �In this research, we show that the oxygenation of the atmosphere and shallow ocean took millions of years, and only when shallow seas became progressively oxygenated were the major pulses of diversification able to take place,� Mr. Edwards said.
CHENNAI: Realising the importance of having its own unit to help tackle exigencies arising out of disasters, the state has set up a Tamil Nadu Disaster Response Force with headquarters at the office of the special police XIII battalion in Avadi. The battalion, whose members have so far been called to handle various emergencies across the state, has been redesignated the new unit. The 1,000-member unit, which will be modeled on the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), will be initially provided training by personnel of the central agencies and provided equipment similar to that used by them. "This will go a long way in improving the disaster preparedness of the state. The unit has been located near Chennai to enable to respond to a disaster in the minimum time possible," The unit will be headed by ADGP (operations) and IG (operations and TN disaster response force) and will be allocated ?15 crore from the state disaster response fund for procuring equipment and capacity building. The state is expected to release more funds in the coming years for buying advanced equipment and improvement of infrastructure.
What?s common to Barack Obama, Leonardo di Caprio, Angelina Jolie, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Lennon and Kumari, the wife of Chennai-based naturalist John Caleb? They all have spider species named after them. Caleb of the Zoological Survey of India made the discovery when he tapped the bark of a mango tree in his backyard near the Araabath tank in Tirumullaivoyal. Though he is an arachnologist - a person who studies spiders - he was unable to identify the seven spiders that darted out. Further research led him to conclude that he had stumbled upon a new species from the jumping spider family. Caleb chose to honour his wife for her constant support and encouragement by naming it Icius kumariae. His findings have been published in the Russian peer-reviewed journal Arthropoda Selecta. Caleb said jumping spiders are the most diverse spider family, consisting of 6010 described species. These are tiny creatures which can be easily recognised by their large anterior median eyes. They are diurnal hunters and have excellent vision and rapid reflexes. ?Till date, the Icius genus has not been recorded in India. I also found another species Icius alboterminus from the same genus at this spot in 2014 but I had not recorded it then,? he said. The new species was described based on five male and two female specimens collected from the same tree. Together with enthusiastic kids of the neighborhood, he has collected over 50 different species of spiders surrounding the water body. In addition to serving the groundwater table, it is also home of many migratory birds. ?I have been living here for the last two decades and the water body is indiscriminately polluted with sewage and open defecation of late. We have raised it with authorities to no avail,? he said. The discovery of the new species indicates the pressing need for conservation of the water body which may harbour many more undiscovered life forms, Caleb added.
During the study, scientists used nano particles of calcium phosphate a biomineral found in bone doped with almost equally tiny sizes of iron atoms and guided (one way is to inject) them to liver tumours in laboratories. They applied heat to burn down the cancerous cells using radio frequency, a process called radio frequency ablation. �Calcium phosphate works as a good radio frequency agent. It�s designed in such a way that it�s visible on MRIs and CT scans. So, it is easier to diagnose cancer and safer to treat,� said institute director Dr Shantikumar Nair. While the process is commonly used by cardiologists to correct irregular heartbeats, scientists are developing it as a plausible treatment for cancers of the lungs and oesophagus as well. Now, the most common treatment for cancer involves radiation and use of gamma rays to kill cancer cells, but this may damage normal human cells and trigger side-effects. The alternative targeted therapy such as cyberknife is precise but expensive. �We wanted to find an accessible and cheaper treatment that can use RF microwaves. We stumbled up calcium phosphate, which is non-toxic and biodegradable. The body does not treat this as a foreign material,� said professor Manzoor Koyakutty of the institute. The discovery, scientists admit, was made by chance when they were doing experiments to optimise MRI imaging and RF properties of material containing calcium and found calcium getting heated when exposed to radio waves. They enhanced its hyper thermal properties by doping it with iron nanoparticles with magnetic properties. �The image guided therapy using this nano material is very attractive as it will help us treat cancer with precision,� said Dr Vijay Harish of the institute. The results of the study were published in Nature group of Journal, Scientific Reports. As of now, the scientists have proof they will be able to treat smaller tumours with the low heat by using these nano particles. �We will soon start animal experiments after which clinical trials will follow,� he said.
An aptitude for science and math won six students from across the country a five-day trip to Nasa�s Kennedy Space Center near Orlando. The winners of The Times National Aptitude Challenge, a science and math test for school students held in association with Byju�s Learning App, beat 3,55,137 students from 791 schools. The students spent three days at Kennedy Space Center, where they interacted with an astronaut, got to see the Nasa vehicle assembly unit, rocket launch pads, and also experienced a simulated shuttle journey. Speaking about their visit, the students exuded excitement.
Though the aerosol burden over north India is three times more than the global mean value and has been increasing at about 3% per year for the past few decades, the amount of dust aerosol during the pre-monsoon period has decreased by 10-20% during the period 2000 to 2015. �Past studies have shown that whenever pre-monsoon dust aerosol is more over north Indian region, the early part of monsoon rainfall is higher,� says V. Vinoj from the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bhubaneswar, Odisha. �Our study shows that dust aerosol loading is declining during pre-monsoon period, but the bad news is that rainfall may be reducing during early monsoon.� Besides gathering data from ground-based stations, the team of researchers led by Dr. Vinoj used satellite-based measurements from different platforms. All five ground-based stations (AERONET sites) show a decreasing trend in the aerosol loading during the pre-monsoon period across the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Largest decrease has been over Jaipur and the least reduction was in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Since the amount of aerosol loading has been increasing in this region on an annual basis, the reduction registered at these stations must be due to decrease in dust aerosols, the researchers say. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports. �Maximum reduction [in terms of quantity] in total particulate loading during pre-monsoon period is seen in the northwest part of India. However, the eastern parts of India have witnessed the greatest percentage reduction in particulate loading,� says Dr. Vinoj. �This indicates that the source of observed changes is towards the west.� Proof of dust reduction The satellite-based measurements too indicate a reduction in aerosol loading during the pre-monsoon period over a large swathe of area over northwest India. Generally, satellite-based methodologies are not very good at distinguishing between aerosol types. However, the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on board the Aura satellite, which is sensitive to absorbing aerosols, shows a decreasing trend. This indicates that the changes are related to dust and/or black carbon, both of which are more absorbing in nature. Ground-based stations in Karachi, Lahore and Kanpur, which have the longest available data, show �significant reduction� in dust loading during 2000-2015. The decreases are 10-20% over all the sites. The decrease in aerosol has been most pronounced in the areas west of the Indo-Gangetic Plain, with Jaipur registering about 3% drop per year with respect to the year 2000, while Kanpur showing a relatively lower reduction of about 0.5%. Based on aerosol size and absorption information collected from ground-based stations, the researchers have been able to confirm that the decreasing trend is due to dust particulates. MERRA2, a more sophisticated, model-based analysis, too, shows similar trends. �This is proof that it is dust which is reducing the total particulate loading during recent times,� Satyendra K. Pandey from IIT Bhubaneswar and the first author of the paper. The reason for a reduction in dust loading during the pre-monsoon period is due to increased rainfall, with maximum increase seen over Pakistan region and Thar desert, which is a dust-source region. The pre-monsoon rainfall makes the soil wet thereby reducing the amount of dust that gets emitted and also increases the removal of dust present in the atmosphere. In addition, there has been a gradual slowdown in wind speed in the vicinity of Thar desert. �These two factors might be contributing to reduced dust loading during pre-monsoon period over north India,� he says. �In the last 10-15 years, the area under irrigation in Rajasthan has increased and so is the area under vegetation,� says Prof. Vimal Mishra from the Civil Engineering department at IIT Gandhinagar, who is not part of this study.