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Current General Knowledge: March-April 2009

GOCE: Gravity field and steady state Ocean Circulation Explorer.
IW: Information Warfare.

Hoover Medal, 2008: Former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has been chosen to receive the prestigious 2008 Hoover Medal for outstanding public service. He has been recognized for making state-of-the-art healthcare available to the common man at affordable prices, bringing quality medical care to rural areas by establishing a link between doctors and technocrats, using spin-offs of defence technology to create state-of-the-art medical equipment, and launching telemedicine projects connecting remote hospitals to super-speciality hospitals.

Stockholm Water Prize, 2009: Bindeshwar Pathak, an Indian doctor who developed cheap toilets to improve sanitation in poor communities has been honoured with the award. He will receive the $ 150,000 cash award and a symbolic glass sculpture. The Stockholm International Water Institute said Pathak’s achievements constitute one of the most amazing examples of how one person can impact the well-being of millions. Pathak founded the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation in India in 1970 and recently started operations in Bhutan and Afghanistan.

Mother Teresa Award, 2009: Tamil Nadu Governor and former Punjab Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala has been selected for the Mother Teresa Lifetime achievement award 2009 for his contribution in the field of social work and admi-nistration. Hillary Clinton, Sheikh Hasina, Girija Prasad Koirala, late Rajiv Gandhi, Jyothi Basu, Hema Malini and Rajesh Khanna are among the earlier recipients of the award.

Raghavan panel report on ragging: States have been ignoring the Raghavan committee recommendations that were accepted by the Supreme Court in 2007. The major recommendation of the committee was that Central regulatory bodies should take ragging situation as an important factor in accreditation of education institutions.
The committee had also recommended anti-ragging cells should have been established at Central, State and college level and toll-free helpline should be provided for ragging victims. Strong law against ragging with responsibility to prove not guilty lying on the perpetrator was also recommended.
The committee had also suggested that NCERT and SCERT school books should include chapter on ragging, and psychological counselling on anti-ragging and human rights should be conducted at higher secondary level.

Interceptor Missile tested: On March 6, 2009, India’s Missile Defence Programme took a leap forward as scientists demonstrated the capacity to intercept an enemy missiles in mid-air and destroy it. The third test in the continuing programme was conducted off the wheeler island in Orissa.
As part of the test, an enemy missile was destroyed at a height of 75 km above the earth. With this India joins a select band of nations, such as the USA, Russia and Israel, who have similar capabilities.
The latest test was against a moving missile. This provides a credible defence against long-range missiles owned by Pakistan having range between 400 and 2,000 km and the Chinese arsenal that varies from a range of 300 km to 2,800 km. Countering an incoming missile is one of the biggest challenges in modern-day warfare.
To mimic the incoming enemy’s ballistic missile trajectory, a Dhanush missile was launched from a ship about 100 km off the coast of Orissa. This missile achieved a height of 120 km. The interceptor missile sensed the enemy missile and was fired from a mobile launcher located on Wheeler island.

Phalcons to give IAF early bird advantage: After several technical and other hiccups, IAF will finally get its most potent force-multiplier, the desperately awaited Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems), from Israel in May 2009. The Phalcon AWACS will bolster IAFs capabilities to detect troop build-up or aircraft movements deep inside Pakistan, much further than ground-based radars, while flying well within Indian air-space. An AWACS flying over Amritsar, for instance, will be able to detect and track a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet as soon as it takes off from its Sargodha airbase. AWACS are primarily used for detection of incoming hostile cruise missiles and aircraft from hundreds of km away in all-weather conditions, as well as directing air defence fighters during combat operations against enemy jets.

Indian scientists find UV-resistant bacteria: Indian scientists have discovered three new bacteria, about 40 km above the surface of the earth, which can resist ultra-violet radiation, a finding that could throw light on the origin of life on the planet. These three types of bacteria that do not match any species on earth were found in samples collected through a balloon sent up to the stratosphere in April 2005. This layer of earth’s atmosphere receives heavy ultraviolet radiation that is harmful to almost all life on earth and typically kills bacteria.
The balloon sent up to the stra-tosphere was the second effort by India after a maiden venture in 2001. It contained probes that collected air samples at different heights ranging from 20 km to 41 km above the earth’s surface.
The experiment was conducted by a team led by Jayant Narlikar, founder director of the Inter-
University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Bangalore.
The current belief is that ultra-violet radiation inhibits growth of any living system. Based on the origin of life theory, some of these organisms may be coming from an extraterrestrial source, or it could be mutants that have emanated from the various earthly processes. Though the experiment does not conclusively establish the extraterrestrial origin of microorganisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in a quest to explore the origin of life.
The three bacteria have been named Janibacter hoylei after astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, who promoted the theory that life evolved in space; Bacillus isronensis that recognizes the contribution of India’s space agency in the balloon experiments that led to its discovery; and Bacillus aryabhata after India’s ancient astronomer who postulated that the earth revolves around the sun.

New greenhouse gases: Scientists have identified two new greenhouse gases, one emitted by the electronic industry and the other used in pest control, which are rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere. Climate scientist Dr Paul Fraser of CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research has reported the measurements of nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and sulfuryl fluoride (SO2F2), the two new gases. They say countries should consider including these gases for control in the revision of the Kyoto Protocol.

RIL’s KG basin commences production: Reliance Industries Ltd has announced the commencement of gas production from one of the world’s largest gas discoveries that took place in 2002 in the Krishna- Godavari (KG) basin in the Bay of Bengal. With this, India is expected to save $ 9 billion in annual energy import expenditure.
Gas production from Reliance’s $ 8.8 billion KG-D6 deepwater gas project, of which $ 5.4 billion has already been invested, is expected to transform India’s energy landscape by doubling the current level of indigenous gas production by 2010.
At $ 4.2 per million British thermal unit, the KG-D6 gas is 25 per cent cheaper than the fuel produced by UK’s BG-operated Panna/Mukta and Tapti fields in the Western Offshore and 20 per cent cheaper than Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imported on long-term contracts.
The KG-D6 gas is also expected to substantially reduce India’s dependence on energy imports and bring down subsidy levels in the fertilizer, transportation and other sectors.
Besides doubling the nation’s domestic gas production, the KG-D6 gas would substitute costly naphtha or imported LNG as fuel at power and fertilizer plants. The gas would also boost power supply from idle power plants starved of fuel and produce cheaper urea for agriculture. By 2010, output from D6 will be increased to 80 mmscmd, doubling India’s gas production capability.
Gas from the KG D6 deepwater block will be piped to an onshore facility at Gadimoga, a small village in the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, before it is deli-vered to the consumers. Reliance operates D6 with a 90% stake, with Canada’s Niko Resources holding the remaining 10%.

Chawla, Navin: He has been appointed as the Chief Election Commissioner of India. An Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1969 batch, he will hold charge till July 29, 2010. He was appointed Election Commissioner on May 13, 2005. Navin Chawla has had a controversial past. The Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, on January 31, 2009, had sent his
recommendation regarding removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla to the President of India. The CEC had alleged that Chawla had discharged his duties as Election Commissioner in a partisan manner, seeking to further the interests of “one party”. The CEC recommendation was, however, rejected by the Union government.

Naik, Pradeep Vasant: Air Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik has been appointed as the next chief of Indian Air Force. Born on July 22, 1949, he was commissioned into the IAF in 1969 and has 3,085 hours of fighter flying under his belt. A veteran of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, he has also served as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Allahabad-based Central Air
Command. He is a fellow of the National Defence College, New Delhi, College of Defence Management, Secundrabad and Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. The courses attended by him include flying instructor course, jungle and snow survival and junior commanders’ course.

Istanbul: Government ministers from 120 countries, scientists and campaigners met in Istanbul from March 16-22, 2009, to discuss how to avert a global water crisis and ease tensions between States fighting over rivers, lakes and glaciers.

L’Aquila: More than 250 persons were killed in a devastating earthquake that rocked central Italy in first week of April 2009, around the ancient town of L’Aquila. An estimated 50,000 people were left homeless. The US geological survey reported the strength of the quake at 6.3 saying it was centred 95 km northeast of Rome, at a depth of 10 km.

London: World leaders gather-ed here on April 2, 2009 for the G-20 Summit to discuss the ongoing economic crisis and to find solution to the economic woes of developing countries.

Rome: Labour Ministers from the G-8 nations and six other major economies gathered here in March 2009 for talks on the human dimension of the financial crisis sweeping the planet. The three-day Group of 14 meeting brought together the G8 leading industrial powers with the emerging giants China, India and Brazil, as well as Mexico, South Africa and Egypt.

South Africa: Indian Premier League (IPL) has chosen South Africa for hosting the second edition of the highly popular Twenty20 cricket tournament from April 18, 2009. The tournament had to be shifted from India due to clash of dates with General Elections being held in India at the same time.

Krishnapatnam Port: The developer and operator of an all-weather, deep-water port in Andhra Pradesh, Krishnapatnam Port Co Ltd (KPCL) is constructing the port in three phases at Krishnapatnam in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. The first phase, built at a cost of Rs 1,400 crore, had commenced operations in July 2008. The first phase of KPCL’s port project has a cargo handling capacity of 25 million tonnes a year. The  second phase of expansion will take up total berths in the port to 12 from four now, where the company plans to reserve at least six berths for handling coal, leaving the rest for general bulk and container cargo.

Mughal road project: The prestigious Mughal road project, which will connect Kashmir valley with the rest of India, is expected to be completed by March 2011. The estimated cost of the project, undertaken under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme (PMRP), was Rs 225 crores in 2006. This has been revised to Rs 639.85 crore now. So far, at least 6 culverts are ready, while work on 43 culverts and two bridges is going on.

Polypill passes first major test: A single pill that contains five life saving drugs to combat bad cholesterol, high blood pressure and clotting at one go, has come closer to reality after passing its first big test. Scientists have announced that polypill, a once-a-day pill that combines cholesterol-lowering statin, aspirin and three BP-lowering drugs was as effective as drugs taken separately, with no greater side effects. The study tested polypill on 2,053 Indians aged 48-80 years who did not have heart disease but had a single risk factor like raised BP, diabetes, obesity or smoking. It concluded that if the pill was given to this population, it would reduce risk of heart disease by 62% and stroke by 48%.

Green chewing gum launched: The world’s first biodegradable chewing gum, which is completely environment-friendly, has been introduced in supermarkets all over Britain. Chicza Rainforest Gum, as it is called, is manufactured in Mexico by Consorcio Chiclero, which is a consortium of 56 co-operatives employing some 2,000 chicleros (gum farmers) and their families.
The workers extract natural gum from the sap of the chicle tree, which is then used to make the pro-duct. Unlike conventional chewing gum, which contains petrochemicals, the organic chewing gum does not stick to clothing or pavements. Once disposed of, it will crumble to dust in about six weeks, dissolving harmlessly in water or being absorbed into the soil.

Big step for creating artificial life: US scientists said they have taken an important step toward making an artificial life form by making a ribosome that makes the proteins that carry out key business for all form of life.
Messenger RNA carries DNA’s genetic instructions to a cell’s ribosome, which then cooks up the desired protein. Every living organism from bacteria to humans uses a ribosome, and they are all strikingly similar. It is not quite artificial life, but an important step in that direction, said George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, who directed the research with a single graduate student.
Normal ribosomes make some drugs slowly, and others can’t be made at all. However, a man-made, or reconstituted, ribosome may be programmable to make all kinds of molecules.

GOCE—Eye in space to disclose earth’s secrets: A European satellite, GOCE (Gravity field and steady state Ocean Circulation Explorer), launched in March 2009, is to show scientists the inner workings of earth, from the movements of ocean currents to the location of oil deposits. Its data will enable scientists to detect the flows of molten rock that underlie the movements of tectonic plates and cause earthquakes. The GOCE probe will measure tiny anomalies in earth’s gravity, caused by anything from mountain ranges to subterranean lava flows or ocean trenches.
Scientists have long known that the earth’s gravity varies all over its surface and that measuring those changes could give insights into the planet’s inner workings. However, designing an instrument capable of measuring them, which would also survive the rigours of blast-off, has until now proved impossible. GOCE will yield details of the Earth’s gravity field to an accuracy and resolution that is simply unobtainable by existing terrestrial and space techniques. For geologists, perhaps the most exciting prospect is of being able to peer deep below the earth’s crust.

Images from moon to go online: US space agency NASA has entered into a collaboration with software giant Microsoft Corp to develop a new technology that will make planetary images and data accessible worldwide through Internet. The joint venture will work to develop a new technology to make NASA’s content, including high-resolution images and data from Mars and the moon, available on worldwide telescope, Microsoft’s online virtual telescope.
Under the agreement, NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California, will process and host more than 100 terabytes of data, enough to fill 20,000 DVDs. Worldwide Telescope will also incorporate the data and feature images sent from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The tool will also have images from a camera aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scheduled to be launched in May 2009.

NSE free float-based indices to change market-cap weightage: When the National Stock Exchange (NSE) calculates its bench mark indices using the free float metho-dology from June 2009, the market capitalisation (M-cap) weightage of key companies and sectors would undergo major changes. Sectors with high institutional holding and companies having a large number of shares available for trading would gain from the move. The NSE currently uses full m-cap weightage methodology for computing its key indices.
Free float m-cap takes into consideration only those shares which are readily available for trading in the market. It usually excludes promoters’ holding, government holding, strategic holding and locked in shares that normally do not come to the market for trading.

G-20: G-20 or the Group of Twenty is a forum of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of the biggest industrialised and deve-loping economies to discuss key issues in the global economy. The G-20 countries account for 90% of global GDP, 80% of world trade and two-thirds of the world’s population.
The Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 raised fears of a global economic meltdown and world leaders became acutely aware of the lack of a platform where key emerging market countries and the G-7 industrialised nations could discuss the status of the global economy and measures for its improvement. The G-20 was born in 1999 as a result of this recognition.
Although the group has 19 of the world’s largest economies as its members, it has no formal criteria for membership. Apart from the G-7 industrialised nations, it includes emerging economies like India,
China, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, South Korea, Argentina, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Australia. The 20th member is the European Union, which is represented by whichever country holds the EU Presidency. The IMF and the World Bank also attend G-20
meetings. The chairmanship rotates every year. Britain is in the chair for 2009.


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