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Solar System 2.0 May Have Water-Rich Planets, Says a New Study

The seven Earth-like planets orbiting the faint red star TRAPPIST-1, just 40 light-years away, may host significant amounts of water.

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The seven Earth-like planets orbiting the faint red star TRAPPIST-1, just 40 light-years away, may host significant amounts of water, boosting the chances of finding life outside our solar system, a study has found.

The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system was first detected in 2016. Last year, further observations showed that there are at least seven planets in the system, each roughly the same size as the Earth.

These are named TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h, with increasing distance from the central star.

Scientists from the European Southern Observatory led by Simon Grimm at the University of Bern in Switzerland have applied very complex computer modelling methods to all the available data and have determined the planets densities with much better precision than was possible before.

“Densities, while important clues to the planets compositions, do not say anything about habitability. However, our study is an important step forward as we continue to explore whether these planets could support life,” said Brice-Olivier Demory, a researcher at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“The TRAPPIST-1 planets are so close together that they interfere with each other gravitationally, so the times when they pass in front of the star shift slightly,” said Grimm.

“These shifts depend on the planets masses, their distances and other orbital parameters,” he said. “With a computer model, we simulate the planets orbits until the calculated transits agree with the observed values, and hence derive the planetary masses,” he added.

The measurements of the densities, when combined with models of the planets compositions, strongly suggest that the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets are not barren rocky worlds, researchers said.

They seem to contain significant amounts of volatile material, probably water, amounting to up to five percent the mass of the planet in some cases. By comparison, the Earth has only about 0.02 percent water by mass, researchers said.

TRAPPIST-1b and c, the innermost planets, are likely to have rocky cores and be surrounded by atmospheres much thicker than Earths. TRAPPIST-1d, meanwhile, is the lightest of the planets at about 30 percent the mass of Earth. Scientists are uncertain whether it has a large atmosphere, an ocean or an ice layer. TRAPPIST-1e is the only planet in the system slightly denser than Earth, suggesting that it may have a denser iron core and that it does not necessarily have a thick atmosphere, ocean or ice layer, researchers said.

It is mysterious that TRAPPIST-1e appears to be so much rockier in its composition than the rest of the planets. In terms of size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star, this is the planet that is most similar to Earth. TRAPPIST-1f, g and h are far enough from the host star that water could be frozen into ice across their surfaces. If they have thin atmospheres, they would be unlikely to contain the heavy molecules that we find on Earth, such as carbon dioxide.

“It is interesting that the densest planets are not the ones that are the closest to the star, and that the colder planets cannot harbour thick atmospheres,” said Caroline Dorn, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

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SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY

India to host World Environment Day 2018

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India will host the global World Environment Day celebrations on 5 June 2018, the government and the UN jointly announced today.

“India will be a great global host of 2018’s World Environment Day celebrations,” said Erik Solheim, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Head, UN Environment at the announcement on Monday.

The government has also committed to organizing and promoting the World Environment Day celebrations through a series of engaging activities and events generating strong public interest and participation.

From pan India plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities – India will lead the initiative by setting an example.

“India is excited to host the World Environment Day this year on June 5. Indian philosophy and lifestyle have long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed towards making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place”, said Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment 2018, urges governments, industry, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic that is polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.

India is emerging as a leader given it has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. It can be instrumental in combating plastic pollution. By hosting World Environment Day 2018, the Indian government is accelerating its leadership on an issue of tremendous magnitude.

World Environment Day is a UN Environment-led global event, the single largest celebration of our environment each year, which takes place on June 5 and is celebrated by thousands of communities worldwide.

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SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY

India’s Lunar Mission Chandrayaan-2 to Aim for Moon’s South Pole

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Chandrayaan-2, the lunar mission under which the ISRO will for the first time attempt to land a rover on the moon’s south pole, will be launched in April, Jitendra Singh, in-charge of the Department of Space said.

The rover of India’s second lunar mission, costing nearly Rs 800 crore, will be made to land near the yet-unexplored south pole, ISRO’s newly-appointed chairman K Sivan said.

“India is going to launch Chandrayaan-2 in April. It is under Chandrayaan-1 mission that the ISRO spotted water on the moon. Chandrayaan-2 is a further extension of the project and it is as good as landing a man on the moon,” the minister said.

Chandrayaan-2 will be ISRO’s first inter-planetary mission to land a rover on any celestial body.

“The targeted date is April. In case we miss the April date, we will launch it in November,” Sivan added.

Citing the reason behind landing the rover near the south pole, Sivan said it is a “very tricky area” with rocks formed a million years ago. “It has very old rocks. This could possibly help us understand the origin of the universe,” he said.

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ECONOMY-DEVELOPMENT

WhatsApp Payment is Beta Test with Only 10 Lakh User Base

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Amid deep concerns raised by Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has clarified that it has allowed WhatsApp to beta test its payments service with a limited user base of 10 lakhs and a low transaction limit.

WhatsApp payment service will rival the likes of Paytm, whose founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma has been critical of the Facebook-owned company and has even alleged that the US firm was getting unfair advantage.

“Currently, NPCI has given its consent to roll out WhatsApp BHIM UPI beta launch with limited user base of one million and low per transaction limit. Four banks will join the multi-bank BHIM UPI model in phases (in the coming weeks) and full feature product shall be released after the beta test is successful,” NPCI said in a statement.

It added that multi-bank model offers advantages such as transaction load distribution between banks and helps to integrate popular apps easily with BHIM UPI.

NPCI said its broad principles for inter-operability include ability to send and receive money through any BHIM UPI ID, intent and collect call and, read and generate BHIM/Bharat QR code that are required in final BHIM UPI app.

“BHIM UPI enabled app which fulfils such principles only will be permissible for full scale-public launch,” it emphasised.

NPCI — an umbrella organisation for all retail payments in India — asserted that it follows “well-defined guidelines” for BHIM UPI services with the objective of making its platforms “inter-operable and based on open standards, convenient and secure”.

Paytm’s Sharma had raised a storm after Facebook-owned WhatsApp started testing payments through its platform. He alleged that WhatsApp’s UPI payment platform has security risks for consumers and is not in compliance with the guidelines.

Alleging Facebook of having “arm-twisted” UPI to derive benefits, Sharma had said Facebook was “killing beautiful open UPI system with its custom close garden implementation.”
Emails sent to WhatsApp for their response remained unanswered.

Paytm spokesperson said NPCI statement addresses the concerns of interoperability violation that it had raised and also clarifies that the trial has been restricted to 1 million users.

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