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Indian Astronomers Report Burst From Rare Black Hole

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Indian astronomers have reported one of the strongest flares from a feeding super massive black hole or blazar called BL Lacertae, some 10 million light-years away.

And, the analysis of the flare from this blazar, one of the oldest astronomical objects — can help trace the mass of the black hole and the source of this emission.

This, the team believes can provide a lead to probe into mysteries and trace events at different stages of evolution of the Universe.

A team of astronomers led by Alok Chandra Gupta from the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) had been following the blazar since October 2020 as part of an international observational campaign.

The team detected the exceptionally high flare on January 16, 2021, with the help of Sampurnanand Telescope (ST) and 1.3m Devasthal Fast Optical Telescopes located in Nainital.

“This class of objects is very unique. They have complete electromagnetic emission, that is they emit radiation in all electromagnetic bands ,Radio Waves; Microwaves; Infrared; Visible Light; Ultraviolet (UV); X-Rays and Gamma Rays — which is not something all objects can do. Gamma ray births do this, but they are short lived,” Gupta told TOI.

He said that these objects are most distant, meaning they were formed in the very early stage of universe formation.

“While there are more than a billion agents/sources that astronomers have detected over the years, these objects are very rare. Till date, only about 5,000 blazars are known. And, of these, only about 50 are prominent, allowing continuous/long-term observation,” he added.

According to the department of science and technology (DST), Blazars or feeding supermassive black holes in the heart of distant galaxies receive a lot of attention from the astronomical community because of their complicated emission mechanism.

“They emit jets of charged particles traveling nearly at the speed of light and are one of the most luminous and energetic objects in the Universe,” the DST said.

“BL Lacertae blazar is 10 million light-years away and is among the 50 most prominent blazars that can be observed with the help of a relatively small telescope.

It was among the three to four blazars that was predicted to be experiencing flares by the Whole Earth Blazar Telescope (WEBT), an international consortium of astronomers,” Gupta said.

The data collected from the flare observed will help calculation of the black hole mass, size of emission region, and mechanism of the emission from one of the oldest astronomical objects known, hence opening a door to the origin and evolution of the Universe.

Times of India

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Science

Another Human Species Discovered

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Scientists have found a large skull at the bottom of a well in northeastern China. The researchers have said this skull may belong to a new species of early human they have called “dragon man.”

The well-preserved skullcap, found in the Chinese city of Harbin, is between 138,000 and 309,000 years old, according to geochemical analysis, and it combines primitive features, such as a broad nose and low brow and braincase, with those that are more similar to Homo sapiens, including flat and delicate cheekbones.

The ancient hominin — which researchers said was “probably” a 50-year-old man — would have had an “extremely wide” face, deep eyes with large eye sockets, big teeth and a brain similar in size to modern humans.

Three papers detailing the find were published in the journal The Innovation on Friday.

“The Harbin skull is the most important fossil I’ve seen in 50 years. It shows how important East Asia and China is in telling the human story,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at The Natural History Museum in London and coauthor of the research.

Researchers named the new hominin Homo longi, which is derived from Heilongjiang, or Black Dragon River, the province where the cranium was found.

The team plans to see if it’s possible to extract ancient proteins or DNA from the cranium, which included one tooth, and will begin a more detailed study of the skull’s interior, looking at sinuses and both ear and brain shape, using CT scans.

With these discoveries overtime, it means we weren’t the only humans on the block.

In the millennia since Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa about 300,000 years ago, we have shared the planet with Neanderthals, the enigmatic Denisovans, the “hobbit” Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and Homo naledi, as well as several other ancient hominins.

This also means we had sex with some of them and produced babies. Some of these ancestors are well represented in the fossil record, but most of what we know about Denisovans comes from genetic information in our DNA.

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Is Rwanda Ready For GMO Cassava?

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In 2005, Felicien Simpunga cleared his 8 hectares of land and planted cassava in Ruhango district . The yields were always impressive year-in-year-out.

When Kinazi cassava processing plant was established in 2012, it became his main client. Simpunga decided to set up a small factory to process raw dried cassava into flour and sold it at a higher price than raw cassava.

However, in 2014 Simpunga nearly lost everything after an outbreak of Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), known locally as Kabore.
All eight hectares of his cassava plants were infested and had to be uprooted.

“I had taken a bank loan of Rwf15 million that I haven’t been able to pay back. My four children could no longer go to school. All the workers on my farm lost their jobs and income too”, Simpunga said.

Cassava Brown Streak Disease spread to other cassava-producing districts including; Gisagara, Muhanga, Nyanza, Ruhango, Kamonyi and Bugesera. The loss was so huge.

Rwanda resorted to import a much resistant cassava variety in neighbouring Uganda.

Cassava is served as a staple food for 200 million people across the African continent. However, the crop has periodically suffered mysterious infestations of cassava mealybugs and brown streak virus.

Years later Kenya ordered its scientists to conduct research on a better cassava variety that would resist such attacks- and the answer was a genetically modified variety.

After seven years of intense research on controversial genetically modified cassava, Kenya government has finally approved open cultivation and consumption of this new species.

This latest development is expected to disrupt scientific research within the East African Community which has been resistant to adoption of Genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Kenya’s GM Cassava now becomes the first food crop to be approved for field cultivation. In 2019, Kenya approved GM cotton and farmers are already growing the first crop of this variety.

According to Rwanda’s Musoni Augustin a Pioneer Plant Breeder, embracing GMOs has its own advantages and shortcomings.

“There is little debate on adoption of GMOs in Rwanda. But we usually discuss about this subject inside our laboratories,” Musoni told Taarifa on Friday.

Musoni also says that many african countries have been hesitant to taking up such genetically modified organisms, however, he noted that many of these countries are importing GMOs and consuming them without their knowledge.

“Rwanda imports some Maize seeds from South Africa where such biotech science has been legally supported,” He said, adding that many other genetically modified foods are imported and consumed.

Cassava farmer in neighbouring Uganda shows off his GMO cassava

Kenya’s approval of genetically engineered cassava may trigger alot of scientific and policy alterations among member countries in the East African regional bloc.

Critiques argue that where biotech claims it has the solution to a life-threatening problem, the product is often in development for years after the press releases proclaim its life-saving properties. This often results in cuts in funding for more traditional and safer options such as biological control, which unlike GMOs, deal with the cause rather than the symptoms of the problem.

Dr. Hans Herren won the World Food Prize in 1995 for using biological controls to halt a mealybug infestation that threatened to destroy cassava crops across Africa.

By investing in co-creation of solutions in which farmers and scientists work together, embedded in the local ecological conditions. Cassava is a very resilient crop and, refering to the mealybug and green-spider-mites biological control, natural solutions do work and are supported by healthy soils and healthy plants.

The answer is not more technology to overcome nature, it is understanding nature and working with it to restore balance.

“Years of biotechnology research give you one genetically modified plant variety that does one thing. Tackling the cause of the problem beats symptom treatment, every time,” according to our source preferring anonymity.

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US Hates Vaccine Passports, Europe Loves Them

Back in 1992, Yiannis Klouvas converted an old cinema into the Blue Lagoon restaurant, which garnered a strong reputation for live music. There is no music now.

The business, like so many others on the Greek island of Rhodes, is struggling due to the pandemic’s restrictions on travel.

“If we see a tourist on the street these days,” he says, “we take a photo to remember them.”

Mr. Klouvas is now banking on the EU Digital COVID Certificate, also known as the “green passport,” to save the summer.

Starting July 1, all EU member states will accept the certificates as proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a recent negative test, or recovery from the disease.

The plan got a resounding yes at the European Parliament on June 9. All EU member states, Liechtenstein, and Norway will implement the passport.

But across the Atlantic, the idea faces strong head winds, whether for travel or domestic use. The Biden administration has ruled out introducing vaccination passports, and some states even ban them.

Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson likened the use of them to segregation. “Medical Jim Crow has come to America,” he said.

Prioritizing freedom and fears of government overreach underpin the rejection of vaccine certificates in the U.S., while European societies have grappled more with issues of privacy and fairness.

And so as Western countries savor a return to the old, this phase of post-pandemic mobility is being shaped by cultural attitudes – like Europeans’ tendency to make the most of having entirely different cultures within a few hours’ drive – and the initial responses to the pandemic.

“Alabama never closed the border to Mississippi in the way Finland closed the border to Sweden,” points out Anders Herlitz, a researcher at Sweden’s Institute for Futures Studies.

“Here in the EU, the vaccine passports are seen as a necessary evil to get rid of other, much more extensive, limitations to people’s freedom, whereas in the U.S., they would not help getting rid of other limitations, but only cause new limitations.”

Jen Kates, director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, says previous pandemic plans didn’t account for cultural variations and responses.

“One thing we know from how COVID has played out globally is that culture matters,” she says. “Politics, culture, all the differences that we know that structure people’s lives have to be taken into account, both for getting back to normal and for preparing for the next pandemic.”

Europe’s green passport

Nine European countries, including Greece and Germany, are already using the EU COVID-19 passport. When the Greek government unveiled the passport, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis trumpeted the opening of a “fast lane” to facilitate travel.

Everyone realises two years without tourists would be an economic disaster for the Mediterranean nation.

“Greece is very strongly pro-vaccine passport, especially as far as foreigners are concerned,” says Paris Kyriacopolous, chairman of Motodynamics and Lion Rental, which operates Sixt Rent a Car in Greece.

Ipsos polling data suggests the dominant attitude toward COVID-19 vaccine passports across Europe is equally positive.

When it comes to using them domestically, citizens are more concerned by questions of fairness than by privacy issues, and pockets of society are ambivalent about or opposed to vaccines. But when it comes to travel, the view is clearly pro.

Even Germany, which had more rigorous ethical debates on the issues and boasts stringent data privacy laws, got behind the idea of digital health certificates.

More than 60% of Germans now support implementing them, according to a recent YouGov poll, even though less than half the population has had a first jab.

Malcolm Jorgensen, an academic who is providing administrative assistance at one of Berlin’s six vaccination centres, is fully vaccinated as of this week.

His vaccination card has allowed him to shop at markets and visit the gym without flashing a coronavirus test result. He says the move from a paper card to a digital passport isn’t much of a leap.

“There’s already informal digitization,” says Dr. Jorgensen. “At the gym I can just show a photograph of my vaccination booklet, rather than the booklet itself. Digitization is inevitable.”

In Germany, debates over the passports have had less to do with privacy concerns than with equity of access for people who choose not to or cannot be vaccinated. Analysts note that medical insurance companies already have individuals’ health details.

“It’s an ethical question,” says Olga Stepanova, a data protection attorney with WINHELLER Law. “Each government needs to decide what kinds of access limitations may be imposed to protect others, while not limiting freedoms of non-vaccinated people in an inappropriate way.”

Concern about privacy

The freedom debate has been particularly fierce in the U.S. Much like other issues throughout the pandemic, the vaccine certificate has become deeply polarizing.

The divisions fall along partisan lines – just as they did with stay-at-home orders and mask mandates – and so different states have moved toward normalcy in distinct ways.

New York was the first to introduce its Excelsior Pass, which allows residents to prove their vaccination status to gain access to certain social venues. But several states, including Florida and Texas, ban such passes outright.

The state of Michigan has been one of the most closely watched during the last year, ever since former President Donald Trump notoriously tweeted “Liberate Michigan” last spring in regard to tough anti-lockdown measures implemented by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

This spring, as the state coped with one of the worst spikes of COVID-19, a bitter debate over vaccine passports broke out.

This month the Michigan House approved legislation to ban so-called vaccine passports in the state – even though the governor has repeatedly said she has no intention of introducing them.

“The threat of government controlling one’s daily life through identification of whether one is immunised or not is frightening,” said Rep. Sue Allor, who proposed the bill.

Like the rest of the country, the state is divided. The University of Michigan has mandated that students living in dormitories must prove vaccination.

Since Michigan is a border state, some Democrats have pushed for passes as a way to travel more easily to Canada and avoid quarantines.

Dave Boucher, a government and politics reporter with the Detroit Free Press, says opposition centers around freedom of choice. It’s about “the government ‘telling me what I can and can’t do,’” he says.

“And there’s always the slippery slope argument where if the government is endorsing vaccine passports now, then they’re going to get vital information about you and track that information and use it in unknown, nefarious ways.”

Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, says the vast majority of his members are committed to a safe reopening and return to normal, but don’t see passports as a way to do it.

“There is no groundswell of support that would be in favor of mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports,” he says.

“If there is one thing businesses have learned over the past year in Michigan, other than how to survive, it is how to operate their business safely to protect employees and customers.”

In general, Americans – much like Europeans – are more accepting of passports to travel than they are for domestic use, according to polls. Some analysts believe they are an inevitable part of post-pandemic mobility.

“Digital health certificates are already available in the EU, and my guess is that they will be widely used, even without being adopted by the U.S.,” says Chris Dye, a professor of epidemiology at Oxford University in Britain.

As other parts of the world move forward with passes, the U.S. might find itself playing catch-up. “It’ll be really interesting to look ahead three to six months and see as other parts of the world are going forward and using these kinds of mechanisms, if there will be a change,” says Dr. Kates.

First Published in Christian Science Monitor

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