Is There Life on Venus?

Is There Life on Venus?

A team of scientists has done a press release recently, announcing the discovery of phosphine in the cloudtops of Venus. How is this chemical related to speculating life? What does this mean for future space missions on other planets in the galaxy?

Crux of the Matter

Have We Thought About Life On Venus Before?
In the 1960s, spacecrafts like NASA’s Mariner 2 and Soviet Union’s Venera 4 were sent to Venus. Then it was revealed that Venus had a dense atmosphere of CO2 lurking below thick clouds of sulphuric acid (H2SO4), which was hot enough to melt lead. Then organisms like extremophiles were discovered later on Earth.

BlueisKewl: The Mariner 2
Mariner 2 spacecraft, Source: blueiskewl

What Are Extremophiles?
They are carbon-based microbes that can survive in extreme conditions like nuclear waste, highly acidic waters, undersea vents with high pressure and temperature conditions, and even in the ISS (International Space Station).

Can They Survive On Venus Then?
Extremophiles may survive in the acidic upper parts of the planet’s atmosphere, which has surface temperatures going below than 462°C (864 F). In fact, phosphine (PH3) was found in that altitude itself, between 48 and 60 km.

What’s PH3 Got To Do With It?
It is a colorless, flammable gas, majorly used in the semiconductor industry to introduce phosphorus into silicon crystals. On Earth, it’s produced by anaerobic organisms, which survive without oxygen, via decaying organic matter. It can also be prepared in the laboratory via chemical reactions.

There should either be life on Venus as well, or there is a chemical process waiting to be discovered.

Janusz Petkowski, co-author and EAPS Research

Molecular Barcode?
PH3 was found using spectroscopy, the study of how light interacts with molecules. When sunlight passes through Venus’s atmosphere, each molecule absorbs specific colours of this light. Using telescopes on Earth, this light can be split into a rainbow and distinctive pattern of dark absorption lines are formed, like an identifying barcode.

But PH3 Can Also Be Found In Jupiter
On a gas giant like Jupiter, there’s enough energy for phosphine to form abiotically, without the presence of living beings. However, on a rocky planet like Venus, phosphine can’t be produced on its own. Earth was till now, the only terrestrial planet to have PH3.

So Is There Life On Other Planets?
Always a possibility. Scientists would continue to find biosignatures like PH3, which can be any elements or phenomenons that provides scientific evidence of past or present life in the galaxy. They will also try and map out PH3 to study the daily and seasonal cycles on Venus.

Gear Up Your Space Suits For VERITAS!
A proposed new mission by NASA, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography & Spectroscopy) would study Venus’ geology, both below and on the surface. Its proposed launch date is 2026, with a mission duration of 3 years.

Curiopedia
  • Venus is the Roman goddess of love and beauty. The second planet from the Sun, Venus, is named after her. Venus is sometimes called Earth’s “sister planet” because of their similar size, mass, proximity to the Sun, and bulk composition.
  • Biosphere 2 is an American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona. It was originally constructed between 1987 and 1991 with the mission to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching, and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. It remains the largest closed system ever created.
  • A pancake dome is an unusual type of lava dome found on the planet Venus. They are widely scattered on that planet and often form groups or clusters, though with smaller numbers of pancake domes in each group than is typical for the more common shield volcanoes. Pancake domes are between 10 and 100 times larger than volcanic domes formed on Earth.

What Is The FCRA 2020 Bill Recently Passed In Lok Sabha?

What Is The FCRA 2020 Bill Recently Passed In Lok Sabha?

The Lok Sabha passed the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment (FCRA) Bill 2020 on 21 September, changing rules regarding funds for Indian NGOs from foreign while tightening the existing laws.

Crux of the Matter

If you want to know how NGOs function in India, read this interesting and simplified piece on NGOs in India: Understanding NGOs In India

Passed Bills
On 21 September 2020, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment (FCRA) Bill 2020 was passed in the Lok Sabha. The bill would amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010. In its statement, the Government claimed that the laws are “not against NGOs” and only seek to “stop misuse of foreign contributions by people”.

Features
The Bill would do the following if passed by the Rajya Sabha and the President:

  • Prohibit “public servants” and “corporations owned or controlled by the government” from receiving funds from outside India.
  • Reduce the maximum limit for expenditure on administration to 20% of the total foreign funding from the earlier limit of 50%.
  • Allow the Government to stop the use of funds for offenders by holding a “summary inquiry”. Previously, the action was taken only after the entity was “found guilty” of breaching the laws.
  • Ban the transfer of “grants” obtained under FCRA to “any other person or organisation”.
  • Foreign funds would be transferred only to ‘‘FCRA Accounts” in SBI Banks in New Delhi for people granted permission under section 12. However, provision to open more accounts in other banks to utilize the funds is present in the bill.
  • Aadhaar cards would be made compulsory for “all office-bearers, directors and other key functionaries of NGOs or associations eligible to receive foreign donations”.
  • Allow Government to cancel the FCRA certificate of an entity for more than 180 days (earlier limit).

The Home Ministry noted the alleged misuse of foreign funds by organizations like Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Citizen for Justice and Peace (CJP), etc. In the amendment, it has been claimed that the “annual inflow of foreign contribution has almost doubled between the years 2010 and 2019, but many recipients of foreign contribution have not utilised the same for the purpose for which they were registered”.

Criticism

  • Critics claim that the Bill is designed to discourage foreign funding for social work in India by making the process more complex and binding.
  • They also brought the issue of the PM Cares Fund which has been exempted from FCRA.

The most severe criticism of the decision has come for political parties which are still exempted from the FCRA.

  • 2014: Delhi High Court found BJP and Congress guilty of receiving foreign funding.
  • 2016: Government changed the definition of Foreign companies – claimed that any firm having less than 50% of “share capital” held by foreign entities would be Indian.
  • 2018: Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) was amended with a ‘retrospective effect’, with the foreign funds received by political parties since 1976 being freed from supervision.

Curiopedia
  • Advocacy groups, also known as special interest groups, use various forms of advocacy in order to influence public opinion and ultimately policy. They play an important role in the development of political and social systems. Groups such as these have secured the nature of their influence by gaining status as nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). 
  • The Servants of India Society was formed in Maharashtra, in 1905 by Gopal Krishna Gokhale. The Society organized many campaigns to promote education, sanitation, health care and fight the social evils of untouchability and discrimination, alcoholism, poverty, oppression of women and domestic abuse.
  • Ashoka is an international organization that promotes social entrepreneurship by affiliating individual social entrepreneurs into the Ashoka organization. Each Ashoka fellow receives a financial stipend that the fellow can use to pay for their personal expenses so that they can fully devote their time in pursuit of innovative social ideas.

New Farm Bills In India: Features And Impact

New Farm Bills In India: Features And Impact

With the Rajya Sabha passing two major bills related to farmers and their business, let us look at the salient features of the farm bills while noting their impact on the farmers.

Crux of the Matter

Passed Bills
On 20 September, 2020, the Rajya Sabha passed two farm bills passed in the Lok Sabha previously –

  • The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020.
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

On 21 September, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill was to be put in the Rajya Sabha.

Features Of The New Bills

The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020

  • Allows farmers to sell their produce to buyers other than ‘mandis’ (market) regulated by Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) – farmers can sell to private buyers too.
  • Adds the option of selling outside the state of the farmer.
  • Prohibits state governments from imposing market fee on “farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms” for trading outside the ‘trade area’ or with a buyer other than the mandi.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020

  • Allows agreement between farmers and buyers before the production.
  • Fixes a price before the production for the produce to be sold at.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill

  • Removes cereals, pulses, onion, potatoes, etc from the “list of essential commodities”.
  • Removes restrictions on storing – earlier, traders could be prosecuted for “hoarding” essential items.
  • Government intervention to occur only in cases of famine, war, or any extraordinary calamity.

Impact

  • Farmers would be freed from the middlemen who would lose ‘commission fees’ if the former move outside APMC.
  • Marketing prices would be reduced for the farmers.
  • The risk of market volatility would be transferred from farmers to buyers and sponsors.
  • Contract farming with a proper legal network would increase.

To put in perspective, 86% of “land holdings” by farmers are of less than 2 hectares according to Agriculture Census (2015-16). Consequently, these farmers with small lands end up as ‘net buyers’ of food and essential crops. Moreover, the MSP hikes distress these farmers the most.

  • Farmers would have more options for selling, now having a provision to sell to the private sector if better price is offered.
  • Farmers would be free from ‘mandi tax’ levied by the state.
  • APMC mandis would not be shut, with only an option of private sector being added for farmers.

PM Modi clarified on Twitter that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the Government Procurement would continue.

MSP – minimum price for a crop fixed by the Government before farming season – ensures that farmers don’t face loss in case of drastic price decline. The MSP is applicable to APMC only.

Also Read: New Farm Bills In India: Opposition And Reactions

Curiopedia
  • A price floor is a government- or group-imposed price control or limit on how low a price can be charged for a product, good, commodity, or service. Governments use price floors to keep certain prices from going too low. 
  • eNAM is an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India. The market facilitates farmers, traders and buyers with online trading in commodities. The market transactions stood at ₹36,200 crores by January 2018, mostly intra-market. 
  • Jai Jawaan Jai Kisaan was a slogan by the second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, in 1965 at a public gathering in Delhi. In 2015, a film based on Shastri’s life was released which was named after this slogan.

What Are Mutual Funds?

What Are Mutual Funds?

Recently, SEBI announced a major change in mutual funds investment. Now multi-cap mutual funds have a compulsion to invest 25% each in mid, large, and small capitalization funds. But before we delve into that, let us understand what mutual funds are, their various aspects, and how to calculate their value.

Crux of the Matter

What Are Mutual Funds?
A mutual fund (MF) is an investment company, which brings together money from many people and invests in stocks, bonds, or other assets. Fund’s portfolio includes combined holdings of stocks, bonds, or other assets it owns. Generally, a professional Fund Manager manages the fund.

The entire amount of investment is distributed in units. Investors buy these units instead of buying stocks directly. Therefore, mutual fund investors are sometimes called unitholders. Mutual Funds based on flexibility of investing are categorized as:

  • Open-ended – Can invest and redeem anytime.
  • Closed-ended – Can invest only at the start and redeem when its tenure ends.
  • Interval – Can invest or redeem only at some predefined dates.

Active & Passive Management
Portfolio management is the process of managing underlying assets (equity, debt, gold, etc) through buying, selling, and holding. Mutual Funds can be Passively or Actively managed.

Passive fund management generally involves replicating a benchmark index, in which a
fund manager tries to match the returns of the set benchmark. For instance, a benchmark for a Mutual Fund can be NIFTY 50, in which the fund would try to match the returns of that index.

In active fund management, a fund manager actively looks after which assets to buy, sell, or hold based on quantitative, technical, and/or fundamental analysis.

The cost of the passive fund is less whereas the cost of active funds is more. Generally, Open-ended MFs are passively managed, whereas Closed-ended MFs are actively managed.

Types Based On Investment

  • Equity MF – Invest in equities, and are considered risky but with a potential of a higher return.
  • Debt MF – Invest in bonds of Governments, banks, and corporates and are considered safe but with a low potential for returns as bonds fetch a fixed amount of interest.
  • Hybrid MF – Invest in both equity and bonds, and are considered to have a moderate risk with moderate returns.
  • Other MFs – Invest in gold, real estate, commodities, etc. individually or have mixed assets. These funds are also considered to have a moderate risk with moderate returns prospects.

NAV states the per share/unit price of the mutual fund on a specific date or time.

Now that you have a basic understanding of Mutual Funds, you can read about SEBI’s major announcement for mutual funds: SEBI Announced New Norms For Mutual Funds

Curiopedia
  • An index fund is a mutual fund designed to follow certain preset rules so that the fund can track a specified basket of underlying investments. The first theoretical model for an index fund was suggested in 1960.
  • Dollex 30 is the USD version of the SENSEX. It is designed to measure the performance of the 30 largest, most liquid and financially sound companies across key sectors of the Indian economy that are listed at BSE Ltd.
  • The first modern investment funds were established in the Dutch Republic. In response to the financial crisis of 1772–1773, Amsterdam-based businessman Abraham van Ketwich formed a trust named Eendragt Maakt Magt (“unity creates strength”).

Nvidia Buys Arm I: All About Arm, SOC, CPU, & More

Nvidia Buys Arm I: All About Arm, SOC, CPU, & More

Nvidia recently announced its plans of acquiring chipmaker Arm from SoftBank for $40 billion. Arm will operate as an Nvidia division and will continue to have its headquarters in the UK. So what’s Arm? What are Arm Processors? Let’s decode chip by chip.

Crux of the Matter

What Is Arm?
ARM Ltd is a semiconductor company founded in 1990 as a joint venture of Apple, Acorn Computers, and VLSI Technology. It designs components of electrical circuits that are used to manage the flow of current (semiconductors), Arm processors, and system-on-a-chip (SoC) infrastructure. It is currently UK’s largest tech company valued at $40bn.

Tell Me More
Its semiconductor chips are the building blocks of consumer favourite products like Apple‘s Phone and iPad, Gaming devices like Playstation Vita and Nintendo DS, and mobile phones like Sony Ericsson and Samsung Galaxy.

What Is SoC?
A System on a chip is a circuit that integrates most components of a computer like CPU, memory, input/output (I/O) ports, and secondary storage, in a single microchip, which is the size of a coin. It is used in mobile phones, wearable devices, streaming sticks, etc.

CPU, The Brain Of A Computer?
Central Processing Unit (CPU) is the computer component responsible for fetching, processing, and executing instructions. Generally, it is a part of the integrated chip. Most modern ICs contain integrated CPU as well as GPU (Graphics Processing Unit).

What About ARM Processors?
ARM or Advanced RISC Machine processor is one of the family of CPUs based on the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture and makes 32-bit and 64-bit RISC multi-core processors.

RISC v/s CISC

  • CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) is the CPU design where one instruction is so intricate that it requires several operations to be carried our like memory storage, loading from memory, arithmetic calculations, etc. Thus it takes several clock cycles (electronic pulses of a CPU) to execute. Eg: Intel hardware.
    It is generally used in PCs, servers, etc.
  • RISC can perform a smaller number of simple computer instructions in one clock cycle and thus operates at a higher speed than CISC i.e performing more Millions of Instructions Per Second (MIPS). Eg: Apple hardware.

    It is generally used in mobile devices like phones and tablets. In modern usage, RISC instructions also have similar complexity as CISC.

Curiopedia
  • The “eye” in NVIDIA’s logo symbolizes a constant search for innovation and future. The company adopted its logo three years after it was founded in 1993.
  • GeForce is a brand of GPUs designed by Nvidia. The “GeForce” name originated from a contest held by Nvidia in early 1999 called “Name That Chip”.
  • Jensen Huang is the co-founder of Nvidia in 1993 and has been its president and chief executive officer (CEO) since inception. Forbes listed him as one of the highest-paid CEOs and one of the wealthiest Asian Americans.