Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 26 September 2023

NASA's first asteroid samples land on Earth

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

NASA's first asteroid samples fetched from deep space parachuted into the Utah desert to cap a seven-year journey. In a flyby of Earth, the Osiris-Rex spacecraft released the sample capsule from 63,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) out. The small capsule landed four hours later on a remote expanse of military land, as the mothership set off after another asteroid.

More about the News

  • Scientists estimate the capsule holds at least a cup of rubble from the carbon-rich asteroid known as Bennu.
  • Japan, the only other country to bring back asteroid samples, gathered about a teaspoon in a pair of asteroid missions.
  • The pebbles and dust delivered represent the biggest haul from beyond the moon.
  • Preserved building blocks from the dawn of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago, the samples will help scientists better understand how Earth and life formed.
  • Osiris-Rex, the mothership, rocketed away on the $1 billion mission in 2016. It reached Bennu two years later and, using a long stick vacuum, grabbed rubble from the small roundish space rock in 2020.
  • By the time it returned, the spacecraft had logged 4 billion miles (6.2 billion kilometers).

The Five Eyes Alliance for intelligence-sharing

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

In recent revelations, the US ambassador to Canada has disclosed a significant development in international intelligence cooperation. Critical intelligence shared among the Five Eyes alliance played a pivotal role in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to publicly accuse the Indian government of involvement in the Hardeep Singh Nijjar assassination on Canadian soil.

What is the Five Eyes Alliance?

  • The ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance includes AustraliaCanadaNew Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
  • These partner countries share a broad range of intelligence with one another in one of the world’s most unified multilateral arrangements.
  • The Five Eyes agreement stands out from other arrangements because the parties are diverse societies, governed by rule of law and robust human rights and are bonded by a common language. These characteristics aid the partners in sharing information with one another to protect their shared national interests.
  • The alliance’s origins to the Second World War; The UK and the US decided to share intelligence after successfully breaking German and Japanese codes, respectively.

How does the Five Eyes Alliance work, exactly?

  • Countries often engage with each other on matters of intelligence gathering and security. In recent years, common interests, such as balancing the rise of China, have led to a closer alignment among the Five Eyes countries. Some have attributed their closeness to a common language and mutual trust built over decades of association.
  • In 2016, the Five Eyes Intelligence Oversight and Review Council came into being. It includes the non-political intelligence oversight, review, and security entities of the Five Eyes countries.
  • They exchange views of mutual interest, compare best practices, hold conference calls throughout the year and gather in person annually.
  • However, that closeness has not always meant uniformity in their foreign policy. Since 2021, New Zealand has stayed away from issuing an outright condemnation of Chinese actions regarding Hong Kong’s political systems and its treatment of the Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region, unlike the other four countries.
  • A major reason for this is the deep trade ties between them, with China being the biggest market for New Zealand’s exports.
  • Meanwhile, the US has also sought to exert its influence through other groupings with like-minded countries on issues of security, like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) featuring itself, Japan, Australia and India. The AUKUS grouping similarly includes Australia, the UK and the US.

Humans breach most of the planetary boundaries

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Six out of nine planetary boundaries, which can be imagined as blood pressure, that make Earth healthy and habitable have been transgressed because of human-induced pollution and destruction of the natural world, according to a new study. The study, ‘Earth beyond six of nine planetary boundaries’, has been carried out by a team of 29 scientists from eight different countries and published in the journal Science Advances.

What are the planetary boundaries?

  • Planet boundaries are a framework that identifies guardrails for humanity’s impacts on the Earth system.
  • Put simply, it sets limits on how much humans can be allowed to impact not only the climate but also other global processes that are essential for maintaining conditions on the planet to support modern civilisations.
  • Developed in 2009, the framework includes nine planet boundaries that scientists believe capture all of the processes critical for maintaining the Earth’s system state.
  • For each of the boundaries, control variables are chosen to capture the most important anthropogenic influence at the planetary level of the boundary in focus.

These boundaries and their control variables are:

  • Biosphere integrity: The health of ecosystems and rate of extinction of species.
  • Climate change: Atmospheric CO2 concentration and the change in radiative forcing — a measure of the balance of energy from sunlight that hits Earth, in comparison with thermal energy the planet loses.
  • Novel entities: Levels of plasticconcretesynthetic chemicalsgene-modified organisms, etc. that would not be found on Earth if we humans were not here.
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion: The anthropogenic release of manufactured chemicals that destroy ozone molecules.
  • Freshwater change: It includes an examination of the human-induced impact on blue water (found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs) and green water (available in the soil for plants and soil microorganisms)
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading: Tracking various particles from anthropogenic emissions that affect cloud formation as well as global and regional atmospheric circulation.
  • Ocean acidification: Reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time.
  • Land system change: Changes in land use, especially the conversion of tropical forests to farmland.
  • Biogeochemical flow: Alteration in the natural flows and the forms of nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, which are essential elements for plant growth.

What are the findings of the study?

  • Out of the nine planetary boundaries, humans have breached six: climate changebiosphere integrityfreshwater changeland system changebiogeochemical flows and novel entities.
  • While atmospheric aerosol loading and ozone depletion remain within the constraints, ocean acidification is close to being breached.

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