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It is designed for a soft-landing on the lunar surface

As the nation awaited with bated breath the soft-landing of the Vikram lander on the South Pole of the lunar surface, the first attempt by any country, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said on Friday that everything related to the touchdown was going as per plan.

Joining the nation in wishing ISRO success, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the mission manifests the best of Indian talent and spirit of tenacity.

“Its success will benefit crores of Indians,” he said in a series of tweets.

“We are eagerly waiting for the event,” ISRO chairman K. Sivan said.

“Certainly, there is a lot of anxiety in the minds of the entire [Chandrayaan-2] team because it’s a very complex operation and we are doing it for the first time,” a senior official associated with the mission said.

“Everything... sensors, computers, command systems...has to work perfectly. But we are confident in the sense we have conducted a large number of simulations on the ground; it gives us the confidence it would go alright,” the official said.

He described the soft-landing as “almost like placing a baby on the cradle”, and said, “There is a certain amount of anxiety but there is no fear.”

As India attempts a soft-landing, all eyes will be on the lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan.

One lunar day

The 1,471 kg Vikram, named after Dr. Vikram A. Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme, is designed to execute a soft-landing on the lunar surface and to function for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 earth days.

Chandrayaan-2’s 27 kg robotic vehicle Pragyan, which translates to ‘wisdom’ in Sanskrit, can travel up to 500 m from the landing spot on the Moon and leverages solar energy for its functioning.

“The lander carries three scientific payloads to conduct surface and sub-surface science experiments, while the rover carries two payloads to enhance our understanding of the lunar surface,” according to ISRO.

Vikram will perform a series of complex braking manoeuvres to soft-land in the south polar region of the Moon between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, on September 7.

A few hours later, the rover will roll down from Vikram and will explore the surrounding lunar terrain.

September 7 marks the culmination of the most precious phase of Chandrayaan-2.

The finale will be witnessed by the Prime Minister and about 80 high school students at the Mission Operations Complex of ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network in Bengaluru from around midnight.

(With PTI inputs)

Genome shows no Steppe pastoralist or Iranian farmer link

Throwing fresh light on the Indus Valley Civilisation, a study of DNA from skeletal remains excavated from the Harappan cemetery at Rakhigarhi argues that the hunter-gatherers of South Asia, who then became a settled people, have an independent origin. The researchers who conducted the study contend that the theory of the Harappans having Steppe pastoral or ancient Iranian farmer ancestry thus stands refuted. The finding also negates the hypothesis about mass migration during Harappan times from outside South Asia, they argue.

Vasant Shinde, the professor who headed the Rakhigarhi Project, said on Friday that researchers had successfully sequenced the first genome of an individual from Harappa and combining it with archaeological data, found that hunter-gatherers of South Asia had an independent origin, and authored the settled way of life in this part of the world.

“They do not contain genome from either the Steppe region or ancient Iranian farmers. The genetic continuity from hunter gatherer to modern times is visible in the DNA results,” Prof. Shinde, affiliated to the Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post-Graduate and Research Institute, Pune, said.

The study, he said, finds that the same hunter-gatherer communities developed into agricultural communities and formed the Harappan civilisation.

The researchers also suggest that there was a movement of people from east to west as the Harappan people’s presence is evident at sites like Gonur in Turkmenistan and Sahr-i-Sokhta in Iran.

“As the Harappans traded with Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and almost all across South Asia, there was bound to be movement of people, resulting in a mixed genetic history. India had a heterogeneous population right from the beginning of settled life,” Prof. Shinde said. There was a hint that settled life and domestication went from South Asia to West Asia.

The Rakhigarhi study was reported in a paper titled “An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian farmers” in the journal Cell on Thursday.

Origins of farming

In Europe, ancient-DNA studies have shown that agriculture tended to spread through an influx of people with ancestry in Anatolia, in modern day Turkey.

The new study shows a similar dynamic in Iran and Turan (southern Central Asia), where the researchers found that Anatolian-related ancestry and farming arrived around the same time. In South Asia, however, the story appears quite different. The researchers found an absence of Anatolian-related ancestry.

Upset over transfer to Meghalaya

Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani

Madras High Court Chief Justice Vijaya Kamlesh Tahilramani, the senior-most High Court judge in the country, has decided to put in her papers in the wake of a decision taken by the Supreme Court Collegium (comprising top five judges) to transfer her from the chartered High Court to a relatively small High Court of Meghalaya.

She made her decision public on Friday night during a dinner hosted by six Madras High Court judges, who were made permanent recently.

The dinner party was held at the Tamil Nadu State Judicial Academy building here and was attended by almost all judges of the High Court, barring a few who had been deputed to the Madurai Bench.

Thanking the puisne judges for their cooperation ever since she took over as the Chief Justice on August 12 last year, Justice Tahilramani told them that she had discharged her duty without any fear or favour right from the time she assumed office as a judge of the Bombay High Court in June 2001.

She had also served as an acting Chief Justice of her parent High Court on three different occasions between 2015 and 2018

Stage set for appeal in Rajasthan HC

Pehlu Khan

A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Rajasthan police, constituted to review the original investigation of the Pehlu Khan lynching case which resulted in the acquittal of all the six accused by a sessions court in Alwar last month, has found multiple lapses and irregularities in the probe.

The 84-page SIT report, submitted to Director General of Police Bhupendra Singh on Thursday, could set the stage for an appeal against the trial court’s judgment in the Rajasthan High Court. After the trial court’s indictment of the Investigating Officers (IOs), the Congress government, headed by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, drew criticism for not correcting the course of the probe during the seven months of its tenure prior to the judgment.

The SIT, headed by Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Special Operations Group) Nitin Deep Blaggan, was formed on August 16 after the State government decided to challenge the sessions court’s August 14 verdict through an appeal.

Police officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the SIT had found lacunae in the investigation as well as some laxity in the prosecution.

The Hindu joins BBC and others in global campaign against fake narratives

The Hindu is partnering with the BBC and other leading global news and technology organisations in a new industry collaboration to tackle disinformation. The collaboration was announced by the BBC and the partners in the early hours of Saturday.

Under this collaboration, news and technology majors will work together to protect their audiences and users from disinformation, particularly around crucial events such as elections.

Earlier this year, the BBC convened a ‘Trusted News Summit’, bringing together senior figures from major global technology firms and publishing.

It was precipitated by events such as the Indian elections, which highlighted the dangers of disinformation and underlined the importance of working together.

The summit agreed to work collectively on various initiatives, including creating systems where organisations can warn each other quickly when they discover disinformation that threatens human life or disrupts elections. The emphasis of the ‘early warning system’ will be on moving quickly and collectively to undermine disinformation before it can take hold.

The summit also agreed to work towards a joint online media education campaign, and also to co-operate on election-related information such as explaining how and where to vote. “Disinformation and so-called fake news is a threat to us all. At its worst, it can present a serious threat to democracy and even to people’s lives. This summit has shown a determination to take collective action to fight this problem and we have agreed [upon] some crucial steps towards this,” said Tony Hall, Director-General of the BBC and European Broadcasting Union (EBU) president.

The BBC’s partners who attended the summit were the EBU, Facebook, Financial Times, First Draft, Google, The Hindu, and the Wall Street Journal. Other partners were AFP, CBC/Radio-Canada, Microsoft, Reuters, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and Twitter.

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