Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 15 January 2023

Largest known deposit of rare earth elements

GS Paper - 3 (Technology)

Swedish state-owned mining company, LKAB, on 12 January 2023 announced that it has discovered more than one million tonnes of rare earth oxides in the northern area of the country. This is the largest known deposit in Europe. Currently, no rare earths are mined in Europe and it mostly imports them from other regions. 98 percent of rare earths used by the European Union were sent by China.

What are rare earths?

  1. Rare earth elements or rare earth metals are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table — the 15 lanthanides, plus scandium and yttrium, which tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides, and have similar chemical properties.
  2. The 17 rare earths are cerium (Ce), dysprosium (Dy), erbium (Er), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), holmium (Ho), lanthanum (La), lutetium (Lu), neodymium (Nd), praseodymium (Pr), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), scandium (Sc), terbium (Tb), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), and yttrium (Y).
  3. Despite their classification, most of these elements are not really “rare”. One of the rare earths, promethium, is radioactive.

What are rare earths used for?

  1. These elements are important in technologies of consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, clean energy, advanced transportation, healthcare, environmental mitigation, and national defence, among others.
  2. Scandium is used in televisions and fluorescent lamps, and yttrium is used in drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
  3. Rare earth elements are used in space shuttle components, jet engine turbines, and drones. Cerium, the most abundant rare earth element, is essential to NASA’s Space Shuttle Programme.
  4. In recent years, rare earths have become even more important because there has been an increase in demand for green energy.
  5. Elements like neodymium and dysprosium, which are used in wind turbine motors, are sought-after more than ever as wind mills across the world continue to grow.
  6. Moreover, the push for switching from internal combustion cars to electric vehicles has also led to a rise in demand for rare earth magnets — made from neodymium, boron, and iron — and batteries.

 

Joshimath sank 5.4cm in just 12 days

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Satellite images released by ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre show that Uttarakhand’s Joshimath witnessed a rapid sinking of 5.4cm in just 12 days. The quick subsidence stands in contrast to the slow-paced sinking of the area that was recorded between April and November 2022. According to the government agency’s report, during these seven months, Joshimath sank up to just nine centimetres.

What exactly is subsidence?

  1. Subsidence is the “sinking of the ground because of underground material movement”, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  2. It can happen for a host of reasons, man-made or natural, such as the removal of water, oil, or natural resources, along with mining activities. Earthquakes, soil erosion, and soil compaction are also some of the well-known causes of subsidence.
  3. The US-based agency’s website said that this phenomenon can “happen over very large areas like whole states or provinces, or very small areas like the corner of your yard.”

Why is Joshimath sinking?

  1. The exact reason behind the land subsidence in Joshimath is still unknown, but experts suggest that it might have been caused by unplanned construction, overpopulation, obstruction of the natural flow of water, and hydel power activities.
  2. Not only this, the area is a seismic zone, which makes it prone to frequent tremors. Warning bells for Joshimath were first sounded about 50 years ago in the MC Mishra committee report, which pointed to unplanned development in the area that already had natural vulnerabilities.
  3. According to experts, Joshimath city has been built on ancient landslide material — meaning it rests on a deposit of sand and stone, not rock, which doesn’t have a high load-bearing capacity.
  4. Moreover, the lack of a proper drainage system could also have contributed to the sinking of the area. The accumulated water seeps into the rocks below, softening them.
  5. Apart from the aforementioned possible reasons, reports have pointed out that subsidence in Joshimath might have been triggered by the reactivation of a geographic fault — defined as a fracture or zone of fractures between two blocks of rock — where the Indian Plate has pushed under the Eurasian Plate along the Himalayas.

 

An infection of Bacterial meningitis

GS Paper - 3 (Health and Diseases)

Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck, who pushed the boundaries of blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll and rose to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds, passed away at 78. He passed away “after suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis“.

What is bacterial meningitis?

  1. Meningitis refers to the inflammation of the meninges, the three layers that line the skull and the vertebral canal, covering the brain matter and the spinal cord.
  2. The cases of meningitis are significantly high across the globe, contributing to a large proportion of morbidities and mortalities, the mortality rate being as high as 25 per cent.
  3. It is a life-threatening disorder, the inflammation can be caused by a number of factors including infectious agents like viruses, and bacteria, as well as non-infectious causes like autoimmune disorders, cancers and even drug reactions.
  4. The people at high risk of bacterial meningitis include those at extremes of ages, like infants and the elderly, along with people with chronic medical conditions like renal failure, immunosuppressed patients like transplant recipients, congenital immunodeficiencies, people on long-term steroids, under-vaccinated individuals, excessive alcohol abuse, splenectomised patients, etc.

Symptoms

  1. High-grade fever
  2. Neck pain/stiffness
  3. Projectile vomiting
  4. Photophobia
  5. Severe headache
  6. Dizziness
  7. Confusion
  8. Delirium
  9. Irritability

What causes it?

  1. The most common bacterial causes of meningitis include Streptococcus pneumoniae, group B Streptococcus, Neisseria meningitidis, Haemophilus influenzae, and Listeria monocytogenes.
  2. Less common causes include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus in patients who underwent recent surgery and have invasive devices such as central lines.
  3. Mycobacterium tuberculosis has been an important cause of meningitis in India. Escherichia coli is an important pathogen in the neonatal period,” she said.

 

World’s Longest River Cruise

GS Paper - 3 (Economy)

Beginning its journey from Varanasi - the MV Ganga Vilas cruise will cover 3,200 km over 51 days while navigating through several States before ending its journey at Dibrugarh in Assam. The Prime Minister on flagged off the world’s longest river cruise – MV Ganga Vilas – and inaugurated the tent city at Varanasi. The longest river cruise from Kashi to Dibrugarh is starting, putting tourism destinations on the global tourism map.

MV Ganga Features

  1. MV Ganga Vilas is the first indigenously made cruise vessel to be made in India.
  2. The cruise has three decks, 18 suites on board with a capacity of 36 tourists, with all the modern amenities.
  3. It will cover a distance of 3,200 km in roughly 51 days reaching Assam’s Dibrugarh through Bangladesh.
  4. It is built with a unique design and a futuristic vision, the MV Ganga Vilas will meander across various prominent destinations that lie across the Ganges along with river Hooghly. The cruise will pass through 25 different river streams.
  5. The cruise journey is going to bring many spiritual, multinational and natural experiences as it will cover destinations like Kashi,Patna Sahib, Bodh Gaya, Vikramshila, Dhaka and the Suderbans.

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