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China completes historic Mars spacecraft landing

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2021)

An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft successfully landed on the surface of Mars on Saturday, state news agency Xinhua reported, making China the second space-faring nation after the United States to land on the Red Planet.

The Tianwen-1 spacecraft landed on a site on a vast plain known as Utopia Planitia, “leaving a Chinese footprint on Mars for the first time,” Xinhua said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a message of congratulations to all the people involved in the mission.

“You were brave enough for the challenge, pursued excellence and placed our country in the advanced ranks of planetary exploration,” he said. “Your outstanding achievement will forever be etched in the memories of the motherland and the people.”

The craft left its parked orbit at about 1700 GMT Friday (0100 Beijing time Saturday). The landing module separated from the orbiter three hours later and entered the Martian atmosphere, the official China Space News said.

It said the landing process consisted of “nine minutes of terror” as the module decelerates and then slowly descends.

The official landing time was 2318 GMT (0718 Beijing time), Xinhua said, citing the China National Space Administration. The rover took more than 17 minutes to unfold its solar panels and antenna and send signals to ground controllers more than 320 million kilometres away.

The rover, named Zhurong, will now survey the landing site before departing from its platform to conduct inspections. Named after a mythical Chinese god of fire, Zhurong has six scientific instruments including a high-resolution topography camera.

It will study the planet’s surface soil and atmosphere. Zhurong will also look for signs of ancient life, including any sub-surface water and ice, using a ground-penetrating radar.

Tianwen-1, or “Questions to Heaven”, after a Chinese poem written two millennia ago, is China’s first independent mission to Mars. A probe co-launched with Russia in 2011 failed to leave the Earth’s orbit.

The five-tonne spacecraft blasted off from the southern Chinese island of Hainan in July last year, launched by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

After more than six months in transit, Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet in February where it had been in orbit since.

If Zhurong is successfully deployed, China would be the first country to orbit, land and release a rover in its maiden mission to Mars.

Tianwen-1 was one of three that reached Mars in February, with U.S. rover Perseverance successfully touching down on Feb. 18 in a huge depression called Jezero Crater, more than 2,000 km away from Utopia Planitia.

Hope – the third spacecraft that arrived at Mars in February this year – is not designed to make a landing. Launched by the United Arab Emirates, it is currently orbiting above Mars gathering data on its weather and atmosphere.

The first successful landing ever was made by NASA’s Viking 1 in July 1976 and then by Viking 2 in September that year. A Mars probe launched by the former Soviet Union landed in December 1971, but communication was lost seconds after landing.

China is pursuing an ambitious space programme. It is testing reusable spacecraft and is also planning to establish manned lunar research station.

In a commentary published on Saturday, Xinhua said China was “not looking to compete for leadership in space” but was committed to “unveiling the secrets of the universe and contributing to humanity’s peaceful use of space.”

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Tiny creature comes back to life after 24,000 years in Siberian deep freeze

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(Last Updated On: June 10, 2021)

A microscopic organism has wriggled back to life and reproduced asexually after lying frozen in the vast permafrost lands of northeastern Siberia for 24,000 years.

Russian scientists found the tiny, ancient animal called the bdelloid rotifer in soil taken from the river Alazeya in Russia’s region of Yakutia in the far north.

The bdelloid rotifer, a multicellular organism found in freshwater habitats across the world, is known to be able to withstand extreme cold.

Previous research suggested it could survive for a decade when frozen at -20 degrees Celsius.

This new case, which was detailed in a study https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(21)00624-2 in the journal Current Biology, is by far the creature’s longest recorded survival period in a frozen state.

The organism was recovered from samples taken 3.5 metres below ground. The material was dated from between 23,960 and 24,485 years ago, the study said.

Land encased in permafrost – where the ground is frozen all year round – has for years thrown up startling scientific discoveries.

Scientists earlier revived microscopic worms called nematodes from sediment in two places in northern Siberia that were dated over 30,000 years old.

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Efforts underway to improve on telecoms services: ATRA

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(Last Updated On: May 27, 2021)

Officials of the Afghanistan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA) on Thursday marked World Telecommunication and Information Society Day and said that Afghanistan has witnessed great achievements in this sector but that efforts are being made to roll out more services.

Omar Mansoor Ansari, head of ATRA, said that endeavors are underway to provide equal services to all citizens across the country.

“We want those who dominated on internet networks, whether it is ATRA or Ministry of Telecommunication to identify and block the accounts, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Shinwari.

A presidential adviser, meanwhile, raised the issue of fake social media accounts which he said should be blocked.

“We expect telecommunication networks, especially internet providers, to identify and block fake accounts, and see that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” said Malalai Shinwari, a presidential adviser.

To mark the day, Afghanistan telecommunication companies also showcased their services during an expo Thursday in Kabul.

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Twitter concerned about India staff safety after police visit

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(Last Updated On: May 27, 2021)

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) said on Thursday it was worried about the safety of its staff in India, days after police visited its office as part of a probe related to the social media firm’s tagging of some ruling party posts as manipulated, Reuters reported.

Indian police on Monday visited a Twitter office to serve a notice to the micro-blogging firm’s country head for a probe into its tagging of a tweet by a ruling party spokesman as “manipulated media”.

Without directly referring to the Delhi police action, Twitter said: “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service.”

Leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party recently shared portions of a document on Twitter they said was created by the main opposition Congress party and highlighted government failures in handling the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reported.

Congress complained to Twitter saying the document was fake, after which Twitter marked some of the posts as “manipulated media”.

Delhi Police declined to comment.

Twitter has been battling with the Indian government since February after the technology ministry asked it to block content alleging Modi’s administration was trying to silence criticism related to farmer protests in the country.

Following that showdown, India announced new IT rules that aim to make social media firms more accountable to legal requests for swift removal of posts, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, Twitter urged the technology ministry to give it three more months to comply with the new content regulation rules, which include the appointment of an Indian grievance officer to deal with complaints.

Twitter said it was very concerned the rules made the compliance officer criminally liable for content on the platform, adding the move represented a dangerous overreach.

India’s technology ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, Reuters reported.

The new IT rules have spurred legal battles, including a lawsuit filed by Facebook-owned WhatsApp (FB.O) this week which calls out India’s government for exceeding its legal powers by enacting rules that will force the messaging app to break end-to-end message encryption.

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