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Indian-origin space scientist says India needs to focus on meteor defense

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Bengaluru: An Indian-origin space scientist said that India needs to focus on reconnaissance infrastructure, putting in place a meteor defence and develop a national meteor disaster preparedness policy after the last week Tamil Nadu incident in which a man was killed inside college campus by meteorite strike.

“Catastrophies originating from outer space are no fiction,” Chaitanya Giri, who was earlier with Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany and is currently with the Earth Life Science Institute in Tokyo, told this correspondent in an email.

Such catastrophies “are potential and credible threats to our national interests,” he said.

Giri said the US, in 2005, mandated its NASA space agency to build infrastructure for surveillance of potentially hazardous asteroids and to divert those on a likely collision course with Earth. The European Union, Japan, and Russia followed suit and are continually tracking comets and asteroids while Canada has its own “near earth object surveillance satellite” to identify unwelcome visitors from space, he said.

“Space capable India has not joined this club,” Giri said.

In fact, the seven-foot wide satellite junk that fell off the southern coast of Sri Lanka on November 13, 2015, was identified by a US ground-based sky survey infrastructure while its fall trajectory was projected by the the European Sky network, Giri said.

“While these nations have built up the networks to ward of dangers from space, India is totally unprepared to counter the impact of destructive meter-scale meteorites and extinction-level kilometre-scale asteroids or comets,” he said.

Giri said India’s prehistory is dotted with meteors of different sizes such as Lonar in Maharashtra (two km wide) and Ramgarh in Rajasthan (four km wide), adding an 11-km-wide meteorite that hit Dhala in Madhya Pradesh “could have unleashed energy many times higher than the largest atomic detonation”.

While it is true such kilometres-wide meteorites fall once in several thousand years, smaller metre-scale meteorites fall frequently and unleash limited regional destruction, he said.

Giri pointed out that a 20-year (1994-2013) global map released by NASA in 2014 shows numerous metre-scale meteors exploding all over the Indian Ocean region and the Indian sub-continent with energy approximately equivalent to the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki in 1945. Also, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) in the past 15 years has reported numerous meteoritic falls mostly centimetre-scale chunks from all over India.

In February 2013, a meteor, 20 metres in diameter, exploded 30 km above the city of Chelyabinsk in Russia with an energy approximately 25 times more powerful than the Nagasaki bomb, causing thousands of human injuries and damage worth billions of dollars. Bangkok experienced meteorite falls twice in September 2015. Nearer home, on February 27, 2015, a meteor exploded over Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad and Thrissur in Kerala to finally impact at several locations in Ernakulam district. All these events demonstrate that the threat from meteors is real, Giri said.

With its massive geographical land mass and vast exclusive economic zone, India has all the legitimate reasons to develop a planetary defence programme of its own and create an operational national preparedness policy for various meteor disaster scenarios, he said.

“To this effect, New Delhi should exploit ISRO’s capabilities for constructing an indigenous ground- and space-based reconnaissance network that would track potentially hazardous objects as small as one metre,” he said. Had such a system been in place, there would have been no room for controversy over the cause of explosion heard in Vellore last week.

“The verdict whether it was due to meteorite or not should be supported by peer-reviewed evidence,” Giri said, dismissing news reports quoting scientists of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP) in Bengaluru that the sample it examined did not look like meteorite.

“The Geological Survey of India is the authority on meteorite curation and not IIAP whose faculty are mainly astronomers,” Giri said. Further, the IIAP scientists did not collect the samples themselves but tested the sample given by the police “which is not the most appropriate thing to do,” he said.

“I also do not know if they looked for the presence of iridium, an element that you do not get on Earth and is predominantly extra-terrestrial in origin. Hence I do not consider IIAP’s sampling and verdict at face value.”

Giri said a video uploaded on the internet shows the trail of a meteor over Chennai with its trajectory towards the West (the direction to Vellore). If this video is true, the Vellore event is most likely due to meteorite, he said. (IANS)(image: mashable.com)

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Women In India Turn To Technology To Stay Safe From Harassment

Police in many Indian cities are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints

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Women, Harassment
Women stand at a crowded place in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, Oct. 9, 2006. Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a survey Thursday. VOA

New web and phone apps in India are helping women stay safe in public spaces by making it easier for them to report harassment and get help, developers say.

Women are increasingly turning to technology to stay safe in public spaces, which in turn helps the police to map “harassment prone” spots — from dimly lit roads to bus routes and street corners.

Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey released Thursday, as improving city access for women becomes a major focus globally.

“Women always strategize on how to access public spaces, from how to dress to what mode of transport to take, timings and whether they should travel alone or in a group,” said Sameera Khan, columnist and co-author of “Why Loiter? Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets.”

#MeToo, Victim, Harassment
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician M.J. Akbar takes the oath during the swearing-in ceremony of new ministers, July 5, 2017, at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. The Indian minister and veteran newspaper editor announced his resignation, Oct. 17, 2018, while still insisting that the accusations of sexual harassment are false. VOA

Reported crimes up 80 percent

Indian government data shows reported cases of crime against women rose by more than 80 percent between 2007 and 2016.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 put the spotlight on the dangers women face in India’s public spaces.

The incident spurred Supreet Singh of charity Red Dot Foundation to create the SafeCity app that encourages women across 11 Indian cities to report harassment and flag hotspots.

“We want to bridge the gap between the ground reality of harassment in public spaces and what is actually being reported,” said Singh, a speaker at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Thursday.

India, Harassment
Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi. VOA

The aim is to take the spotlight off the victim and focus on the areas where crimes are committed so action can be taken.

Dimly lit lanes, crowded public transport, paths leading to community toilets, basements, parking lots and parks are places where Indian women feel most vulnerable, campaigners say.

Stigma attached to sexual harassment and an insensitive police reporting mechanism result in many cases going unreported, rights campaigners say.

Apps are promising

But apps like SafeCity, My Safetipin and Himmat (courage) promise anonymity to women reporting crimes and share data collected through the app with government agencies such as the police, municipal corporations and the transport department.

Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi
People hold placards at a rally condemning the rapes of two girls, aged 8 and 11, in Ahmedabad, India. VOA

“The data has helped in many small ways,” said Singh of the Red Dot Foundation. “From getting the police to increase patrolling in an area prone to ‘eve-teasing’ to getting authorities to increase street lighting in dark alleys, the app is bringing change.”

Also Read: Women And Girls In Poor Countries Are Using Contraceptives More: Report

Police in many Indian cities, including New Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh, are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints, promising prompt action.

“Safety apps are another such strategy that could be applied by women but I worry that by giving these apps, everyone else, most importantly the state, should not abdicate its responsibility towards public safety,” Khan said. (VOA)