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February 2021: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC

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Researchers have recently discovered three fossils of the earliest known living animal, the 550-million-year- old 'Dickinsonia' on the Bhimbetka Rock Shelters' roof.

  • The fossils were found in the roof of the Auditorium Cave at Bhimbetka Rock Shelters.
  • It was believed that sponges were the oldest living organism; however, there is currently no evidence that sponge-like animals conquered the oceans before 540 million years ago, when the first unambiguous fossils of sponges and most other groups of animals start to appear in the geological record.
  • The earliest evidence for animals on Earth is now the 558 million-years-old Dickinsonia and other Ediacaran animals.

About Dickinsonia:

  February 2021: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC


  1. Discovery: In September 2018, an international team of researchers claimed to have discovered the world's oldest fossil of Dickinsonia, which first appeared around 571 million to 541 million years ago.
    Current fossil evidence dates back around 100 million years from Dickinsonia.
  2. Period and Area: 
    • It is an extinct genus of basal animal that lived during the late Ediacaran period in Australia, Russia and Ukraine.
    • Basal animals are animals which have radial symmetry in their body plans. They have very simple bodies and tend to be diploblastic( derived from only two embryonic cell layers).
  3. Appearance:
    • Thought to represent the earliest flowering of complex multicellular life on our planet, these creatures arose in a world devoid of predators, and did not need hard protective carapaces or skeletons.
    • Their soft, squishy bodies resembled tubes, fronds or even thin, quilted pillows, they bore scant similarity to animals' anatomy today.
  4. Classification:
    • Its affinities are presently unknown, its mode of growth is consistent with a stem-group bilaterian affinity, though some have suggested that it belongs to the fungi or even an "extinct kingdom".
      The discovery of cholesterol molecules in fossils of Dickinsonia lends support to the idea that Dickinsonia was an animal.

➤ Significance:

  • It further proves the similar paleoenvironments and confirms Gondwanaland's assembly by the 550 Ma (mega annum).
  • A paleoenvironment is simply an environment that has been preserved in the rock record at some time in the past.
  • Mega-annum, usually abbreviated as Ma, is a unit of time equal to one million years.
  • It is commonly used in scientific disciplines such as geology, paleontology, and celestial mechanics to signify very long periods in the past.
  • This finding could help scientists better understand the interaction of geology and biology that triggered the evolution of complex life on Earth.

Bhimbetka Caves:

  1. History and Period Span:
    • The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological site in central India that spans the prehistoric Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods and the historic period.
    • It exhibits the earliest traces of human life in India and evidence of Stone Age starting at the site in Acheulian times.
    • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that consists of seven hills and over 750 rock shelters distributed over 10 km.
  2. Discovery:
    • The Bhimbetka rock shelters were found by V S Wakankar in1957.
  3. Location:
    • It is located in Raisen District between Hoshang- abad and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
    • It is about 40 kilometres south-east of Bhopal in the foothills of the Vindhya Mountains.
  4. Paintings:
    • Some of the Bhimbetka rock shelters feature prehistoric cave paintings and the earliest are about 10,000 years old (c. 8,000 BCE), corresponding to the Indian Mesolithic.
    • Most of these are done in red and white on the cave walls.
    • A multitude of themes were covered in this form of rock art and it depicted scenes like singing, dancing, hunting and other common activities of the people staying there.
    • The oldest of the cave paintings in Bhimbetka is believed to be about 12,000 years ago.

Clean Fuel Hydrogen

Recently, researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT-D) have come up with a way to generate clean fuel hydrogen from water at a


  • It is a significant step towards efforts across the globe that are being made to look for cleaner and greener energy sources.
  • Hydrogen gas is a viable choice as a renewable substitute for fossil fuels, and can help mitigate emissions to reduce pollution.

➤ About:

  • The researchers at IIT-D have successfully split water by a process known as Sulphur-Iodine (SI) thermochemical hydrogen cycle (SI Cycle) to generate low-cost, clean hydrogen fuel for industrial consumption.
  • Generally in SI Cycle, the separation of Hydrogen from oxygen requires a high amount of heat (generally from non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and natural gas). This makes the large- scale production of hydrogen gas economically non-viable and non-environment friendly. 
  • The main achievement has been designing a suitable catalyst for the energy-intensive, corrosive step of sulphuric acid conversion to sulphur-dioxide and oxygen.

➤ Significance of the Discovery:

Enhancing Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology: Enabling availability of of low cost hydrogen through this discovery will enhance and improve the application of Hydrogen fuel cell technology which offers the advantages of a clean and reliable alternative energy source to applications such as - electric vehicles, primary and backup power for a variety of commercial, industrial, and residential buildings; and more futuristic-sounding applications like air taxis.

➤ Sulfur-Iodine Cycle

  • Process:
    1. The sulfur-iodine cycle (SI cycle) is a three-step thermochemical cycle used to produce hydrogen. In this cycle, all the chemicals are recycled. The SI process requires an efficient source of heat.
    2. Heat enters the cycle in high-temperature endothermic chemical reactions in the initial process and heat exits the cycle in the low-temperature exothermic reaction in the final stage of obtaining hydrogen gas.
  • Three-Step Thermochemical Cycle:
    1. Step 1: Iodide (I2) is reacted with Sulphur dioxide (SO2) to produce Hydriodic acid (HI) and Sulphuric acid (H2SO4).
      I2 + SO2 + 2H2O → 2HI + H2SO4
    2. Step 2: The water, SO2 and residual H2SO4 is separated from the oxygen byproduct by condensation to obtain Hydriodic acid (HI).
      2H2SO4 →  2SO2 + 2H2O + O2
    3. Step 3: Hydriodic acid (HI) from which Hydrogen gas (H2) is obtained.
      2HI → I2 + H2
  • The difference between the heat entering and leaving the cycle exits the cycle in the form of the heat of combustion of the hydrogen produced.
  • Major challenges of the sulfur-iodine cycle are to reduce the surplus of water and iodine and find separation processes that consume less energy than distillation.
  • Traditionally, the SI cycle has been pursued by several countries for hydrogen production with the Generation IV nuclear reactors.
  • A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical power generator that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, with water and heat as by-products. 
  • Help Adhering Emission Targets:
  • It could help India to adhere to its commitment in the Paris Climate Agreement and its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) Targets and ensure that its mobility in the future is with zero emissions.

Complements FAME India Scheme:

  • It will complement the implementation of the FAME India Scheme launched intending to support hybrid/electric vehicles market development and manufacturing ecosystem.

Advantages of Hydrogen as Fuel: 

  1. Environment Friendly:
    • The advantage of using hydrogen as an energy carrier is that when it combines with oxygen the only byproducts are water and heat.
    • The use of hydrogen fuel cells produces 
    • No greenhouse gasses or other particulates.
  2. Non Toxic:
    • Hydrogen is a non-toxic substance that is rare for a fuel source. It is environmentally friendly and does not cause any harm or destruction to human health.
  3. Highly Efficient:
    • Hydrogen is an efficient energy type since it can convey a lot of energy for every pound of fuel compared to diesel or gas.
  4. Ideal Spaceship Fuel:
    • Hydrogen energy's efficiency and power make it an ideal fuel source for spaceships. Its power is so high that it can quickly rocket spaceships to exploration missions.

➤ Disadvantages of Hydrogen as fuel

  1. Compared to gas, hydrogen lacks smell, which makes any leak detection almost impossible.
  2. Hydrogen is a highly flammable and volatile substance, its potential dangers make its transportation and storage very challenging.

Gaganyaan Mission

Recently, the Union Minister of Science and Technology informed that the human spaceflight module of Gaganyaan will be launched after the second uncrewed mission planned in 2022-23.

  • It was initially envisaged that the Rs. 10,000 crore Gaganyaan mission aims to send a three-member crew to space for five to seven days by 2022 when India completes 75 years of independence. 
  • First unmanned mission is planned in Dec 2021.
  • It has been delayed due to the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Key Points

➤ About:

  1. Gaganyaan is a mission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
    February 2021: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC
  2. Under the Gaganyaan schedule:
    • Three flights will be sent into orbit.
    • There will be two unmanned flights and one human spaceflight.
  3. The human space flight programme, called the Orbital Module will have three Indian astronauts, including women.
  4. It will circle Earth at a low-earth-orbit at an altitude of 300-400 km from Earth for 5-7 days.


  • The payload will consist of:
    1. Crew module - spacecraft carrying human beings.
    2. Service module - powered by two liquid-propellant engines.
  • It will be equipped with emergency escape and emergency mission abort.


GSLV Mk III, also called the LVM-3 (Launch Vehicle Mark-3) the three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.

Training in Russia:

  • In June 2019, the Human Space Flight Centre of the ISRO and the Russian government-owned Glavkosmos signed a contract for the training, which includes Russian support in the selection of candidates, their medical examination, and space training.
    1. The candidates will study in detail the systems of the Soyuz manned spaceship and be trained in short-term weightlessness mode aboard the Il-76MDK aircraft.
    2. The Soyuz is a Russian spacecraft. The Soyuz carries people and supplies to and from the space station.

The Il-76MDK is a military transport plane specially designed for parabolic flights of trainee astronauts and space tourists.


  1. It will help in the enhancement of science and technology levels in the country and help inspire youth.
    • Gaganyaan will involve numerous agencies, laboratories, disciplines, industries and departments.
  2. It will help in the improvement of industrial growth.
    • Recently, the Government has announced a new organisation, IN-SPACe, part of reforms to increase private participation in the space sector.
  3. It will help in the development of technology for social benefits.
  4. It will help in improving international collaboration.
    • One International Space Station (ISS) put up by multiple countries may not be enough. Regional ecosystems will be needed and Gaganyaan will focus on regional needs: food, water and energy security.

➤ India's Other Upcoming Projects:

Chandrayaan-3 Mission: India has planned a new moon mission named Chandrayaan-3. It is likely to be launched in early 2021.

Shukrayaan Mission: The ISRO is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan.

Square Kilometre Array Telescope

Recently, the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO) Council held its inaugural meeting and approved the world's largest radio telescope establishment.

  1. The new venture is being deemed as necessary following the collapse of one of the most prolific radio telescopes globally, the Arecibo in Puerto Rico, in December last year.
  2. SKAO is a new intergovernmental organisation dedicated to radio astronomy and is headquartered in the UK.
    • At the moment, organisations from ten countries are a part of the SKAO.
    • These include Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK.

Radio Telescopes:

  1. Radio telescope, astronomical instrument consisting of a radio receiver and an antenna system that is used to detect radio-frequency radiation between wavelengths of about 10 metres (30 megahertz [MHz]) and 1 mm (300 gigahertz [GHz]) emitted by extraterrestrial sources, such as stars, galaxies, and quasars.
  2. Unlike optical telescopes, radio telescopes can detect invisible gas and, therefore, they can reveal areas of space that may be obscured by cosmic dust.
    • Cosmic dust consists of tiny particles of solid material floating around in the space between the stars.
  3. Since the first radio signals were detected in the 1930s, astronomers have used radio telescopes to detect radio waves emitted by different objects in the universe and explore it.
  4. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the field of radio astronomy evolved after World War II. It became one of the most important tools for making astronomical observations.

The Arecibo Telescope:

  1. The Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, which was the second-largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, collapsed in December 2020.
  2. China's Sky Eye is the world's largest single-dish radio telescope.
  3. The telescope was built in 1963. 
  4. Because of its powerful radar, scientists employed it to observe planets, asteroids and the ionosphere, making several discoveries over the decades, including finding prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies, the first exoplanets, and the first- millisecond pulsar.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Telescope: 

  1. Location:
    • The telescope, proposed to be the largest radio telescope in the world, will be located in Africa and Australia.
  2. Development:
    • The development of SKA will use various surveys undertaken using another powerful telescope called the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP).
    • ASKAP is developed and operated by Australia's science agency Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).
    • This telescope, which has been fully operational since February 2019 mapped over three million galaxies in a record 300 hours during its first all-sky survey conducted late last year.
    • ASKAP surveys are designed to map the structure and evolution of the Universe, which it does by observing galaxies and the hydrogen gas that they contain.
  3. Maintenance:
    • Its operation, maintenance and construction will be overseen by SKAO.
  4. Cost and Completion:
    • The completion is expected to take nearly a decade at the cost of over 1.8 billion pounds.
  5. Significance:
    • Some of the questions that scientists hope to address using this telescope:
    • The beginning of the universe.
    • How and when the first stars were born.
    • The life-cycle of a galaxy.
    • Exploring the possibility of detecting technologically-active civilisations elsewhere in our galaxy.
    • Understanding where gravitational waves come from.
  6. Function:
    • As per NASA, the telescope will accomplish its scientific goals by measuring neutral hydrogen over cosmic time, accurately timing the signals from pulsars in the Milky Way, and detecting millions of galaxies out to high redshifts.

UAE’s Hope Mars Mission

The first interplanetary Hope Probe mission, launched by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has successfully reached orbit around Mars.

Hope Probe Mission:

  • The UAE's Mars Mission called 'Hope' was announced in 2015 to create mankind's first integrated model of the Red planet's (Mars) atmosphere.
  • 'Hope' was developed by UAE scientists in the USA and was launched in July 2020 from the Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan.
  1. Specification:
    • The Mars Hope Probe weights just 1.5 tonnes, about the same size as an SUV. It is expected to complete one orbit around the planet every 55 hours.
    • The overall life of UAE's Mars mission is around one Martian year, which is about 687 days on Earth.
  2. Scientific Instruments: The Probe carries three scientific instruments:
    • Emirates eXploration Imager (EXI): A high- resolution camera.
    • Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS): A far-UV imaging spectrograph.
    • Emirates Mars InfraRed Spectrometer (EMIRS): It will examine temperature profiles, ice, water vapor and dust in the atmosphere of Mars.
  3. Expected Benefits:
    • UAE's mission will collect data on Martian climate dynamics and help scientists understand why Mars' atmosphere is decaying into space.
    • The instruments will collect different data points on the atmosphere to also gauge seasonal and daily changes.
    • Together, this will shed light on how energy and particles, like oxygen and hydrogen, move through the atmosphere of Mars.


  • With the successful Mars orbit insertion, the UAE becomes the fifth entity to reach the Red Planet, joining NASA, the Soviet Union, the European Space Agency and India.
  • Success of this mission will help UAE in building a knowledge-based economy, leading to more investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) for young Emiratis.
  • The probe reached Mars in the year the UAE celebrates its 50th anniversary.
  • 'Hope' mission is important for UAE and the whole of the Arab world, as it is the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.

Other Missions to Mars:

  • Apart from the UAE's 'Hope Probe', two more unmanned spacecrafts from the USA and China are set to arrive at Mars over the next several days.
  • All three missions were launched in July to take advantage of Earth and Mars's close alignment.
  • A combination orbiter and lander from China is scheduled to reach Mars, which will circle Mars until the rover separates and attempts to land in order to look for signs of ancient life.
  • A rover from the USA named 'Perseverance' is also set to reach Mars soon. It will be the first leg in a decade-long USA-European project to bring Mars rocks back to Earth to be examined for evidence the planet once harbored microscopic life.

Objectives Behind Mars Exploration:

  • Scientists and researchers around the world are pretty much curious about Mars because of the possibility that the planet was once warm enough to allow water to flow through it, which means life could have existed there too. 
  • Despite being starkly different in many ways, the Red Planet has several Earth-like features- such as clouds, polar ice caps, volcanoes, and seasonal weather patterns.
  • However, no human has set foot on Mars yet because the atmosphere on Mars is very thin, consisting of mostly carbon dioxide with no breathable oxygen, making it difficult for astronauts to survive there.

➤ India's Mars Orbiter Mission

  • Also known as Mangalyaan, it was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in November 2013.
  • It was launched on board a PSLV C25 rocket to study Martian surface and mineral composition and scan its atmosphere for methane (an indicator of life on Mars).
The document February 2021: Current Affairs Science & Technology - Notes | Study Science & Technology for UPSC CSE - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Science & Technology for UPSC CSE.
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