Novichok and the CWC
Novichok, Germany says was used to poison Alexei Navalny, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is in a coma in a Berlin hospital.
What is Novichok?
It was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.
The name Novichok means “newcomer”. It is used for a family of highly toxic nerve agents.
Novichok agents are believed to be five to 10 times more lethal than other poisonous substances like VX gas.
What’s the issue now?
The weaponisation of any chemical is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Moscow is a signatory.
However, Moscow is not believed ever to have declared Novichok or its ingredients to the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees a treaty banning their use.
Novichok were added to the Chemical Weapons Convention’s list of controlled substances last year. This was the first time that the list was updated since it was agreed upon in the 1990s.
What is Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)?
It is a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time.
The CWC is implemented by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is headquartered in The Hague (OPCW won the 2013 Nobel peace prize).
The CWC is open to all nations and currently has 193 states-parties. Israel has signed but has yet to ratify the convention.
Three states have neither signed nor ratified the convention- Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan.
The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits:
Developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons.
The direct or indirect transfer of chemical weapons.
Chemical weapons use or military preparation for use.
Assisting, encouraging, or inducing other states to engage in CWC-prohibited activity.
The use of riot control agents “as a method of warfare.”
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat has backed the ‘Quad’ as a “good mechanism” to ensure freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean-Pacific region — a statement that could rile up China.
The quadrilateral security dialogue includes Japan, India, United States and Australia.
All four nations find a common ground of being the democratic nations and common interests of unhindered maritime trade and security.
The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it.
Significance of the grouping:
Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.
Members share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific. Each is involved in development and economic projects as well as in promoting maritime domain awareness and maritime security.
It is one of the many avenues for interaction among India, Australia, Japan and the US and should not be seen in an exclusive context.
What are China’s views on the Quad?
There is a general understanding that the Quad would not take on a military dimension against any country. The strategic community in China, nevertheless, had branded it an emerging “Asian NATO”.
Notably, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” address to the Indian Parliament gave a fresh impetus to the Quad concept. This recognised the economic rise of India.
Merger of two black holes
Gravitational waves from a collision between two black holes were detected in 2019 at the gravitational wave observatory LIGO (United States) and the detector Virgo (Italy).
It was calculated to have come from roughly 17 billion light years away, and from a time when the universe was about half its age.
What’s unique about this meger?
One of the two parent black holes was of an unusual “intermediate mass”, which challenges traditional scientific knowledge. It is the first “intermediate mass” black hole ever observed.
What are Gravitational Waves?
They are invisible ripples that form when a star explodes in a supernova; when two big stars orbit each other; and when two black holes merge.
Travelling at the speed of light, gravitational waves squeeze and stretch anything in their path.
Proposed by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity over a century ago.
It was only in 2015, however, that the first gravitational wave was actually detected — by LIGO.
What is a black hole?
A black hole is an object in space that is so dense and has such strong gravity that no matter or light can escape its pull. Because no light can escape, it is black and invisible.
There’s a boundary at the edge of a black hole called the event horizon, which is the point of no return — any light or matter that crosses that boundary is sucked into the black hole. It would need to travel faster than the speed of light to escape, which is impossible.
Anything that crosses the event horizon is destined to fall to the very centre of the black hole and be squished into a single point with infinite density, called the singularity.
What is LIGO?
It is a massive observatory for detecting cosmic gravitational waves and for carrying out experiments.
The objective is to use gravitational-wave observations in astronomical studies.
The project operates three gravitational-wave (GW) detectors. Two are at Hanford, Washington, north-western US, and one is at Livingston in Louisiana, south-eastern US.
The proposed LIGO India project aims to move one advanced LIGO detector from Hanford to India.
NASA says asteroid 465824 2010 FR, which is twice as big as the Pyramid of Giza, may cross the Earth’s orbit on September 6.
It is classified as a Near-Earth Object (NEO) and a potentially hazardous asteroid (PHA).
What are NEOs?
NASA defines NEOs as comets and asteroids nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighbourhood.
These objects are composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles.
What is an asteroid?
Asteroids are rocky objects that orbit the Sun, much smaller than planets. They are also called minor planets. As per NASA, 994,383 is the count for known asteroids, the remnants from the formation of the solar system over 4.6 billion years ago.
Why most asteroids are found in only one region?
Most such objects can be found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, which is estimated to contain somewhere between 1.1-1.9 million asteroids. The explanation for the concentration of asteroids in this belt comes from the formation of Jupiter, whose gravity brought an end to the formation of any planetary bodies in this region, as a result of which the smaller bodies kept colliding with each other, fragmenting into asteroids.
Other types of asteroids:
Trojans, which are asteroids that share an orbit with a larger planet.
Near-Earth Asteroids (NEA), which have orbits that pass close by the Earth. Those that cross the Earth’s orbit are called Earth-crossers.
Why do scientists track asteroids?
To look for information about the formation and history of planets and the sun, since asteroids were formed at the same time as other objects in the solar system.
To look for asteroids that might be potentially hazardous.
What are PHAs?
In the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter Over 1,400 asteroids are classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs).
According to NASA, “Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs) are currently defined based on parameters that measure the asteroid’s potential to make threatening close approaches to the Earth”.
Specifically, all asteroids with a minimum orbit intersection distance (MOID) of 0.05 au or less are considered PHAs.
How can asteroids be deflected?
The most drastic measure undertaken so far is the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA), which includes NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hera.
The mission’s target is Didymos, a binary near-Earth asteroid, one of whose bodies is of the size that could pose a significant threat to Earth.
In 2018, NASA announced that it had started the construction of DART, which is scheduled to launch in 2021 with an aim to slam into the smaller asteroid of the Didymos system at around 6 km per second in 2022.
Hera, which is scheduled to launch in 2024, will arrive at the Didymos system in 2027 to measure the impact crater produced by the DART collision and study the change in the asteroid’s orbital trajectory.