Thursday, August 07, 2008

Are you the Martian the world is looking for?

“Martian water has been touched and tasted” quotes a triumphant report from NASA. The Phoenix lander has been doing phenomenal research on the Martian soils. The MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) has been beaming radar images of the surface and subsurface of Mars for over 4 years. Huge teams of scientists, ET (extra terrestrial) geologists, from across the world regularly analyze these data searching for vital clues to know if life ever existed or could exist on that red planet.

Since the beginning of the 19th century (or perhaps, since humankind could develop powerful optical telescopes) our curiosity for Mars is afresh. People in every walk of life from planetary observers to common man like you and me are interested in knowing about this mysterious neighbour. The number of spacecraft missions to Mars between 1960s to 2000 is a whooping 37, which holds testimony to our relentless search for knowledge about this planet.

What are we indeed looking for? Water? Minerals? Rare metals? Fuel? Or life itself? What is that one thing which pins is down to this planet? Despite finding frozen water beneath the surface of Titan (moon of Saturn), our search in Mars has never been quenched.
“Part of the reason we are so eagerly searching for extraterrestrial life is that we have not yet determined the origins of life on the Earth!” writes Dr. Alexander Bagrov from the Russian Institute of Sciences. This is the turning point in the story.

Why could it not be, that life on Earth was impregnated from Mars?

Why could it not be, that an earlier, more sophisticated life form from Mars has seeded our evolution? I believe the whole problem has to be seen from this new perspective.

I may sound absurd or wildly imaginative, but if you can fix the results from various explorations together, you may end up in my favour. “The images from Mars3 orbiter depict features which looked very much like river canyons. This made scientists wonder if water had existed on Mars! We now know that Mars was once a warm and humid planet with rivers presumably capable of supporting life” writes Bagrov. Facts like these only add to my claim.

Yes, I hear your question. Although we don’t quite well know about the origin of life on Earth, we have proved scientifically about evolution and how complex organisms evolved from the simplest amoeba. If such would be the case, how could life come from Mars?

To answer this question, we must review that one factor which is hindering human space travel – COSMIC radiation. These high energy rays would spare space crafts, but cause fatal mutations in complex organisms. Hence our ancestors in Mars should have been left with the only option of protecting and sending the simplest of all life forms – amoeba.

Mankind has always been thirsty to know its own roots, whether be the attachment to races or the highly scientific global genome mapping project. Perhaps this is one such search. We should await until the bigger picture unfolds.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Global Food Crisis - the urban animal’s work of art

Global food crisis, food scarcity – page after page, every paper, every channel, every meeting in the cabinet moots about this eerie subject. Ministers, economists, chiefs of the countries are yet to get relieved from this shock. On one hand there are articles of condemnation on the poor countries’ plight and on the other richer countries asserting themselves that their citizens would not starve.

The World Food Program (WFP) has recently identified at least 30 “high risk” countries from around the globe and 21 among them are in Africa. A 100 million people are now urgently at risk of not having enough food to eat – a report from the United Nations shudders. With one child dying every five seconds from hunger-related causes, the time to act is now," Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister of Great Britain stresses in a meeting. The WFP has characterized this as the ‘Silent Tsunami’ warning that may lead to a potential catastrophe.

Why? When? How did this start? Did the population surge suddenly? Did the monsoons fail? Did the climate change and global warming burn down all the crops? Or did we all just start to munch more? None of the above!

We have foolishly inflated our own currency. Food has become increasingly costlier. Wheat prices have increased by 200%. Grains are available in the market but just that nobody can buy it. This season Cambodian farmers witnessed a harvest which they claim is the best in memory; but this has not shielded them from the global food scarcity. Why? Because food is becoming less and less affordable to those who grew it! Millions more of the world's most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortage looms and crop prices spiral ever upwards.

Short of cash, the World Food Program (WFP), the UN agency which feeds the world’s poorest people, can no longer supply 4,50,000 Cambodian children with its breakfast. WFP estimates it needs an additional $500 million to keep feeding the 73 million people in Africa, Asia and Central America. The increasing cost of grains is also pushing up the price of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. And there is every likelihood that prices will continue their relentless rise, according to expert predictions by the UN and developed countries.

Food, not for people, but for cars!
Bio fuel is another culprit. The global drive for a new green fuel to power cars, lorries and planes is worsening world food shortages and threatening to make billions go hungry. Biofuels, enthusiastically backed by the US, UK and other European governments, have been
sold as the solution to global warming. Converting large amounts of land to crops for biofuels is reducing food production just when the world needs to increase it.

When the crisis retaliates
For the first time in history, say experts, the impact is spreading from the developing to the developed world. Wal-Mart’s cash and carry division, Sam’s Club, announced it would sell a maximum of four bags of rice a person to prevent its supplies from running short. This is the face of new hunger. Experts lament that even those better off countries which erstwhile were never under their scanner are presently at the risk of this scarcity.

With every bite of food we consume, we should remember that we all have played a part in this inflation. Our government / company pays us various allowances which grow up each year. We have lived with this inflation without knowing it. But who gives them to our farmers? They live as isolated servants who ensure that our bellies are always full while putting theirs on starvation. These poorest of the poor suffer silently, too weak for activism or too busy raising the next generation of hungry. As responsible citizens, we are obliged to uplift the plight of our farmers. Let us act now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Bangalore fly-by

It was a beautiful sunset and a busy evening; I packed my back-pack as I had to leave to Hyderabad from Coimbatore after a long vacation. Those long years in college and the grooming as a corporate professional could remotely change my attitude from a whining school boy reluctant to leave home for school. I found hard to push myself to leave for work the next day.
As I waited in the verandah, dad arrived and we left for the Coimbatore domestic airport. Ours is a simple, small and a quiet airport, much unlike that of any other metro in India. The serene look and the calmness in the milieu had a soothing effect; I and dad drifted to our chat soon. We started with the world of IT and when we finished talking about grid computing I realized that only 20 minutes were left for the take off!
When I entered the airport, the security check had finished and I was the last one to report! The routine screening and checks were over and I found myself sitting beside a window inside the airplane. The aircraft took off, houses, roads and people became miniatures; the horizon expanded and the strange bliss I acquire every time I flew arrived – perhaps it was the desire to become a photogrammetist which was getting fulfilled, at least partially.
I flipped open my sony phone in in-flight mode and tried my best at capturing the beauty of rustic India at sunset. Alas, the cabin lights were too bright and caused an internal reflection subverting my photography. I settled with the Deccan Airways magazine and skimmed quietly through it.
An hour passed and raspy voice echoed through the speakers. The captain announced the bearings, the 17,000 ft altitude, 490 kmph velocity and the -2°C outside temperature. What he announced next was had such a lasting impact on me that it motivated me to write this entire article. It was the Bangalore fly-by; a night vision of Bangalore from the sky.
Hurriedly, I switched off the reading light and peeped down the window. I was awe-struck. I saw the Las Vegas of India, our silicon city dazzling with its jewel like lamps. Glistening, sparkling lights, the traffic inching through the roads gave the reality of Bangalore even from the sky. An arterial road looked like a sparkling platinum chain and a splatter of lights forming a disc below it looked like a dollar and on the whole I saw a mammoth necklace dazzling in the night.The plane canted to its right and I got an even better vision of the city. The roads emerged clear with their street lamps, ambient glow from roadside shops, discrete and berserk run of vehicle lamps. From the sky this vision recalled that of an artery and the red blood corpuscles rushing down it. Now anyone who had seen this would know why, are these roads termed as arterial!The sight was so irresistible; I had to pen down those few words that blurt out of my mind during my first sight, thankfully my habit of carrying the ATM slips came to rescue. As I jotted down these visions on the back of the slips, I saw the air hostess watching me with a tinkle in her eye depictive of surprise and joy.
This fly-by lasted for just ten minutes after which I saw the dull and occasional sparks of light from the suburban places below. The sporadic distribution of lights appeared in unique and peculiar shapes. Those clusters of tiny lights in abstract shapes looked as if it were a weird communication with aliens.
In another half hour the plane landed in the brand new Shamsabad airport, Hyderabad. The airport was gleaming clean an obviously fine work from GMR group of companies. With the geographer and writer satisfied in my, I started towards the office.