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Political parties in Punjab and Haryana are set for a face-off on the issue of sharing water from the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal after Haryana’s Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) declared that it would march towards Punjab on February 23 to dig the canal.INLD leader Abhay Chautala has announced that party workers would march towards Punjab after gathering at Ambala’s grain market to dig the SYL canal “to get its share of water”.The Punjab Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) have reacted sharply to this move by the INLD. While the SAD has urged political parties from Haryana not to indulge in activities that provoke the people of Punjab on the SYL issue — the Congress has demanded action by the Haryana government against the INLD to prevent the eruption of an inter-State crisis.Former Chief Minister and Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday said the Centre and the State government in Haryana should take all necessary steps to prevent any violation of Punjab’s borders by the INLD.“Abhay Chautala’s inflammatory statement has the potential of further escalating the tensions already triggered by the ongoing Jat agitation in Haryana,” said Capt. Amarinder.‘Mischievous agenda’Capt. Amarinder accused the Chautalas of indulging in a political misadventure and of trying to take advantage of their proximity to the Badals. He also alleged that the Chautalas were pinning their hopes for realising their mischievous agenda on the silent connivance of the Badals on the issue.On the other hand, SAD secretary and spokesman Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema asked political parties from Haryana not to indulge in activities that could provoke the people of Punjab on the emotive issue of the SYL canal.“The SYL issue is dead, once for all, as the Punjab Assembly as well as the SAD-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government of the State has passed resolutions for the restoration of the land acquired for the project. As the land acquired for the project has been restored to the original owners, it is now in the possession of the farmers of the State,” he said. “Such statements will lead to tension in both States and incite violence…” he said.
NAGPUR: Two alleged members of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) were killed during an encounter with security forces in Narayanpur district, south Chhattisgarh, on Wednesday, the police said.“Two female Maoists were neutralised and their bodies recovered in an encounter with the Special Task Force and the District Reserve Guard near Hasnar village in Abujhmaad area of Naryanpur district [on Wednesday]. Two 315 bore rifles and many other articles were also recovered from the spot of the encounter,” said D.M.Awasthi, Special Director General of Police, anti-Naxal operations unit of the Chhattisgarh police.According to Santosh Singh, Superintendent of Police, Narayanpur district, the encounter took place on Wednesday morning. “Our parties hit a Maoist camp in this area. The encounter lasted for an hour,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.Apart from the weapons, security forces also recovered improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Maoist uniforms, codex wires, a sewing machine and Maoist literature from the site of the encounter.This was the third encounter in Chhattisgarh in the last four days in which the Maoists suffered casualties.In a separate development, the police managed to nab a Maoist commander in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh on Wednesday.Rakesh Sodi, the local guerilla squad commander of the CPI (Maoist) in Madded area of Bijapur, was arrested from Punnur forest area under Awapalli police station limits during a search operation, police officials from the Bijapur district said. Sodi carried a reward of ₹3 lakh on his head.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists went on a rampage on Tuesday evening in Sangli’s Kudwad industrial area, thrashing migrant workers who had come to the market to make purchases.The MNS’ Sangli district chief Tanaji Swant, who was at the forefront of the attack, alleged that jobs rightfully belonging to local Maharashtrians were being taken over by ‘outsiders’.The MNS defended their actions by claiming that Sangli and the adjoining areas of Miraj and Kupwad had witnessed a surge in crime, which was allegedly the handiwork of ‘outsiders’.The Kupwad MIDC has a large presence of migrant workers, estimated at more than 20,000. The MNS have been agitating for preference of local youthsA video of the assault shows scenes of political hooliganism, as a number of MNS activists gleefully assault, abuse and chase off migrant workers and non-Maharashtrians who had come to shop for groceries at the Kupwad market.The Sangli police have arrested three MNS activists in connection with the assault, while lodging a complaint under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).The party, which advocates jobs for ‘sons of soil’, created ripples on the political scene with its violent attacks on north Indian migrant workers in 2008, namely by beating up candidates from North India appearing for the all-India Railway Recruitment Board entrance exam for the Western region in Mumbai.Despite getting some mileage in the 2009 Assembly election and a few civic bodies like Nashik and Pune therafter, Raj Thackeray’s party has virtually imploded since the 2014 Assembly election, with a number of its top leaders switching sides.
The Opposition Congress on Tuesday won the majority of seats in the by-elections to Zila Parishads, Panchayat Samitis and municipal wards in Rajasthan. The party won all the four Zila Parishad seats, 16 of the 27 seats in Panchayat Samitis and seven of the 13 municipal wards.The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party won in 10 Panchayat Samiti wards, while one seat went to an independent candidate. The BJP candidates were elected in six municipal wards. The Zila Parishad seats and local body wards, for which by-elections were held last week, are situated in 26 districts of the State.The seats in various rural and urban local bodies had fallen vacant in Udaipur, Bhilwara, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Banswara, Dausa, Sriganganagar, Pratapgarh, Nagaur, Baran and other districts. Congress candidate Rajendra Patidar won by a margin of 3,178 votes for the Zila Parishad seat in Banswara.Jubilant over the party’s victory in the by-polls, Pradesh Congress president Sachin Pilot said the BJP’s days were “numbered” in Rajasthan and the countdown had begun. “The Congress gave a tough fight to the BJP in Gujarat. The Rajasthan government has completely neglected the people in both rural and urban areas during the last four years,” he said.Mr. Pilot said the by-poll results in the State, coming just after the Gujarat Assembly election results, were “very encouraging” for the Congress, as the local bodies which went to the polls were geographically situated all over Rajasthan.“The results have depicted the people’s disenchantment with the BJP and a renewed faith in the Congress,” he said, adding that his party would win in the upcoming by-elections to two Lok Sabha and one Assembly seats as well.
The Samajwadi Party is non-committal whether it would enter into an electoral alliance with the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.Party president Akhilesh Yadav on Thursday said the talks over an alliance could wait till the elections and it was time for him to strengthen the SP.“It is decided that the we will first set our party right and prepare for the battle on the ground that’s coming up. The talks for an alliance could be held when elections come,” Mr. Yadav told reporters.He was responding to a specific question whether his party would contest the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Congress. The two parties unsuccessfully fought the 2017 UP Assembly elections together but contested the subsequent local body polls on their own. Even in the Sikandra bypoll, which the BJP won, both the Congress and SP had fielded their own candidates. Mr. Yadav said he did not want to waste time in alliance talks right now.He, however, said that “we socialists don’t change friends easily and when we enter into a friendship we do it after a lot of thought.”Mr. Yadav’s non-committal stand on an alliance with the Congress comes days after the party, along with the BSP, was absent from a meeting of Opposition parties convened by him in Lucknow.The meeting was called to gather momentum against the use of EVM in the upcoming Lok Sabha bypoll for Phulpur and Gorakhpur seats but was also seen as a step taken by Mr. Yadav to organise non-BJP parties.
The members of the Bishnoi community, known for its beliefs associated with nature worship and wildlife conservation, were jubilant over the court’s verdict on Thursday, convicting actor Salman Khan of killing blackbucks at Kankani village 19 years ago.Also Read Mr. Bishnoi claimed that he saw Mr. Khan and actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendre in a Gypsy car, from which gunshots were fired, killing two blackbucks. When confronted by Mr. Bishnoi, they allegedly fled the scene.However, the acquittal of four other actors came as a disappointment to the Bishnois. All India Bishnoi Mahasabha executive member Ram Niwas Bishnoi told The Hindu that all witness accounts were clear about their participation in the crime. “The Bishnoi Mahasabha will submit a memorandum to the Rajasthan government asking it to file an appeal against the acquittal of the four actors and a Jodhpur resident, Dushyant Singh,” Mr. Bishnoi said. A large number of Bishnois gathered outside the District Courts here and raised slogans against the Bollywood actor when the judgment sentencing him to five years in prison was announced. Some of them burst crackers shouting that justice had been done.Bishnois have been pursuing the cases against Mr. Khan and others in connection with the 1998 incidents when a film crew was staying here for shooting of Hum Saath Saath Hain. The wildlife department registered cases of poaching of chinkaras and blackbucks based on the complaint of Poonam Chand Bishnoi, a crucial witness during the trial.Also Read On Salman Khan: A portrait of the artist as a ‘bad boy’ ₹400-₹500 crore riding on Salman Khan: trade analysts
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sakshi Maharaj has courted a controversy by inaugurating a ‘nightclub’ in Lucknow.As photos of the saffron-clad leader at the venue in the posh Aliganj locality of the State capital on Sunday night drew criticism and ridicule, the MP claimed that he was “tricked” into attending the event and demanded that the police take action against the “culprit”.The owner of the establishment, Sumit Singh, claimed that it was not a nightclub but a restaurant where no liquor or non-vegetarian food would be served. He claimed that there was a “typographical error” in the invitation card.Photographs showing the 62-year-old Unnao MP accepting an idol of Lord Ganesha were posted on the social media while TV channels too aired the visuals of the event.MP ‘unaware’ of eventMr. Maharaj’s representative, Ashok Katiyar, claimed that a senior BJP leader “tricked” the MP into attending the function.“The MP was to leave for Delhi but a senior office-bearer of the party took him to the function saying that it was organised by his close relative,” Mr. Katiyar said.Even after reaching the venue, Mr. Maharaj was not told that he had to inaugurate anything and was made to do it all of a sudden, Mr.Katiyar claimed, adding that it could also be a part of “some conspiracy”. “Since 2019 elections are just round the corner, MPs do attend events, and making inquiries about all the things does not always look nice,” Mr. Katiyar said.
The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to respond to a petition seeking a CBI probe into the 1,100 police encounters which killed 49 people and injured 370 in the State last year.A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra asked the petitioner People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) to serve a copy of its petition, which terms the police encounters as “massive administrative liquidations” to the Uttar Pradesh Additional Advocate General Aishwarya Bhati.The State has to file its response in two weeks before the apex court. The Bench has posted the case after three weeks.PUCL, represented by advocate Sanjay Parekh, submitted that police encounters were endorsed by the State administration in “open defiance” of human rights and civil liberties. That is, the State machinery chose to end lives instead of bringing people for trial.“State cannot adopt such means which are against the constitutional principles to fight with terrorism or hardened criminals. Such extra-judicial killings in the name of encounters are considered ‘State-sponsored terror,’” the petition said.In this context, the petition refers to the reported statements made by Chief Minister Adityanath like “criminals will be jailed or killed in encounters” and “everyone should be guaranteed security, but those who want to disturb peace of the society and believe in the gun, should be given the answer in the language of the gun.”The petition said the NHRC had written to the State government in response to the Chief Minister’s statements, saying that police personnel were misusing their powers to settle scores. The Commission had said that “creating an atmosphere of fear is not the correct way to deal with crime.”The petition, which refers extensively to The Hindu’s reports on the police encounters, said facts available in the public domain show that over 1,100 encounters have taken place in the past year, wherein 49 people were killed and 370 were injured.“According to the figures given by the State of U.P. to the NHRC, in the encounters, 45 persons have died between 01.01.2017-31.03.2018. Each such encounter is required to be investigated on the basis of FIR, followed by a Magisterial Inquiry and thereafter, a criminal trial in accordance with law,” it said.
Two days after a tent collapse at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally at Midnapore in Paschim Medinipur district left several people injured, the West Bengal police have filed a case of negligence against the organiser of the event, the State BJP unit, and the decorator of the venue.“We have registered a case against the organiser [State BJP] and the decorator of the rally for extreme negligence under Sections 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code,” said Alok Rajoria, Superintendent of Police, Paschim Medinipur. No one has been named as accused in the case so far, he added.The State BJP leadership has blamed the police and the district administration for the incident. Accusing the police of “neglecting their duties”, State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said: “They never bothered to probe the arrangements for the PM’s rally.”State BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu said that his party will lodge a case against the district police and the administration. Forensic experts who visited the venue pointed out several flaws in the tent’s construction. “The tent collapsed as the ground became soft due to rain and the poles supporting it were dug only three to four inches into the ground,” said Chitrakho Sarkar, a senior official of the State Forensic Science Laboratory. Also, the poles were not fastened properly and accumulation of rainwater on the tent’s roof played a key role in its collapse, he added.
Medical reports on Saturday confirmed that five more girls from the Muzaffarpur shelter home had been sexually exploited, raising the number of victims in the case to 34. Forty-two girls of Balika Grih were subjected to the medical test at the Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) here.With the medical reports of five more girls confirming sexual exploitation on Saturday, the number of Muzaffarpur shelter home victims has risen to 34. Forty-two girls of Balika Grih were subjected to medical test at the Patna Medical College and Hospital and 29 returned positive for rape.“The number of girls raped in the shelter home has gone up to 34 from 29 reported earlier …. medical reports of the remaining 8 girls have not shown any signs of sexual contact,” Harpreet Kaur, Senior Superintendent of Police, Muzaffarpur, told The Hindu over phone.“The report of one of the eight girls is, however, suspicious as overwriting has been noticed…we’ve asked the PMCH doctors for clarification”, she said.Secret staircases foundSenior police officials, including Muzaffarpur Inspector General of Police Sunil Kumar, who visited the shelter home on Saturday found three secret staircases leading up to the adjacent residence of the main accused Brajesh Thakur. Thakur’s NGO, Sankalp Evan Vikas Samiti, which was given the contract to run the home by the State Social Welfare Department, was managing its affairs since October 2013.The Bihar government has already recommended a CBI inquiry into the case. The district police has arrested 10 of the 11 accused and filed chargesheets against them. Thakur was arrested within 48-hours of the FIR being lodged by the State Welfare Department on May 31.A Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) report had, earlier, exposed sexual and physical exploitation of girls at 15 shelter and short-stay homes in Bihar, including the Muzaffarpur shelter home. Bihar has 110 shelter and short-stay homes run by the state welfare department.Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Tejaswi Yadav who along with other alliance parties have been demanding “High-Court monitored CBI inquiry” into the Muzaffarpur shelter home rapes, slammed the NDA government in a tweet. “Bihar has rakshas raj (demonic rule)….here Ravan kidnaps Mother Sita…this is balatkar raj (rape culture), coward Duryodhan is disrobing Draupadi. In Bihar, the Ravan-Duryodhan pair has made it difficult for sisters and mothers to step out”.Leader of Opposition Tejashwi Yadav on Saturday set off on a bicycle rally from Bodh Gaya to Patna to protest against rampant incidents of rape and deteriorating law and order in the State. He had earlier attacked Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for the “delayed decision” to recommend a CBI probe into the case.‘Order SC-monitored probe’ Our Special Correspondent adds from New Delhi: The Congress on Saturday demanded a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe into the charges of sexual exploitation at the government-run shelter home at Muzaffarpur. The party also questioned Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s silence on the issue and asked him whether this was an example of “good governance model” of the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance.
Villages and towns around Bisonimukh-Kherbari, where extremists gunned down five Bengali people on Thursday night, have decided to observe a subdued, cracker-less Diwali, without grand display of lights.The festival of lights coincides with the equally bright and firecracker-driven Kali Puja in these parts.Bisonimukh-Kherbari is the only Bengali village in the area. The surrounding villages are dominated by other communities, including Assamese, Gorkha, and settlers from Bihar.“Our collective conscience does not allow us to be expressive this festive season after the Diwali of bullets that claimed five of our neighbours,” Chandan Seleng of the Assamese-dominated Araimuria village said.People of Bisonimukh-Kherbari had mistaken the gunshots for crackers and had thus reacted late in informing the police.The sentiment is similar at Talap, the nearest small town 12 km from the village. “We had a budget of ₹2 lakh for decoration but dropped the plans the day after the incident. We will just go through the Kali Puja rituals and light lamps in the memory of the departed,” Sanjit Bhawal, member of the local puja committee, told The Hindu.The committee would take a call after the puja on donating the amount collected to the families of the Bisonimukh-Kherbari victims.
A Raebareli jail video showing inmates having drinks inside the barrack went viral on social media on Monday, bringing to focus clandestine entry of liquor and firearms in prisons, months after the sensational killing of an imprisoned mafia don inside the Baghpat jail. After local TV news channels repeatedly telecast the latest footage , the authorities suspended six officials, including a senior jail superintendent.
At least 5,239 candidates were in the fray in the third phase for 358 sarpanch and 1652 Panch seats. “Ninety-six sarpanchs and 1,437 panchs were elected unopposed in this phase,” he said.The Phase-I of panchayat polls held on November 17 recorded 74.1% polling, including 64.5% in Kashmir division and 79.4% in Jammu division. In the second phase on November 20, 71.1% polling was witnessed across the State, with an overwhelming 80.4% polling in Jammu division and 52.2% in Kashmir division. Jammu and Kashmir recorded a 75.2% polling in the third phase of rural body polls on Saturday, with the Kashmir Valley registering 55.7%.Baramulla reported the lowest turnout at 30.8%, while Poonch was the highest with 87.8% with Ramban coming a close second at 85.7%, Chief Electoral Officer Shaleen Kabra said.An overwhelming 83% polling was witnessed in Jammu division, he said. “Over 3.2 lakh electors turned out to exercise their franchise,” he added.Polling was slow in Kashmir Valley in the morning but picked up around noon. Kashmiri women line up outside a polling station in Rayar, Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir. File | Photo Credit: Nissar Ahmad
The BJP’s Jammu unit on Thursday issued a defamation notice to expelled party leader Gagan Bhagat, who served as an MLA, for his remarks against the leadership, saying “the party was going to lose in the upcoming Assembly polls”. A BJP spokesman said the party disciplinary committee decided to move court after Dr. Bhagat’s “anti-party activities and malicious campaign”. Dr. Bhagat, ex-MLA from R.S. Pura, has attacked BJP State president Ravinder Raina and State general secretary Ashok Kaul in his statements. Dr. Bhagat accused the party of being “anti-Dalit”. “The role of a general secretary is to concentrate on strengthening the organisation network, but Mr. Kaul is more concerned about controlling funds of the party,” he alleged.He said he knows how Ministers were chosen “and where money changed hands”. “They have filled their coffers and have done nothing for the people, including those living along the International Border, who are direct targets of Pakistan’s shelling,” he said.In response, the BJP said it has served a legal notice on Dr. Bhagat for levelling unfounded, vexatious, malicious, abusive and defamatory remarks against Mr. Raina and Mr. Kaul.Petition in SCDr. Bhagat faces an expulsion notice from the party, days after he filed a petition on December 3 before the Supreme Court over Governor Satya Pal Malik’s move to dissolve the Assembly. In his latest interview, he dared the BJP to announce a chief minister candidate ahead of the Assembly polls. “The party’s State leadership is dictatorial and would face a drubbing in the next Assembly election,” he said.
The day Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for the first civilian airport in Arunachal Pradesh, Jet Airways operated its last flight on the Guwahati-Aizawl route. By withdrawing from Mizoram, the private airliner joined an expanding list of flight operators that have suspended operation from new and existing routes in the geographically challenged northeastern region. This has undermined New Delhi’s ambitious flagship regional connectivity scheme UDAN, an acronym for the Hindi phrase Ude Desh ka Aam Naagrik meaning ‘let the common man fly.’Why was the flight terminated?Mizoram’s Lengpui Airport, 32 km from the capital Aizawl, took a little more than two years to be completed in February 1998. It soon became the busiest airport in the region after the ones in Assam’s Guwahati, Manipur’s Imphal and Tripura’s Agartala. But the airlines began withdrawing operations for reasons such as safety, maintenance and viability. If an accident made Northeast Shuttles stop its Cessna flights in 2011, losses made Kingfisher Red withdraw a year later. Air India ended its Guwahati-Aizawl flights as did SpiceJet in less than a year after its inaugural flight in October 2016. Jet Airways, once the only private airline flying to and from northeastern India, withdrew from Aizawl on February 10. The airline attributed it to non-viability of the route because of fuel price rise, a depreciating rupee and a difficult pricing environment.Is only Mizoram affected?No. Jet Airways withdrew from Imphal and Assam’s Silchar and Jorhat, along with Aizawl. Much before the first round of UDAN was launched in April 2017, private airlines had withdrawn from Nagaland’s Dimapur. The Hyderabad-based Air Deccan, which won exclusive rights in the UDAN bidding to connect Meghalaya capital Shillong to Aizawl, Agartala, Silchar, Dimapur and Imphal, operated only 10 flights to Agartala and Dimapur in May 2018. The Delhi-based Zoom Air operated between Assam’s Tezpur and Kolkata for only three months, till July 2018, before withdrawing owing to “technical issues.” And from September 1, 2018, SpiceJet suspended its operation from Agartala, six years after Jet Airways and a few other small airlines had withdrawn.Has the demand gone down?According to Zoliana Chhakchhuak, Aizawl-based head of a regional tour operators’ association, viability is often cited by airliners, despite a passenger occupancy rate of 60-70% in most flights, and more people in the region flying than ever before. While some of the smaller airports have flights connecting Kolkata and Delhi, the withdrawal of service to and from Guwahati — the hub of communication in the region — is expected to affect tourism, a sector that has capitalised on peace in the region. Airliners and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) agree that the passenger volume has doubled in the last five-six years from Guwahati and other popular airports in the region. But improved road and rail connectivity, they said, have become a bane for smaller airports. For instance, a two-hour drive brings a passenger from Shillong and an overnight train trip brings one from Dimapur to Guwahati.Where is connectivity headed?The Ministry of Civil Aviation announced the opening of 92 air routes in the region in the second round of UDAN in November 2017. Bidders snapped up six airports – Rupsi, Jorhat, Lilabari and Tezpur in Assam, and Tezu and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh — and 12 routes, of which only two are operational. These are Jorhat-Kolkata and Lilabari-Kolkata serviced by Indigo Airlines and SpiceJet. Rupsi and Tezu are yet to be operational, while Pasighat is the only new airport to have come up under the regional connectivity scheme. In May 2018, Air India started a flight between Guwahati and Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh with VIPs, including Chief Minister Pema Khandu, on board. The militarily strategic airport, which allows Sukhoi 30 to land and take off, has had very few civilian flights. AAI officials say UDAN, in its current form, is difficult for smaller airliners to sustain. Aviation experts say the scheme has not been able to add wings because it is aimed more at reaping political benefits than increasing connectivity. Furthermore, it does not have enough incentives for airlines to ignore the issue of viability.
Visually impaired students of a residential school for blind girls and a group of nature lovers in Odisha’s Berhampur on Friday proved that love is the greatest colour with which Holi is celebrated.Despite being unable to identify colours, the girls of the residential school, managed by the Odisha Service Centre for the Blind (OSCB), at Gosani Nuagaon celebrated Holi on their campus. On the school campus, children used ‘gulal’ of different colours and coloured water. “Although we cannot identify colours by vision, we are able to differentiate coloured gulal from their texture and smell,” said Gita Nayak of Class IX. The children enjoyed pouring coloured water on each other the most. A private company had also sponsored new dresses for the girls to add to their joy. These students had not gone home for Holi holidays. “Most of them are not allowed to play Holi at home. But here, we let them enjoy the festival to make them realise that they are in no way different from others,” said OSCB secretary Bhabani Shankar Padhi. On the other hand, activists of Berhampur Sabuja Bahini got together at the Nilakanthanagar funeral ground to play Holi with the trees saved by them through transplantation. These trees were to be cut for widening of a road in Berhampur. BSB president Sibaram Panigrahy said that the four trees have started to show signs of revival. “We want to make people aware that we can also share our love and joy with trees that are silent but conscious living beings,” he added.
The pantheon of black holes includes little ones not much bigger than our sun and supermassive ones at the centers of galaxies. But where are all the medium-sized black holes? That question has long troubled astronomers, but now they may have finally spotted one. The leading candidate for a just-right black hole—an object called X-1 in the constellation M82—has just received its most accurate mass estimate so far: about 400 times the mass of the sun.Black holes, by their very nature, can’t be seen directly and reveal their presence only by the effect their gravity has on nearby stars and clouds of dust and gas. From such clues, astronomers have identified many stellar-sized black holes, created by the collapse of a giant star and other material it may have gobbled up afterward. These usually weigh up to tens of times the mass of the sun. Meanwhile, most and perhaps all galaxies seem to have a huge black hole at their hearts, with masses that range from hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses.In their search for the missing intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs), astronomers have zoomed in on rare objects known as ultraluminous x-ray sources (ULXs). Such x-ray sources are thought to be binary systems made up of a black hole and another star orbiting each other, with the black hole sucking in material from its partner. That material first settles into a sort of gravitational vortex called an accretion disk, and before vanishing forever into the black hole the accreting material becomes so hot from friction that it emits x-rays. ULXs are extreme examples of this phenomenon, emitting an x-ray signal that is too bright to be produced by a stellar-sized black hole but still not bright enough to be from a supermassive black hole. X-1, which is 12 million light-years from Earth, is one such ULX, and several studies over the past decade suggested that it has a mass of hundreds of suns, based on its luminosity and temperature.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)Still, astronomers couldn’t rule out that it was simply a very luminous but small black hole, says astronomer Dheeraj Pasham of the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park. So along with colleagues from UMD and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Pasham set out to more accurately weigh X-1 using an obscure x-ray emission pattern detected in smaller black holes.Over the past decade, astronomers studying the x-ray emissions from stellar black holes noticed that they seem to beat like a drum, with a consistent 3-2 ratio. One black hole’s x-rays might be beating at 150 times per second as well as 100 times, while another could be beating 300 and 200 times. Astronomers don’t know what is causing these syncopated emissions but assume that some sort of resonance must develop in the superheated, x-ray-emitting gas just before it falls into the black hole. Crucially, they also found that the frequency of the beats was inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole, so a 150-100 rhythm would signal a more massive black hole than a 300-200 rhythm.The team wondered if this relationship could be extrapolated to IMBHs. For medium-sized black holes, the researchers predicted, the beats would have single-figure frequencies. The team gathered data on X-1 from NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which operated from 1995 to 2012, looking for beat frequencies between 1 and 16 times per second. “We stacked up all the archival data and the [3-2 rhythms] just appeared,” Pasham says. As they reported online yesterday in Nature, they found that X-1 was beating out rhythms at 5.07 and 3.32 times per second; following the relation between frequency and mass, that corresponds to a black hole with a mass of 428 suns. “Confirmation of a mass around 400 solar masses for M82 X-1 is very exciting because it puts the black hole clearly in the intermediate mass range—too heavy to be made in the collapse of a single star and much lighter than the supermassive black hole found in galactic nuclei. Thus, X-1 would represent a new class of object requiring a novel formation mechanism,” says astronomer Philip Kaaret of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who was not involved in the research.Others, however, are not yet sure this is the final proof of the existence of medium-sized black holes. “It’s not conclusive, but this is a good extra clue,” says astronomer Alessandro Patruno of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands. He cautions it won’t be considered proof until researchers have a better handle on how these rhythms are created in accretion disks and whether it is justified to extrapolate from small black holes to much larger ones. “We don’t understand how accretion disks behave around ULXs,” he says.
The insect-trapping Nepenthes rafflesiana, commonly known as Raffles’ pitcher plant, doesn’t always capture the ants and other prey that are drawn to it. The rims of some of the pitchers of the viny plant, which grows in the tropical lowlands in parts of Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago, are slick when conditions are humid, so insects walking there readily slip into the enzyme-rich, prey-digesting fluid inside the vessel. But for several hours during the hottest part of the day, the edges of those pitchers (one shown above) are dry, which allows foraging ants to collect nectar from inside the rim of a pitcher and then return to their colony to alert their kin to the plant’s bounty and its location. In a field experiment, researchers used a dilute solution of sugar to continually wet the edges of some pitchers; others were left alone. Overall, the pitchers that were left alone captured more than 36% more ants than the always wet pitchers, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The findings, the scientists say, are the first to back up a decades-old theory that pitchers with intermittently slick rims would end up capturing more prey by allowing scout ants to safely escape and thus lure their colony mates.
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA—If we came across alien life, would we even know it was alive? That was a central question posed at a session here yesterday at the annual meeting of AAAS (which publishes Science). All known life on Earth fits a particular mold, but life from other planets might break free from that mold, making it difficult for us to identify. We could even be oblivious to unfamiliar forms of life right under our noses.All life as we know it follows a standard protocol, known as the “central dogma,” using DNA and RNA to store genetic information, and translating that into proteins. And all living things rely on the same handful of chemical elements. So, when searching for life in remote or extreme environments scientists typically look for signs of the kind of life we’re familiar with. But, “if we have other organisms out there that do things just slightly differently, we might miss the boat,” geobiologist Victoria Orphan of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena told attendees.Biologists have proposed the existence of a “shadow biosphere”—an undiscovered group of living things with biochemistry different from what we’re used to. Most of life’s diversity on our planet is too small to see, making microbes the most likely place to look for these new types of life. Already, new discoveries are shaking our beliefs about what life is. Recently discovered giant, amoeba-infecting viruses blur the line between life and nonlife—although they rely on their hosts for essential biological functions, the bacteria-sized viruses have complex genomes. Such unexpected discoveries suggest that we shouldn’t define what we are searching for by what we know is already out there, Orphan said.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)But it’s hard to search for something if you don’t know what it is. One general hallmark to look for, said planetary scientist Carolyn Porco of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is a system that is out of equilibrium. Life takes in and uses energy, altering its environment in the process. Without life, for example, our planet would not have an oxygen-rich atmosphere, as chemical reactions tend to deplete oxygen. The proliferation of left-handed amino acids is another example we see on Earth; life is made up of left-handed amino acids, but not their mirror-images. Such a lopsided situation is an indication of an environment out of whack—and perhaps life.However, what we can search for also depends on what’s practical. As a result, NASA’s strategy for searching out life on other planets has generally been to “follow the water,” looking for life similar to that on Earth, Porco said, because that’s what we know how to find. Porco called on other scientists on the panel to come up with a “working definition” of life that could give planetary scientists guidance as to what else they should look for. For example, on other worlds, life might form in liquid hydrocarbons instead of water, such as on Saturn’s moon, Titan. Different markers might reveal life in hydrocarbon seas.Rather than searching for new forms of life on Earth or in the stars, other scientists study the question from the bottom up, looking for possible precursors of life. Chemist David Lynn of Emory University in Atlanta points out that misfolded proteins—like the those implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s—show some similarities to life, namely that they can generate diversity in the different ways that they fold, and can undergo chemical evolution, in which those folded proteins are selected not genetically, but chemically. Such precursors could form complex chemical networks, which might be the foundation of radically different life elsewhere in the universe.Biochemist John Chaput of Arizona State University, Tempe, takes the approach of working backward from the central dogma, asking if early life could have used a simpler precursor to RNA and DNA. He studies threose nucleic acid, which is not found in nature but can be synthesized in the lab. It forms a similar structure to DNA, but with a different backbone and would’ve been simpler to produce and replicate on primordial Earth. “Life did not choose DNA or RNA out of chemical necessity,” he said. “There may have been many alternative paths to the evolution of life.”Check out our full coverage of the AAAS annual meeting.What message would you send into space? Tell us on Twitter and Vine with #msgtospace!