What are the characteristics of slugs and snails?

You may have seen a snail on a plant or near a river. You are likely to have seen a slug in your backyard. Irrespective of where you find them or how large or small they are, snails and slugs have something spectacular in common - moving - ever so slowly. Why is that so? Come, let's find out.

Snails and their relative slugs (without shells) are molluscs, and it is said that there are 2,40,000 of these species across the world, including in oceans. And they all move slowly. Here's something to give you an idea of how slow they really are - in a snail race, the fastest on record sped at nearly .09 km per hour!

Apparently, there are at least three reasons for their slowness: "how they move, what they eat and what eats them". These molluscs do not have feet like humans do. They have "a band of muscle that runs along the underside of their body and is covered in sticky mucus". When these muscles contract, they send small waves across the creature's body. "These waves compress the mucus on the bottom of the foot into a slippery liquid", helping the snail or slug glide or climb. It's an unusual way of moving, and takes time. Plus, like predators, they don't have to run after their food. Here's what they eat-"most slugs and snails eat plants, decaying matter or marine animals, like sponges", which stay in one place. So snails and slugs don't really have to hurry, worrying if their food will escape. And, they certainly don't have to hurry to escape predators themselves. While snails are usually protected by their shells, slugs escape the attention of other creatures due to the colour of their body - greys and browns that help them "blend in well with their surroundings". Further, land "slugs are covered with a sticky mucus", which is "so gooey that it can gum up the mouths of predators and make it hard to chew". Last heard, the slime is not very tasty and certainly not worth the effort just to end up with a gummed up mouth! As for sea slugs, they come in bright colours, bearing "nasty-tasting poisons", which predators are aware enough to keep off.

Slow they could be, but snails and slugs contribute immensely to the health of their ecosystems. They feed on seeds and young plants, keeping the growth of certain plant species in check. "By eating decaying matter, they help recycle nutrients that growing plants can use. And despite their best efforts, snails and slugs do often become food for other animals."

So, the next time you see a snail or a slug ambling by, you know what the best thing to do is - just let them be!

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What is the role of NCPCR?

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) was established in 2005, following the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2005. However, it became operational in March 2007. It works under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The organisation was established to protect and promote child rights.

The commission is presided over by a chairperson, who has done outstanding work in promoting the welfare of children. Besides, there are six members, of which two are women well-versed in child welfare. The members are appointed by the Central government.

Monitor implementation

The Commission is empowered to monitor the proper and effective implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012; Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015; and Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.

It is responsible for ensuring that the laws and administrative systems conform to the vision of the rights of the child as stated in India's Constitution as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.

The organisation reviews existing policies and programmes on child rights and makes recommendations for their effective implementation.

It also looks into issues related to children in need of special care and protection, such as children in distress, disadvantaged children, children in conflict with the law, juveniles without families, and children of prisoners. It examines factors that affect the rights of children via terrorism, communal violence, riots, natural disaster, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, trafficking, maltreatment, torture and exploitation, pornography and prostitution, and recommend appropriate remedial measures. NCPCR is responsible for inspecting juvenile custodial homes and institutions meant for children that are under the control of the Central government or any State government or any other authority.

In the last couple of years, the NCPCR has complained against political parties for "misusing" children as "political tools" for campaigns.

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What are OPEC and OPEC+?

Some of the world's biggest oil producers are cutting back. A group of OPEC+ countries, led by Saudi Arabia, recently announced a surprise output cut of one million barrels a day. But do you know what OPEC and OPEC+ are? Or what the production cut implies? Let's find out.

Oil giants

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental organisation that produces oil. It was created at the Baghdad Conference in Iraq in September 1960, by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Its establishment took place against a background of great change in the world with extensive decolonisation and the rise of many independent nations.

Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the OPEC cartel is responsible for fixing the price of oil on the world market and managing supply. This is to avoid fluctuations in oil price that might affect the economies of oil producing and purchasing countries.


OPEC is made up of 13 of the world's major oil-exporting countries-Algeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela.

OPEC+ is, as the name suggests, OPEC plus other oil producing countries such as Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, and Sudan. In other words, OPEC+ is a group of 23 oil-exporting countries which meets regularly to decide how much crude oil to sell on the world market. In 2016, when oil prices were low, OPEC joined these 10 oil producers to create OPEC+ to have greater control over the global crude oil market. These countries together produce about 40% of the world's crude oil.

Implication of the cut

Recently, a group of OPEC+ countries announced a surprise output cut of one million barrels a day in a bid to boost oil prices and support market stability. Russia, also part of OPEC+, said it was extending a previously announced unilateral cut of 5,00,000 barrels a day until the end of 2023.

The cut which will come into force from May this year is in addition to the cut of two million barrels a day announced in October 2022 which resulted in a 5% rise in oil prices globally. Recent crises in the banking sector in the US and Switzerland have raised concerns about the possibility of a recession in the near future, which might lead to a decline in demand for oil.

As for the background, demand for oil dropped drastically during the COVID pandemic. Hence OPEC countries decided to cut down production to prevent a supply glut. Besides there was a price war going on between Russia and Saudi Arabia, leading to a slump in oil prices. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 pushed up oil prices raising concerns that the Western sanctions against Moscow could lead to an oil shortage. Following this, many countries stopped buying Russian oil in a bid to make its invasion unsustainable. The wealthy G-7 countries have also imposed a price cap on Russia's oil exports to keep the country's oil revenues low. Russia is now exporting more crude to India and China.

The idea behind cutting production seems to be to boost demand by lowering supplies. It is needless to say that this energy crisis is driving up global inflation.

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What is a planet beyond our solar system called?

A planet beyond our own solar system is referred to as an exoplanet. While most exoplanets orbit other stars, there are also free-floating exoplanets, called rogue planets, that are not tethered to any star and orbit the galactic centre.

"Blind" surveys

Traditionally, ground-based means have been employed to detect exoplanets. Astronomers use "blind" surveys to look for stars in the sky with the potential for housing giant planets, which can then be directly imaged from Earth based on the stars age and distance. This technique, however, has a very low yield, meaning that exoplanets are detected very infrequently. Astronomers have developed a new technique to detect exoplanets whose portraits can be taken using large ground-based telescopes on Earth. They have tasted success with this method and the result is the direct image of a Jupiter-like gas giant - HIP 99770 b-132.8 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. The study behind this success was published in the journal Science in April.

Combining astrometry and direct imaging

HIP 99770 b is the first exoplanet detected by combining astrometry and direct imaging. While two observatories on Hawaii Island did the direct imaging, the astrometry- responsible for measuring the position and motion of HIP 99770 b's home star - came from Gaia space observatory and its predecessor Hipparcos.

Precision astrometry is the method of detecting the movement of stars. This allows researchers to identify those stars that are tugged at by the gravitational pull of an unseen companion like a planet. A picture of the star systems that are close enough is then captured to directly image.

The detection of HIP 99770 b serves as proof of a concept developed by an international research team. They were also able to determine that this exoplanet is 14-16 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits a star that is almost twice as massive as our sun. It receives a similar amount of light as Jupiter as its host star is far more luminous than the sun. The team characterised the nature of HIP 99770 b's atmosphere and showed that the planet's atmosphere has signs of water and carbon monoxide.

This new method of searching for exoplanets is believed to be a major improvement to the existing, traditional method of "blind" surveys. The researchers also hope that this new approach would lead to further advances that eventually lead to the discovery of an Earth-twin around a nearby star.

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When was mendelevium discovered?

The discovery of mendelevium was announced at the end of April in 1955. It was described by one of its discoverers as "one of the most dramatic in the sequence of syntheses of transuranium elements".

The search for new elements is something that scientists have been doing for hundreds of years. Once Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev organised the elements known at his time according to a repeating, or periodic (and hence the name periodic table), system in the 1860s, the search became a little easier.

This was because the gaps in Mendeleev's periodic table pointed to elements that weren't known yet. The properties of these elements, however, could be predicted based on their place in the table and the neighbours around them, thereby making it easier to discover new elements. Mendeleev's table has since been expanded, to make space for other new elements.

One of those new elements discovered was element number 101, named mendelevium after. Mendeleev. American Nobel Prize winner Glenn Seaborg, who was one of the discoverers of the element, wrote that the discovery of mendelevium was "one of the most dramatic in the sequence of syntheses of transuranium elements", in a chapter co-written by him for The New Chemistry. Additionally, he also wrote in that chapter that "It was the first case in which a new element was produced and identified one atom at a time."

Begins with a bang

Ivy Mike, the first thermonuclear device, was dropped for testing on the Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1952, sending a radioactive cloud into the air, from which samples were collected. The lab reports suggested that two new elements-elements 99 (einsteinium) and 100 (fermium) - were discovered from the debris. The discoveries came at a time when there was a race to discover new elements. The leading researchers of the U.S. involved in this race were camped at the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, under the direction of physicist Ernest Lawrence A team of scientists which included Albert Ghiorso, Stanley Thompson, Bernard Harvey, Gregory Choppin, and Seaborg, came up with a plan to produce element 101 using a billion atoms of einsteinium-253 that were formed in a reactor.

The idea was to spread the atoms of einsteinium onto a thin gold foil. As its half-life was about three weeks, the researchers effectively had a week to perform their experiments after receiving it. Based on Ghiorso's calculations, they were aware that only about one atom of the new element 101 would be produced for every three hours the gold foil was bombarded with alpha particles.

Race against time

As the experiment would yield only a very small amount of the new element, the scientists set up a second gold foil behind the first to catch the atoms. It was a race against time as well as the half-life of element 101 was expected to be a few hours only.

With the Radiation Laboratory atop a hill and the cyclotron at its base, there really was a mad rush to get the samples to the lab on time. The samples "were collected in a test tube, which I took and then jumped in a car driven by Ghiorso", is how Choppin put it in his own words.

On the night of the discovery, the target was irradiated in three-hour intervals for a total of nine hours. By 4 AM on February 19, 1955, they had recorded five decay events characteristic of element 101 and eight from element 100, fermium. With conclusive evidence of element 101's existence, Choppin mentions that "We left Seaborg a note on the successful identification of Z =101 and went home to sleep on our success."

At the end of April 1955, the discovery of element 101 was announced to the world. The university's press release stated that "The atoms of the new element may have been the rarest units of matter that have existed on earth for nearly 5 billion years... The 17 atoms of the new element all decayed, of course, and the 'new' element is for the present extinct once again."

Cold War era

As element 101 marked the beginning of the second hundred elements of the periodic table, the scientists wanted to name it after Mendeleev, the man behind the periodic table.

Despite the discovery happening during the Cold War era, Seaborg was able to pull enough strings to convince the U.S. government to accept the proposal to name the element after a Russian scientist. The International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry approved the name mendelevium and the scientists published their discovery in the June 1955 issue of Physical Review Letters.

While only small quantities of mendelevium have ever been produced, more stable isotopes of the element have since been made. The most stable version known as of now has a half-life of over one-and-a-half months, allowing for better opportunities to further study heavy elements and their properties.

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