Current Affairs – February 2017

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Astronomers discover 7 new Earth-sized exoplanets that may sustain life

Astronomers from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for the first time have discovered seven new Earth-sized exoplanets that may be able to sustain life.

The planets were detected using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and several ground-based observatories including Trappist robotic telescope at La Silla, Chile. 

Key Facts
  • These exoplanets are orbiting dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away. They could have some liquid water and maybe supporting life.
  • Of the seven planets, three are classified as TRAPPIST-1 e, f and g. These three planets orbit in the habitable (so-called Goldilocks zone) where temperatures are suited to surface oceans of liquid water.
  • The star Trappist-1 is at least 500 million years old and has a temperature of 2550K. It is marginally larger than Jupiter and shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than Earth’s sun.
  • The 6 inner planets lie in a temperate zone where surface temperatures range from zero to 100C. Their masses range from around 0.4 to 1.4 times the mass of the Earth.
  • They are so close to each other that their gravitational fields interact with each other. However, their atmospheres needs more study before determining whether they could support some type of life. 
Astronomical terms
  • Exoplanet: It is a planet that does not orbit the Sun and instead orbits a different star, stellar remnant, or brown dwarf. It is also termed as extrasolar planet.
  • Goldilocks Zone: It refers to a habitable zone in space where the temperature is neither too high nor too low. Such conditions could allow for the presence on the planet’s surface of liquid water – a key ingredient for life.

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CCEA approves doubling of solar power capacity to 40000 MW

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved the enhancement of capacity from 20,000 MW to 40,000 MW of the Scheme for Development of Solar Parks and Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects.

The capacity of the solar park scheme was enhanced after considering the demand for additional solar parks from the States.

Key Facts
  • The enhanced capacity will ensure setting up of at least 50 solar parks each with a capacity of 500 MW and above in various parts of the country. All the States/UTs are eligible for benefits under the scheme.
  • Under this scheme, smaller parks will also be considered in Himalayan and other hilly States where contiguous land may be difficult to acquire in view of the difficult terrain.
  • The Solar Parks and Ultra Mega Solar Power Projects will be set up by 2019-20 with Union Government’s financial support of 8100 crore rupees.
  • These plants after becoming operational will generate total 64 billion units of clean electricity per year. It will lead to abatement of around 55 million tonnes of CO2 per year over its life cycle.
  • It will also contribute to long term energy security of the country and promote ecologically sustainable growth by reduction in carbon emissions and carbon footprint.
  • It will also generate large direct and indirect employment opportunities in solar and allied industries like heavy industrial equipment, glass, metals etc.
  • The solar parks will also provide productive use of abundant uncultivable lands which in turn facilitate development of the surrounding areas.
  • Under the scheme, solar parks will be developed in collaboration with States/UTs. The States/UTs are required to select the Solar Power Park Developer (SPPD) for developing and maintaining the solar parks.
  • Solar Energy Corporation India (SECI) will administer the scheme under the direction of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE). SECI will release the approved grant.

About SECI

SECI is a not-for-profit company established in 2011 under Section-25 of the Companies Act 1956. It is a facilitation and implementation institution dedicated to Solar Energy sector under the aegis of Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.

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CCEA approves $854.4 million investment for 900-MW Arun 3 hydropower project in Nepal

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has approved investment for the generation component of 900-MW Arun 3 hydropower project for an estimated Rs. 5723.72 crore ($854.4 million).

The project is located on Arun River in Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal. It is expected to be completed within five years from the date of financial closure, which is planned for September 2017.

About Arun 3 hydropower project

  • The project is based on Run-of-River scheme that envisages about 70 metre high concrete gravity dam and 74 Km Head Race Tunnel (HRT).
  • It also has underground Power House containing four generating units of 225 MW each on Left Bank.
  • Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Limited had bagged the project through International Competitive Bidding. It had signed MoU with Nepal Government for the project in March 2008.
  • The execution of the project will be on Build Own Operate and Transfer (BOOT) basis for a period of 30 years including five years of construction period.
  • The Project Development Agreement (PDA) was signed in November 2014, which provides 21.9% free power to Nepal for the entire concession period of 25 years.
  • The surplus power from the project will be exported to India from Dhalkebar in Nepal to Muzaffarpur in Bihar. It will strengthen power availability in India and also economic linkages with Nepal.

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