MYSTICLAND PRESENTS THE WEEK THAT WAS: Episode 4
OMICRON VARIANT DISCOVERED
When her crystal ball raised the volume of the humming sound, Verum strode towards her corner and focused on the news. With wide eyes, Verum announced, “Mysticals, scientists in South Africa have identified a new Covid-19 variant! It has been named ‘Omicron’ and has a large number of mutations! The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified it as a ‘variant of concern’.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” said Orak. Worry clouded over his face.
“How was it discovered?” said Scorch.
“In the past few weeks, Pretoria in South Africa as well as Tshwane, the nearby metropolitan area, have seen a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases,” said Verum, “Student gatherings were supposed to be the cause behind this. But as the cases rose, the scientists studied the genome sequencing.”
“What is genome sequencing?” said Felix.
“Viruses like the coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2 don’t remain the same. They constantly change as they are transmitted from person to person. Most of these changes don’t amount to much. But sometimes, a major mutation can happen that changes the way the virus behaves,” said Orak.
“So, scientists study samples taken from people who have tested positive. They crack open the virus’s code and study it to understand if it has changed and in what way.” added Verum, “That’s how B.1.1.529, the new variant was discovered.”
“Okay, understood,” said Scorch, “But what has changed?”
“Coronaviruses like Covid-19 have peculiar structures called spike proteins on their surface. These spike proteins play an important role in transmitting the infection. It clings to the cells (the smallest units of an organism) the virus wants to infect,” said Verum, “The Omicron variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein region. This high number of mutations can have two effects: either it will be difficult for the virus to infect cells and spread or it may evade the body’s immune response.”
“That is, the body’s reaction to protect the body from any foreign substance invasion,” explained Orak, “This means the variant might spread more easily.”
“Scientists think that is the case. Within two weeks, Omicron has become the dominant strain in South Africa. That is, it has infected a greater number of people,” said Verum, “Worried, many countries have stopped flights to South Africa.”
INDIA HAS MORE WOMEN THAN MEN
When her crystal ball started humming and spinning today, Verum didn’t notice at first. She was preoccupied with a task that made her feel warm on the inside. She was putting up a photo frame of the Gifted Four in the dorm room! Verum loved this picture - everyone was grinning so widely!
But her crystal ball hummed louder and soon, Verum had to turn towards it. She said, “It’s time for world-gazing!”
‘Hmm, this is excellent news today,” murmured Verum, “According to the latest findings of the National Family and Health Survey-5 (NFHS), the number of women in India has surpassed the number of men. The data showed that the number of girl children living after birth has also improved. This is the first time it has happened!”
“Wow, that is fascinating!” said Scorch, “Tell us more please!”
“The Union Health Ministry released this NFSH-5 data which shows that there are 1,020 women for every 1,000 men. This survey happened in 11 states and three Union Territories (UT). It is said to be a massive achievement for India,” said Verum, “The Indian society places more value on boy children over girl children. This happens to the extent that many couples don’t want girl children. This leads to fewer women per 1,000 men.”
“To tackle this problem, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told people to not eliminate their daughters after coming to power in 2014,” said Verum, “His government also launched a scheme called ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ in 2015. The campaign helped create awareness about this issue. However, there are also reports stating that this program did not create the required impact in India. There are states where families continue to prefer boys over girls, leading to girls receiving fewer opportunities.”
“Has anything at all changed?” said Scorch.
“Well, at least the numbers indicate that there has been some change in the society,” replied Verum, “The NFHS surveyed 630,000 households out of 300 million households. So, for more expansive data, we would have to wait till the census. A census is a process through which the government collects data to see the population trends in the country.”
“Keep us updated, Verum!” said Orak.
LAUNCH OF CENTURY’S ‘GREATEST TELESCOPE’ DELAYED
“Oh no,” Orak said, “the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) launch has been delayed by at least four days. It was scheduled for December 18, but now it won’t be launched anytime before December 22. I am so excited for this event.”
“Please enlighten us too about this telescope you’ve been talking about for some time now,” requested Scorch.
“Definitely! The JWST is a space telescope being jointly developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. It is one of the greatest space telescopes of the 21st century. It has cost $10 billion to develop.
JWST will be the most powerful telescope in space! It will be 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, which helped discover how old the universe is and made 1.4 million observations over 30 years,” Orak explained with the help of his Book of Everything.
“If the Hubble Space Telescope is so powerful, can you imagine how powerful JWST will be?” Felix said in awe.
“Precisely! JWST will carry a large mirror with it in space. It will help collect light from different objects it observes. It’s going to look for the very first stars and galaxies that shined in the universe! It will also study the atmosphere of newly discovered planets outside the solar system. It will look for the presence of life in the gases on the planet,” Orak said.
“But Orak,” Verum interrupted, “when you told us about the telescope a few days ago, it was in a perfect condition. What went wrong?”
“There was an incident during the launch preparations,” Orak said, “The engineers were attaching the telescope to its launch adapter (device to hold the telescope in place). But suddenly, a clamp popped open. It sent a sudden vibration.”
“Do you think the telescope has been damaged?” Scorch said.
“A NASA-led review board has been brought in to investigate,” Orak said.
“But don’t worry, friends, I am sure everything will turn out fine,” Orak continued, “JWST is a strong telescope. It has been built to survive intense vibrating and noise. If the Engineers don’t find anything, they will proceed to the next step of the launch - fuelling the telescope.”
Stay tuned for episode 5 next Friday!
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