Category Archives: Science

Unusual learning from lockdown

Till few months back, humankind believed that they were apex species to rule the world. They mold, tear, clawed and mauled the earth anyway they see fit for their survival. There were talks of sixth extinction but always as part of movie fantasy. It took 4-5 months for virus to bring all those fantasies crashing down to ground of reality and make people realize that they are much closer to the edge then anticipated. One little push and…….

Still life always goes on…..

In this grim period of lock-down, you might be doing all you can to survive as human; social distancing is one of them. And our evolutionary history says that once humans developed their keen sense of socializing, they went far ahead then their ape-competitors. Large groups leaving in harmony was acting agent to allow development of unique kind of weapon called brain. Once cognitive ability expanded like bamboo shoots*, one evolutionary advantage led to others. Take example of cooking. Theory is, once our ancestors who are more akin to apes then homo sapiens sapiens started cooking, they did not require large jawline to chew tough meat and roots. Hence size of the jaws reduced which in turn led to increased cranium that can house large brain; and much larger brainpower. Super fast forwarding to current time, novel corona virus has ironically pressed the ultimate pain point: social bondage. When corona forcing people worldwide to distance themselves from each other and countries worldwide enforcing lock-down and home quarantine, at some places it seems some people are reverting back to their ape-minded psychology, not following lock-down and all. It’s paradox. More we socialize, more human we are or is it the other way around ?

*Scientific fact: Some species of bamboo can grow 910 mm (36 inch) within 24 hours. 

Pondering alone during quarantine had brought some weird sparks for this off the track post. Below are few phenomenon that is scantly or closely related to current COVID-19 situation; somewhat weird, somewhat novel but mostly fun.

Power of exponential

This is for all those who could not comprehend what damage their “insignificant” roaming can cause to all others (especially ticking time bomb of a country in current situation called India)

Now hypothetical example: During quarantine situation, Mr A was in badly need of smoking. He had been careful enough to procure enough stock of his favorite brand of smokes that can last for month or two but forgot all about matchsticks. Mr. A knew that neighbor Mr. B had ample stock of matchboxes. He asked to pass on single matchstick to Mr. B. Given the exploitative circumstances, Mr. B asked 25$ for single matchstick. Mr. A infuriated but complied. While paying for single matchstick Mr. A came up with proposal that Mr. A shall give 25$ everyday to Mr. B as payment of matchstick but Mr. B should give double matchsticks then previous day till month lasts or pay equal amounts to matchsticks. Mr. B had 10$ matchbox having 100 matchstick. And he had many more such matchboxes. He quickly agreed considering simple math that he is getting 25$ for 0.1$ matchstick. What he didn’t know was the power of exponential. After 15 days of such arrangement, Mr A was happy smoker and Mr B was out of all his stock. And as per arrangement, paying price of matchstick to Mr. A that was much larger then he anticipated. You can see below table what went wrong in mere 15 days.

This is exponential growth. Think what could be the scenario at end of quarantined month. Mr. B had to sell his property to pay debt of matchstick. Now think that this is how infection spreads. What I showed is infection spread for single thread exponentially. Each new infected person also have his/her own exponent formula of spreading the infection. Even though some of the numbers died in between, what you deal with is staggering statistics after just 15 days.

So next time you think to wander off for no good reason, think twice of exponential formula.

Occam’s Razor

I believe conspiracy theorists are like those fresh science initiates who have just experienced microscope and observed their first single celled organism. Next, they want everything around them to be observed under microscopic lens. For fun, for fancy or just for curiosity, they keep introducing their microscopic analysis and ideas everywhere.

Is novel corona natural or lab-produced ? is this pandemic part of plan of economic dominance ? Is it to show off the superpower nation how much they are actually in control ? Let conspiracy theories fly. It’s always soothing to have such grand theories. Such theories give psychological “full-stop” to nagging stress inducing unanswered questions and hence our mind leaned towards accepting them.

Occam’s razor stats that if you are presented with multiple theories, weed out the extraneous possibilities using imaginary razor. What simplest solution left is mostly the correct one. This theory was proposed by scholastic philosopher William of Ockham. So think about Occam’s razor next time you press “forward” on online social groups about some crazy but “foolproof” conspiracy theory.

Birding

Technical term used to describe bird watching is called Birding. As a fun side note: male genders of the homo sapiens sapiens species are naturally proficient in birding. The fact is, here birds are classified as female gender of same species and not actual birds. They can accomplish this activity effortlessly ( and sometimes with considerable efforts) at malls, parks, library, colleges, beaches (most likely location of high frequency activity) and all places where opportunity arises. In this tough time of isolation, how the male community coping without “birding” is subject of whole new research and analysis. For time being , enjoy real bird watching instead.

Apart from mother nature, one other community that got unexpected advantage of corona virus was animals and birds. Once humans out of the picture, they got more fearless and roaming around in streets. Best time to do birding. There are two types of bird watching: 1. Just watch for fun 2. Watch and study. Later activity has heavy handed label called Ornithology. Lately, I am so much fascinated with the former that while everyone concerned about daily needs, I was calmly stocking up bird feeder grain sacks during my necessitated superstore visit. Luckily, I am situated at the corner of community where lake meets few trees. We have secured one bird feeder on the tree right across our living room window. And (more luckily) USA has not driven away it’s birds due to too much human intervention. As if mourning doves, finches, red winged black bird, Robins, starlings, cardinals, sparrows, chickadees and various other varieties feasting on bird feeder are not enough, since last few weeks, we saw majestic bald eagle swooping past close to lake for fresh catch right across our balcony. And sometimes we see egrets actively catching the fish or herons resting meditatively with all glamour of Himalayan yogi at edge of the lake. So next time, if environment permits, indulge at one of the soothing (and scientific) stress reducer activity before raising your anxiety watching the same news telecast.

Why birds were happy every time bond utters his signature introduction: " my name is Bond, James Bond." ?                                                   
Here's why: Fictional superspy James bond was created by WW2 naval intelligence officer Ian Fleming. He was fan of bird watching and he adopted name of famous American ornithologist for his main character; James Bond. 

Riding The “Waves” – Part 2

So continuing from last blog, I would like to elaborate more on Gravitational waves in this blog; what exactly are they? How useful this current discovery mean? How could they be pioneered to understand the universe? And why it took so long to physically detect them by LIGO?

So let’s start.

As explained previously that Gravitational waves are nothing but ripples in space-time fabric generated through some violent movements or explosions (Which considering the vast span of universe is norm, but to be able to evidence the same is not that common). Einstein has shown the same mathematically in 1916. Also it stated that these waves travel at light speed and carry significant information of the event which has given birth to the waves. These events could be anything like supernova death of star, colliding of black-holes, “brotherly hug” of neutron or white dwarf stars, wobbly rotation of binary stars and also gravitational radiation created by birth of universe itself.

In fact, in 1974, two astronomers working at Arecibo Radio Observatory had successfully observed the binary stars movements in accordance with Einstein’s theory and hence proof of the existence of Gravitational waves. More studies have also been made into successfully predicting similar effects, but all such proof were, in one sense, mathematical and more of an indirect evidences. Scientists around the world were keen on gaining “physical” proof.

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So what’s so important about detecting the waves? To understand the deep mysteries of the universe has always been captured the mankind’s attention since the evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens or may be even before that in whatever half-intelligent Genus we all belong to. More astrophysicists and astronomers explore and understand about universe on behalf of entire humankind, more unsolved mysteries are cropping up. As if span of the universe itself is not doubtful enough, scientists don’t have clear picture of the birth of universe also. Gravitational waves are not electro-magnetic radiation. They are in complete different league; whole new phenomena. They carry information which was not measurable before. They have tendency to travel without any interaction with matter and hence retaining the “purity” of the event. Hence it is becoming so much important to take it up the study of the waves to dive deeper into depths of unknown; in search of those brightly shining but hidden pearls of wisdom.

As per theory, any moving object is source of Gravitational waves; even on earth whether it’s ball pitched at high velocity by pitcher or bullet fired or spinning top or newspaper thrown in your verandah with ferocity of the daily boring job; practically everything. But as noted before, considering heavenly objects for which Einstein’s theory specialized for, numbers generated by this relativity equations via such miniscule objects are negligible. Waves are so weak that you can pretend that they are not present at all. And hence scientists all over the world had to rely on massive movements outside our world. Even those waves, while reaching to earth are faded out, needed very precise and efficient carefully built experimental instruments to measure them. One of them is LIGO which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. You can find all the information related to LIGO and science behind the architecture at https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/page/ligo-gw-interferometer .

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So not going much detail into how exactly LIGO managed to detect gravitational waves after almost 100 years (It will require much detailed scientific setup of LIGO. Refer above given link & a picture), I would like to wrap up the blog with brief mentions of types of gravitational waves. Based on characteristic vibration signature waves are categorized as below:

  1. Continuous Gravitational Waves: It is generated by single spinning object, say Neutron star. They are mostly constant in their properties such as frequency and amplitude.
  2. Compact Binary Inspiral Gravitational Wave: As name suggests, these waves are created by binary stars. Actually it could be either binary Neutron stars or Binary black holes or mixed-doubles like Neutron star-Black hole. Whatever be the source, one fact is observed by scientists that due to losing energy with each spin, both spinning object come closer which again increases the gravity and spin; ultimately make them spiraling into each other with cataclysmic crash at climax.
  3. Stochastic Gravitational Waves: Frankly speaking these waves are nothing but same as your transistor radio tuned to no particular station but just emitting noise. But these noise here could be from the time when time started its existence i.e. Big Bang. They are small, random, ever-present and difficult to distinguish but most desirables.
  4. Burst Gravitational Waves: These waves are ghost. There is no model or signature to define them and hence no particular methodology. It’s like searching something but you cannot name what it is. They have utmost potential to reveal something which has always been “holy grail” of human conscience.

Further Reading reference:

https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/page/gravitational-waves

 

Riding the “Waves”

Being predicted in 1916 as part of General Theory of Relativity by none other than “The one of a kind” brain, Einstein; it took more than a century by world scientist to physically detect Gravitational waves and remove the last hurdle for proposed Theory of Relativity. For all those whose lives burdened by day-to-day job commuting, daily manager tussles, data crunching and deadlines, family and social overabundant wants, whole universe of love interest and crush problems, EMIs and ever alluring investment plans to aid EMIs, drunken Sensex bobbing up and down or same sex decriminalization (for India); you all need to continue without expecting any change. Though space-time fabric and hence gravitational waves are effective enough to all celestial body and governing the universe, they don’t have any control over humankind’s daily chores. So please don’t expect something major of such (actually major) discovery of Gravitational Waves.

As any astrophysicist agree on the view that there is nothing more endearing than to excavate mysteries buried deep down the Universe’s vast, expansive blackness. It is Pandora’s Box. You will never know what you find next which is utterly bewildering and next to impossible if you are not wearing scientific goggles (Though Science manage to explain all these through well-defined rules and mathematical equations which is more superior than magic).

To explain the intricacies of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and importance of detection of Gravitational Waves is no small feat. I would suggest well-known books on the same (find few reference links at end). In short, Einstein was not completely “moved” by force presented as Newton’s laws when the same applied on much more larger scale as Universe. He was not convinced specifically by source of gravity which was assumed to be based on objects’ mass in classical physics. Einstein was keen on providing new model for objects which were much bigger as heavenly bodies in Universe. He took the base of Newton’s Laws and proposed General Theory of Relativity in 1916 (He has already proposed Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 fixing the limit for speed of any object i.e. speed of light).

In very simpler terms, theory assumes space as space-time fabric; kind of a stretchable fabric. Let’s conduct a thought experiment where four of your friends tightly held the each four corners of this square fabric so that it gives you smooth surface same as pool table without any table support (you can imagine corners held by anyone you like. It’s thought experiment, so take liberty :).  Now you rolled one solid snooker ball (in this case strip won’t also make any difference, take your pick) across to center. You can observe the “dint” created by ball. You can also observe that if ball travels across, it will carry this “dint” along with it. Now if you put leather ball of cricket or say baseball, you (along with your helpers if they are interested in science) notes that it will have bigger distortion. In the same manner, all universal bodies i.e. stars, planets, pulsars, asteroids, black-holes make impact on the space-time fabric. Only difference is that space-time fabric is 3-D covering entire object rather than 2-D as in our pool table analogy.

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Space-time fabric and “dints” created by space bodies

Also observe that as we done in our thought experiment, this wrap of space-time fabric travel along with heavenly body as in motion of earth around Sun. Bigger the object, more contorted the fabric is. And just because Sun is so large as compared to earth and other planets in our solar system that their “impacts” are relatively small compared to larger “impact” of Sun. This “impact” is nothing but gravity. And when such bodies collide or move or blast themselves off, than they transmit waves in the space-time fabric same as ripples at other end of swimming pool once that someone large has crashed down on your end. And this waves are nothing but gravitational waves which in turn travel at speed of light (So if Sun destroy itself by something mysterious, it’s gravitational waves will hit Earth after 8.5 minutes, at the same time when earth experience complete blackout).

Latest Gravitational waves detection has inspired this blog series which I will continue with few more articles on Gravitational waves and LIGO. And if it found footing than may want to took up with more of Einstein’s theory and Quantum Physics which in my view are the most magical understanding of the real world in terms of science.

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Last Thought: Newton’s laws of gravitation are not applicable at Universe level, but hold with accuracy as daily affair. Einstein’s theory is good for understanding universe but are cumbersome at taking into account at small level such as velocity of car, train etc. In general, Newton’s laws are nothing but adaptable view of Einstein’s theory. When you come down from Universe to earth, object’s mass could be considered for gravitational laws and hold correctly as per Newton’s laws.

Further References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_relativity

http://www.desy.de/user/projects/Physics/Administrivia/rel_booklist.html (Really impressive link to find the suitable GTR book)

(Final Note: I am big fan of science but I’m not scientist. When Einstein could be humble enough to accept his “Biggest Folly”, I am just the small fleck in comparison. So any errors/deviations are liable to me and not Science.)

 

 

India in Space

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A picture speaks thousand words. So here it is. Most significant historical pic in terms of Indian space program which absolutely completely exudes the true Indian face of simplicity as well as temerity. It shows the transportation of sounding rocket in early days of Indian space ventures by ISRO. Truly magical moment of space flight on bicycle; like that ever-remembered shot of movie E.T.

We had small exhibition last week, organized by IT organization where I work, in the name of ongoing scientific initiative. It was held by none other than the only one in India and one of the well-known commodity on International scale, ISRO: Indian Space Research Organization. And I took chance to make myself more familiar and researched with Indian space program which was achieving feat after another feat with utmost unbelievable success in recent history (And which was, as expected lauded less as compared to whatever recent Indian Cricket tour by media or covering other sensational news).

So I grab the opportunity along with recent successive launch of IRNSS-1E satellite launch to present here in this blog few tidbits about ISRO, history of Indian space-faring, future plans, little bit on science behind satellites and lovely chat with presenters in multiple parts.

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ISRO found its roots around 1969 when NASA was in process of launching Nil Armstrong to moon; with sole purpose of getting India to its feet and propelling to space. For country which was known for incessant neighboring conflicts, political turmoils, economic issues, agricultural dependency and as developing nation, it was bold move and vision by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai at the time. But no one could have imagined the height ISRO was going to achieve in span of 4 decades through competitive and inimitable intellect and hunger for success. It launched its first satellite “Aryabhata”; named after ancient Indian mathematician, with help of Russia then known as Soviet Union, in 1975.

By 1980, ISRO succeeded in launching orbital satellite “Rohini” with self-made launch vehicle SLV-3. And then after it was dream run for ISRO. Successful tests of new version of launch vehicles along with unavoidable failures considering such endeavor, had given ISRO the courage for Lunar Orbiter, Chandrayaan-1 in 2008. On 24 September, 2014, as Mars orbiter entered the Mars orbit, India had become first ever nation to achieve success in Mars mission on its first trial (No, not even NASA has done that). India was fourth such agency to do that and first in Asia (No, not even China has achieved this). Success rate of launching along with low budget has garnered so much news that at the time of writing, ISRO has 23 satellites launching mission in queue from other countries which also includes USA and France.

Future Plans: Next step for ISRO which lies in immediate future are GSLV Mk III launch vehicle for heavy satellites, Reusable launch vehicle in the likes of space shuttle, human spaceflight on its own and second lunar exploration mission. Interplanetary probes and solar spacecraft mission also in plan for long future.

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NASA has already established itself as pioneer of space missions. And if India has to reach such height in terms of space-faring than they need to adopt the same vision as USA and at some point other European countries. And that being provide ample rewards and appreciation of their talent pool. Give importance to scientific view and community. As everyone knows the story of rocket scientist Von Braun who was the inventor of V2 missiles in WW2 against allied nations and afterwards the prime brain in design of Saturn 5 rocket which launched with Apollo 11.

I was keen on discussing science of the various satellites and types but may be in next article. So ending the post with few stats regarding ISRO as on 26-Jan-2016.

Spacecraft missions till date: 75

Launch missions till date: 46

Foreign satellites: 51

For more: http://www.isro.org/