Friday, August 20, 2010

The Intelligent Universe

The Intelligent Universe
Contact with extraterrestrial life will mark one of recorded history’s most important events

Close encounters of the cosmic kind
Minhaz Merchant The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.

It is the most challenging question in human history: does intelligent life exist elsewhere in the universe? Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University (the chair Sir Isaac Newton once held) and arguably the world’s greatest living theoretical physicist, says it probably does. Other scientists like Roger Penrose, the leading mathematical physicist, agree. The philosophical and religious implications of discovering intelligent life on another planet are huge. At this level, science and faith converge.
As an undergraduate reading physics and mathematics, i wrote a three-part cover story weighing the scientific evidence for intelligent life in the universe for a weekly news magazine. The story, which ran over three issues in March 1976, posed the question: “Is ours a unique cosmic civilisation – a freakish, unfathomable joke of nature? Or are we just a tiny speck of dust in an obscure corner of the cosmos – merely one of several billion advanced civilisations, each one flourishing with its own commerce and culture, politics and philosophy?”
Thirty-four years later, the question remains tantalisingly unanswered. But evidence is mounting. The weight of scientific opinion now holds that the universe teems with life, some of it technologically and spatially so advanced that it could be unrecognisable were we to encounter it.
Our universe is around 13.70 billion years old. It was created at Time Zero – the point of “ singularity” at which there was nothing: no matter, no space, no time. Within this absolute spacetime vacuum (postulated by the Hawking-Penrose singularity theorems based on Einstein’s general theory of relativity), an event occurred which no leading scientist has yet been able to fully explain. That event probably involved the mutual annihilation of a positron-electron twin pair carrying identical (positive and negative) charges and mass. The result of this vacuum fluctuation was the Big Bang, the widely accepted theory of how our universe began.
Before Time Zero, during the pre-universe “nothingness”, it is hypothesised that constant and instantaneous mutual annihilation of positronelectrons pairs occurred several trillion times every second. These multiple collisions cancelled each other out, leading to a perpetual state of zero mass, zero time and zero space – the perfect vacuum. The mutual annihilation of electrons and positrons, however, occurred in unimaginably small crevices of time – 10 -100 seconds or less.
To the observer nothing was occurring – the event started and ended before it could be observed and therefore, as far as the observer was concerned, had not occurred at all. From this nothingness a freak, once-in-aquadrillion positron-electron pair escaped mutual annihilation 13.70 billion years ago, causing the Big Bang and the creation of our universe as well as a “mirror” negative universe.
As the universe expanded, stars were formed within huge solar systems with orbiting planets like earth. Billions of such solar systems made up dense clusters of galaxies with their esoteric black holes, which exert such a powerful gravitational pull that even light bends when it passes near them.
Our nearest solar system is Alpha Centauri. To get there, travelling at the speed of light, would take 4.3 years. Travelling at the speed of the world’s fastest experimental spacecraft, Helios II (1,57,000 mph), it would take over 12,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri. Other solar systems are even further off. Galaxies are, of course, trillions of milies away. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains around 350 billion solar systems – many, as NASA’s Kepler space telescope recently confirmed, with orbiting planets like earth with surface water, moderate temperature and life-supporting oxygen.
Andromeda, the galaxy closest to the Milky Way, is even more massive with over 1,000 billion solar systems. It is around 2.70 million light years from us. So if electromagnetic radiation originating from a planet in Andromeda began transmitting 2.70 million years ago – the Plio-Pleistocene era on earth – it would have barely reached us this year.
And in these distances lies the answer to the second big question: if it exists, why hasn’t intelligent life from extraterrestrial planets, presumably with highly sophisticated communications and transportation technology, made contact with us? Humans, after millions of years of evolution from Australopethicus hominids to Neanderthals through to “modern” man, began sending out electromagnetic radiation (in its earliest form as radio transmissions) a mere 122 years ago. Those signals have today scarcely reached the edge of our solar system cluster. Time and distance – both unimaginably vast – explain why no contact has been established with us by other intelligent species.
So while we are certainly not alone in the universe, we may not make contact with other planetary life for centuries. But there is little doubt that one day contact will be made. What shape, form and mode that contact takes is uncertain. But when it does happen, it will mark one of the most important events in recorded history.
All of human intelligence and wisdom – from Aristotle and Aryabhata to the Vedas and Einstein – do not have an answer, however, to the third key question that has divided sages and philosophers over the centuries: why does the universe exist at all? As even scientists concede wryly, God alone knows

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sky gazing with students of AVM at Surat

AAAS team just visited Atmiya Vidya Mandir School near Surat for sky gazing programme with 8th Std. The students has a complete chapter on Astronomy. It contains very basic and most general topics. So school decided to have sky gazing programme as their regular curriculum apart from their class room study.AAAS team was invited form the programme. We had wonderful night with the students. We observe and gave information on Sirius, Orion, Mars, Pleiades,Moon, Pole star,Ursa Major,Cassiopiea and discussed plenty of question coming continuously from Extra energetic and interesting students.
We all had wonderful experience and leaned many new things from whole event.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

AAAS Team with Eminent Scientists

Posted by Picasa

AAAS coverage in Press - TOI, Ahmedabad, Dtd.22 July

Society formed to create awareness about astronomy


The four founder members of Amateur Astronomers Association of Surat, which was launched on Tuesday

Surat: Fascinated by solar activities, a physics student from SVNIT, two engineers from Reliance Industries and Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) along with a management student formed a group – ‘Amateur Astronomers Association of Surat’ on Tuesday. SVNIT student Charitarth Vyas, a founder member of the association, described their effort as a first step towards creating awareness about astronomy in Surat. He said, “We have formed this group to create interest and awareness about universe and astronomy. We want to get likeminded people together and start activities like sun and moon gazing on specific occasions, studying stars. among others.” Busy at Atmiya Vidya Mandir in a two-day live workshop organized by state Astronomy Association, Nikunj Raval of Reliance, Jagdish Thadani of SMC and Fenil Patadia wish to see and study total solar eclipse if the weather God permits it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sometimes I feel that....

Sometimes I feel that, it would have been better & more enjoyable experience if I had chosen to go at any place other than Surat, to get the glimpse of TSE-2009. As It has been a very stressful experience being on the organizing side of the event at Surat. It requires so much of micro level planning and for person like me - who wants to do everything with perfection - its rather a very time consuming activity. Since last some days, I can't focus on my work at office and even can not give sufficient time to my better half Sarita & my sweet daughter Seema due to my involvement with this event, which has been successful to get participants registered from Vijaywada (A.P.), Chennai, Mumbai, Romania & Japan apart from Gujarat. What I have learned the most out of this whole exercise is that of "Event Management".
Let's hope that everything will be allright in the event after so much of hard work.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

IOTA's Solar Eclipse Research

IOTA's Solar Eclipse Research
The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA), leads a long term study in to measure possible solar radius variations. It is extremely difficult to measure the diameter of the Sun using conventional photographic techniques, even with the most sophisticated Earth based equipment. This is due to the Earth's atmosphere and its continuous turbulent motions, both near to the ground and in its upper layers. Constant motion of the air gives blurry images of the Sun even under the best atmospheric seeing.
So IOTA astronomer Dr. David Dunham devised a sensitive technique to measure accurately the diameter of the Sun during a solar eclipse. Along with colleagues Drs. Joan Dunham, Wayne Warren, Jr., Alan Fiala, David Herald of Australia, Paul Maley and Richard Nugent, and other IOTA members, observers are stationed near the umbral limits (shadow extremes) during a solar eclipse. By stationing the observers at the shadow limits, we only need to determine whether or not the observer actually has totality at that point. Being at the shadow limits and that the Moon's surface is full of craters, mountains and valleys, these observers will experience a long period of Baily's Beads, sunlight shining through the lunar mountains and valleys. If no complete totality is seen, (That is, Baily's Bead's are continuously visible) then the observer is outside the Moon's shadow. If totality is seen, then the observer is within the Moon's shadow. A line of observers can easily establish the geographical location of the edge of the Moon's shadow to within 100 meters. This uncertainty corresponds to an error in the Solar diameter of 0.05 arcseconds. Early results using this technique showed a precision of better than 0.1 arcsecond, and although this is quite an impressive figure, it was not enough to detect any changes in the Solar diameter. But comparison with a historical eclipse observed and timed by Sir Edmund Halley (of Halley's Comet fame), the resultant change in the Sun's size was computed to be -0.34 ± 0.2 arc second.
IOTA's method for determining the Solar Diameter.
As can be seen in the above diagram, prior to the eclipse, all quantities are known except for the Unknown solar diameter and the "Measure Umbra" distance on the Earth's surface. Following the eclipse, the size of the Moon's umbral shadow is known on Earth using the techniques described above, thus the Unknown solar diameter can be computed. There exists now a significant amount of solar eclipse data that has yet to be reduced, but the preliminary results indicate that much more work needs to be done in this field.
Results from the total eclipse on August 1, 2008 from Hami, China appear here:

Monday, July 6, 2009


Surat ideal to study shadow bands: Experts
Yagnesh Mehta TNN

Surat: These days the city is attracting people across the globe who are interested in studying this century’s first solar eclipse on July 22. Experts say the eclipse over the city will give them a chance to study the rare shadow bands, which otherwise will not be visible in any other part of the country. The eclipse will last for over three minutes and will display unbelievable artistic images, known as shadow bands, the experts explain. Hariom Vats, a senior scientist at Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), says, “Surat will be the only place where one will get to see the shadow bands during the July 22 eclipse. There are many superstitions associated with the shadow bands as they lead to creation of many images on the earth.” The scientist says that Surat is an ideal location as the eclipse will be visible best from the city between Vapi to Vadodara and for the longest period. Vats visited Atmiya Vidya Mandir near Kamrej on Sunday morning as the school has been identified as a location for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists to observe the eclipse. Along with the eclipse watch, various events for people have been organised at the location where the students will draw on-the-spot paintings of the rare event. Vats warned people to take required care while observing the eclipse. “Watching the eclipse without filter glasses can cause permanent injuries to the eyes. It can have adverse effect on the minds of pregnant women and sick people,” he informs.