Saturday, February 13, 2016

[Editorial # 65] A wave of awe and opportunity : The Hindu

[Following editorial has been published in The Hindu on 13th February 2016. Read through it and try to answer the questions that follow. Please do not copy and paste answers. The objective of this exercise is to get you in the groove of answer-writing. Try to write in your own words. Don't hesitate to write in a bulleted-format, if you are uncomfortable in writing in paragraph form.]

The detection of ripples in space-time, known as gravitational waves, here on Earth marks a watershed moment for astronomy and for science as a whole. The detection at once improves our understanding of the workings of the universe and, more important, throws open a big opportunity to study it from completely new angles. It opens the way to get information about the evolution of galaxies and black holes. There is also a symmetry to the timing of the discovery: it comes a century after Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity held that acceleration of massive bodies should produce gravitational waves, which travel through the universe at the speed of light. The gravitational waves detected, and announced to the world on Thursday, were produced more than a billion years ago by a cataclysmic collision of two black holes, one of them with a mass 36 times that of the Sun and the other slightly smaller at 29 times, into one black hole. The gravitational waves give scientists insights into the final moments before the merger. The signals of gravitational waves were detected on September 14, 2015 by twin Laser Interferometric Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors located about 3,000 km apart at Hanford, Washington and in Livingston, Louisiana, in the United States. Though the observatory is capable of picking up gravitational waves produced by binary neutron stars colliding and merging, signals from such a collision from the same distance would have been extremely weak for LIGO to pick up; neutron stars are much smaller in size than black holes and produce weaker signals. The successful capture of gravitational waves by LIGO is a testimony to humankind’s scientific and engineering expertise to build extraordinarily sensitive instrumentation capable of detecting variations of the order of a thousandth of the diameter of a proton.

Fittingly, this giant step for science is the result of truly global cooperation. About 60 researchers from more than a dozen institutions in India were part of the over-1,000-strong army of scientists in the collaboration. Nearly 35 Indian scientists are co-authors of the landmark scientific paper that describes the results. The way to find the signal buried in the noise came from an Indian scientist. Similarly, the oscillation of cosmic bodies after a collision was predicted by an Indian scientist back in 1971. Several observatories widely separated from one another will help in determining the direction of any event with greater accuracy and also confirm the genuineness of the signal. Quick approval to construct the proposed Rs.1,260-crore gravitational wave observatory in India could help obtain unique information about the universe; unlike light, gravitational waves can pass through the universe unobstructed and hence carry otherwise unobtainable information. The facility would also provide a much-needed technological boost and immensely benefit researchers based in India. And for years to come, we will continue to listen to the ‘chirp’ sound produced by the gravitational waves, and marvel at science’s capacity to detail ever more minutely the place of humankind in the vastness of space and time.


1. Write a short note on (50 words)
Black Holes
General Theory of Relativity
Binary Neutron Stars

2. What are gravitational waves? What is the relevance of studies related to such waves?

3. What is LIGO? Where is it located? Is there any specific reason for setting up the LIGO there?

4. What has been the role of Indians in detecting gravitational waves? 

5. How are gravitational waves different from electromagnetic waves like light? How can these differences be used to get more information about the universe?

6. What efforts are being made in India to study gravitational waves? Do you think despite being unable to feed its teeming millions India should invest in such projects? Why or why not?

7. What makes humans pursue subjects like astronomy? Do you think such fields of enquiry help in sustaining and improving the standard of life on the planet earth? Justify. 

8. Mention a few such scientific projects which have helped humans fathom the depth and breath of  the infinite universe? Do such projects empower humans? How? 


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  2. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek word galaxias which literally means milky, in reference to our galaxy Milky Way. It is a gravitationally bound system of dust, stars, stellar remnants and dark matter. Galaxies vary in size some containing merely thousand stars and others containing one hundred trillion stars.
    Black Holes
    it is a region in space where the pulling force of the gravity is so strong that light cannot escape from there because of this the black holes are invisible. The force of gravity is strong because matter is compressed into a tiny space.

  3. Gravitational waves are disturbances in the fabric of spacetime. When heavy objects move through the spacetime waves are formed that follows in its own path. According to Einstein space is not void but is rather four dimensional fabric which can be pushed or pulled as objects move through it.
    These waves could help us understand more as how was the universe formed.
    these waves are also formed when black holes collide, supernovae explode and neutron stars wobble. so when these waves are formed it would help to detect cosmic events that led to its formation. Further it would help to understand the fundamental laws of universe.

  4. LIGO(Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) is a observatory to detect gravitational waves.LIGO Scientific Collaboration is a group of scientists which are seeking to make detection of gravitational waves. Thus using this to explore astronomical discovery. They work towards it by commissioning and exploitation of gravitational wave detectors.
    ocated in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana as well as that of the GEO600 detector in Hannover, Germany.

  5. role of Indians in detecting gravitational waves
    Various institutes such as including Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) Gandhinagar, Inter University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT) played a major role in detection of gravitational waves. India is one of the countries in which advanced LIGO is being set up. LIGO-India project seeks to move the Advanced LIGO detector from Hanford to India. This project is envisaged as international collaboration between the IPR,IUCCA and RRCAT and LIGO Labratory.

  6. gravitational waves different from electromagnetic waves like light
    Gravity is a weak force and electromagnetic is much stronger(it comes in two opposing signs of charge).
    Gravitational fields are generated by accumulation of bulk concentration of matter. Whereas electromagnetic field is created by seprations of charge.
    GRavitational waves have wavelengths much longer than the objects themselves and since electromagnetic waves are generated by small movements of charge pairs within objects so it has wavelengths much smaller than the objects themselves.
    Gravitational waves are weakly interacting which makes it difficult to detect but they can travel unhindered through the intervening matter of any density or composition.
    Electromagnetic waves are strongly interacting so can be detected easily but are readily absorbed and scatters by intervening matter.
    GW gives sound like information about the overall motions and vibrations of objects. whereas EW give images representing the aggregate properties of the microscopic charges at the surfaces of objects.

  7. 1. GALAXY: - Galaxy is a compound product of millions of Stars, Planets, Gas balls, Steller gas, interstellar gases and millions of dark matters. This is body, which is attracted to each other due to the extremely high gravitational pulling force. The space between galaxies is filled with a tenuous gas with an average density less than one atom per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are gravitationally organized into associations known as galaxy groups, clusters, and superclusters. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments that are surrounded by immense voids.
    BLACK HOLE: - It is an imaginary figure in the unending universe which is geographically defined in the physics or Space Studies. The Black Hole is primary a region in the universal spacetime that contained of humongous gravitational power through which no existing body in the universe can come out. No physical object (including particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light) is powerful enough to get itself out from its gravitational range. The boundary of the region from which no escape is possible is called the event horizon. Although crossing the event horizon has enormous effect on the fate of the object crossing it, it appears to have no locally detectable features. In many ways a black hole acts like an ideal black body, as it reflects no light.

    THEORY OF GENERAL RELATIVITY: - This theory was propounded by Albert Einstein in 1915. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can deform spacetime to form a black hole. General relativity generalizes special relativity and Newton's law of universal gravitation, providing a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space and time, or spacetime.
    BINARY NEUTRON STAR: - binary consisting of two neutron stars — collapsed stellar cores that cram about 1.4 solar masses into spheres about the size of a city. The two stars of the newly discovered binary orbit each other more closely than the previously known systems. One of the neutron stars is a pulsar; it emits radio pulses at regular intervals as it spins 45 times per second. The pulses appear to speed up and slow down slightly as the pulsar swings around its companion. The system contains 2.58 solar masses, which is split nearly evenly between the two objects. The other neutron star does not beam radio pulses toward Earth, so it remains unseen except for its gravitational influence. The two objects revolve at a breakneck 300 kilometers per second, making them among the fastest moving stars in our galaxy. They trace a slightly elliptical path around a common center of mass every 2.4 hours, separated by an average distance of 800,000 kilometers — slightly more than twice the Earth-Moon distance.

  8. 2. GRAVITATIONAL WAVES: - They were predicted to exist by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his General Theory of Relativity. Gravitational waves are small ripples in space-time that are believed to travel across the universe at the speed of light. They are like tiny waves on a lake, from far away, the lake’s surface looks glassy smooth and only up very close can the details of the surface be seen.

    RELEVANCE OF THE STUDY: - The discovery would represent a scientific landmark, opening the door to an entirely new way to observe the cosmos and unlock secrets about the early universe and mysterious objects like black holes and neutron stars

  9. 3. CONTEXT: - Scientists have been trying to detect them using two large laser instruments in the United States, known together as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), as well as another in Italy. The twin LIGO installations are located roughly 3,000 km apart in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.
    Having two detectors is a way to sift out terrestrial rumblings, such as traffic and earthquakes, from the faint ripples of space itself. The LIGO work is funded by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government.

    LOCATION of LIGO: - LIGO operates two gravitational wave observatories in unison: the LIGO Livingston Observatory in Livingston, Louisiana, and the LIGO Hanford Observatory, on the DOE Hanford Site, located near Richland, Washington. These sites are separated by 3,002 kilometers.
    REASON FOR THE LOCATION: - The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory is a large-scale physics experiment aiming to directly detect gravitational waves. Since gravitational waves are expected to travel at the speed of light, this distance corresponds to a difference in gravitational wave arrival times of up to ten milliseconds.

  10. 4. The landmark discovery for physics of ripples in space-time, which Albert Einstein predicted a century ago, is the result of a worldwide collaboration between scientists. 37 Indians were part of the global effort of nearly 1,000 experts.
    Nearly a decade ago, the method of how to detect gravitational waves was proposed by Sanjeev Dhurandhar and Satya Prakash who worked at the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune.
    Several institutes, including Institute of Plasma Research in Gandhinagar, Inter University Centre for Astronomy in Pune and Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology in Indore were involved in the research

    INDIAN SCIENTISTS’s CONTRIBUTION: - Indian scientists were mostly involved in data analysis. India is also one of the countries where an advanced gravitational lab is being set up for further research. 37 other scientists from top research centres and labs in Mumbai, Pune and Bengaluru provided crucial research for the worldwide experiment. Scientists in India are excited that when the detector is up and running in India, they will be able to pinpoint from where exactly these sounds of the Universe have been emerging.
    The scientists from India confirmed that the observed signals were in sync with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Besides, they also helped in analysing response of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector to signals. The Indian scientists also estimated the radiation of power/energy during the process. Two of the Indian scientists involved were Bala Iyer and Sanjeev Dhurandhar.While a group led by Bala Iyer of worked on the mathematical calculations, another developed data analysis technique under Sanjeev Dhurandhar. The Indian scientists also worked on searching for a possible electromagnetic counterpart using optical telescopes.



    Significant gravitational fields are generated by accumulating bulk concentrations of matter. Electromagnetic fields are generated by slight imbalances caused by small separations of charge.
    Gravitational waves are generated by the bulk motion of large masses, and will have wavelengths much longer than the objects themselves. Electromagnetic waves are typically generated by small movements of charge pairs within objects, and have wavelengths much smaller than the objects themselves.
    Gravitational waves are weakly interacting, making them extraordinarily difficult to detect at the same time, they can travel unhindered through intervening matter of any density or composition. Electromagnetic waves are strongly interacting with normal matter, making them easy to detect; but they are readily absorbed or scattered by intervening matter.
    Gravitational waves give holistic, sound like information about the overall motions and vibrations of objects. Electromagnetic waves give images representing the aggregate properties of microscopic charges at the surfaces of objects.
    Gravitational charge is equivalent to inertia whereas, Electromagnetic charge is unrelated to inertia.
    Plane electromagnetic and gravitational waves interact with particles in such a way as to cause them to oscillate not only in the transverse direction but also along the direction of propagation.


    Several institutes, including Institute of Plasma Research (IPR) Gandhinagar, Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), Indore were involved in the research.
    The group, led by Bala Iyer at the Raman Research Institute in collaboration with scientists in France, had pioneered the mathematical calculations used to model gravitational wave signals from orbiting black holes and neutron stars.
    Another group led by Sanjeev Dhurandhar at IUCAA initiated and carried out foundation work on developing data analysis techniques to detect these weak gravitational wave signals buried in the detector noise by looking for the best match between the calculated waveforms and the detector signal.


    Before deciding whether Indian emphasis over scientific project should be preferred over other problems of India, we all should recall the inevitable contribution of India till date.

    The rich scientific past of India is something the world will never be able to compete with. From the ancient Ayurveda medicines to the involvement of herbs in treating serious illnesses, India was actively progressing in the field of science and research centuries before modern laboratories were set up. India’s most significant contribution to the world remains the discovery of zero.

    While America and Brazil continue to fight over which of the two is the cosmetic surgery capital of the world, Indian physician Sushruta was the first one to formulate plastic surgery. The successful use of rocket artillery first happened when Tipu Sultan waged a war against the East India Company. The Theory of Atom was also provided by Maharshi Kanad in 850 BC.

    Wireless communication or radio: The entire world talks about Marconi and credits him with the invention of wireless telecommunication but the technology emerged from our own backyard. Radio or Wireless Technology is the brainchild of the Indian scientist and mathematician, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose.

    Theory of Atom: Centuries before John Dalton was born Maharshi Kanad, who is considered as the First Nuclear Scientist of India introduced the theory of atom. Maharishi Kanad’s theories date way back to second century. In the book Darshan-Grantha, one can find a well written description of Kanad’s concept of Atoms.

    In-vitro Fertilization: IVF is considered the birth procedure of modern age. It was the brainchild of Indian scientist Dr. Subhash Mukhopadhyay. Indian reproductive biologist, Dr. T.C. Anand Kumar while turning over the pages of Dr. Subhash Mukherjee, got familiar with the efforts put in by the latter to script a new chapter in the history of Indian medical science. In fact, Dr. Kumar played a key role in throwing new lights to the whole concept of test tube baby. The efforts put in by Dr. Mukherjee resulted in the birth of India’s first test tube baby Durga.

    Plastic surgery: America and Brazil may be quarrelling over who is the world’s plastic surgery capital, but plastic surgery was first formulated by Sushruta. Sushruta’s famous book ‘Sushruta Samhita,’ which is considered as one of the oldest discourse, vividly deals with several methods of performing plastic surgery. In fact, Sushruta Samhita is looked upon as one of the most precious treasure in the history of Indian medical literature.

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    The Heliocentric theory: The father of Indian Astronomy, Aryabhatta came up with the notion that planets move in an axis around the sun. This theory later went on to become famous as Heliocentric Theory, with further details and explanations inked by Copernicus. Though Aryabhatta’s access to technology was limited, his numerous measurements and calculations based on earth were perfectly accurate for his time. In fact, he is the first ever astrologer in this world to discover that planets revolve in their own axis around the sun. Further, his studies also led to the discovery of how lunar and solar eclipses occur.
    The ‘Zero’ (0): It is widely known how Aryabhatta taught the world how to count. Little needs to be written about the ‘zero’, one of the most important inventions of all time. This mathematical digit and concept also has a direct link to the ancient philosophy of ‘nothingness’.
    Water on the moon: India’s most recent contribution to the world of science is the discovery of water on the moon.
    The modern space exploration occurred between 2008 and 2009, with Chandrayaan-1, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) first dedicated lunar mission. ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carried both ISRO and NASA instruments, of which the Indian ‘Moon Impact Probe’ first detected the presence of lunar water. This was achieved three months before NASA’s ‘Moon Mineralogy Mapper’ (also part of Chandrayaan-1) made the same breakthrough, to which the discovery of lunar water is often attributed.
    The recent successful and exceptional win of Indian Mars Mission (MOM) show efficiency of India to progress.

    These above examples are revealed in order to identify the potential of Indian people for this universe. The issue here not to look after poor and starving population of India, but the particular specialization of any India. No Indian would like to ignore the hungry population, but the solution for the poor people could be searched through progressing in our specialized tool. Reducing poverty had always been a long term goal for any government in any country. Scientific researches in America, UK, Germany, Austria etc. happened during 16th, 17th centuries. At that time poverty, disease, malnourishment and other catastrophic situation were prevalent. Every county goes through the phase of income inequality, poverty, environmental degradation, population explosion etc. every country has potential enough to come out of such a fluctuated situation. After three phases of development other problems come to halt automatically according to the “Kuznets Theory”. Thus, no country can afford to refuse to contribution in a field in which it has marked exceptional achievements.
    The dream of our former President was to make India – A world Power was through his scientific achievements.



    Prebiotic chemistry and possibly even life itself begins in space. If not for stars, there would be no glass and steel, no internet, and no iron-enriched vitamins to help us make it through the day. Thus, learning a little astrophysics could go a long way in understanding just how we got here.

    Students or Scholars may all get whacked unexpectedly by a comet or asteroid that failed to make near-earth objects (NEOs) thus far identified. Tens of thousands of such potentially hazardous objects remain undetected. The constellations fascinate us, in part, because they are linked to concepts of time and distance that are beyond our earthly imagining. But instinctually, we all understand that these tiny points of light are portals through which we might find answers to some of life’s toughest questions.

    Nearly everyone is interested in astronomy at some level, whether it’s just for the “pretty pictures” or because astronomy addresses “big questions,” such as where did we come from and where are we going. Astronomy also benefits from and boosts our current digital economy with lots of follow-on technology. Although it’s well known that the telescope was initially designed for military purposes, current telescope’s state of the art engineering, laser and optical technologies have also spawned wide-ranging medical applications that save lives and human sight on a daily basis.
    Since the process of trying to make sense of the universe is so far-reaching and ambitious, astronomy is now inherently interdisciplinary. As a result, it must span the fields of geology, biology, chemistry, nuclear and particle physics, as well as applied sciences like data analysis and computer science.


    The study of Astronomy could help spark a global conservation ethic that stems the tide of environmental destruction on Earth. The Earth looks totally different now. People on Earth, are very visibly and significantly modifying the surface of the Earth, modifying the atmosphere. We all can see that easily from our history and through experiences of initial astronauts.
    Kodak film, originally created by astronomers studying the sun, is used extensively by the medical and industrial industries, photographers and artists.
    Space-based telescopes have advanced defense satellites, which require identical technology and hardware.
    Global Positioning System satellites rely on astronomical objects, quasars and distant galaxies in order to determine accurate positions.
    Technology gained from imaging X-rays is now used to monitor fusion, where two atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus that may prove to be our answer for clean energy.
    Magnetic resonance imaging utilizes aperture synthesis, first an astronomical technique and now a medical technique.
    Astronomy struggles to see increasingly faint objects, Medicine struggles to see things obscured within the human body.
    Aperture synthesis the process of combining data from multiple telescopes to produce a single image seemingly created from a telescope the size of the entire collection, first developed by a radio astronomer has been used for multiple medical imaging tools, including CAT scanners and MRIs.
    Building space-based telescopes requires an extremely clean environment in order to avoid dust particles from obscuring the mirrors or instruments. Similar methods and instruments are now used in hospitals and pharmaceutical labs.

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    International Collaboration
    Collaboration also inspires competition. The Space Race a competition between the Soviet Union and the United States for supremacy in space exploration landed Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
    Astronomy is a collaborative effort. In 1887 astronomers from around the world pooled their telescope images in order to create the first map of the entire sky. Today, astronomers travel around the globe to attend conferences, learn from one another, and utilize telescopes elsewhere.
    Everyday Life
    Airports utilize advances in technology designed for astronomy. X-ray observatory technology is used in X-ray luggage belts. A gas chromatograph an instrument designed for a Mars mission is used to analyze luggage for explosives.
    Perhaps the most important reason to study astronomy is that astronomy seeks to satisfy our fundamental curiosity about the world we live in, and answer the ‘big’ questions. Such as how was the universe created? Where did we come from? Are there other intelligent life forms?”
    Every advance in astronomy moves society closer to being able to answer these questions. With advanced technology increasingly complex CCDs and larger ground and space-based telescopes we have peered into the distant, early universe, we have searched for habitable worlds, and we have come to the conclusion that we, ourselves, are stardust.
    “Astronomy constantly reminds people of two seemingly contradictory things. First that the universe is infinite and we are of but the tiniest fraction of importance. And Second that life is rare and precious. A home as beautiful and unique as earth does not come often. We must protect it.”