Beyond the blue sky – Astronomy, my most favourite Science! – Guest Post by Nikul

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another” – Plato.

I am happy to introduce our first guest blogger, Nikul, who happens to be an Astronomy Enthusiast. How cool does it sound? Read on to know what Astronomy, one of the oldest sciences means to him. We hope you get inspired. Do not forget to leave comments or start a discussion, the more the merrier 🙂

Beyond the blue sky – My most favourite Science

by Nikul Suthar

I’m writing this column to express my love for and my journey so far in one of my favorite hobbies – Astronomy. I believe that I achieved Astronomy as my love-by-birth quality like all the other natural qualities. This is because I realized it by myself and no one has ever made me realize it. I remember my very early childhood days when STAR-TREK and COSMOS original series were telecasted and I watched them with great awe and wonder. At that time I did not realize that its something I would be loving for the rest of my life. My grandfather, even though he was little educated is the first Astronomer I knew in my life, as he told me that the twinkling light in the night sky are called stars, they’re very big but are very far and therefore appear very tiny. It happens to many people that as and when they go through different stages in life their likes and dislikes keep changing. It’s the same for me, but my love for Astronomy has never changed and in fact it has ever been increasing only with the passing of time. I’m a Mechanical Engineer in undergrad studies, I did Computer Science in post graduation and have been working as an IT professional since last 10 years. I could not pursue my studies in Physics and then Astronomy or Astrophysics as my specialization subject in post graduate studies or PhD studies because of lack of job prospects at the time when I was seeking admission post 12th grade. So I decided to pursue Astronomy as an interest for the rest of my life.

Why is Astronomy important?

I believe that the subject Astronomy is one of the most important subjects ever known to human beings. Astronomy is considered as a mother of all subjects. It encompasses the whole creation, the Universe and all the knowledge within it. We humans, at one point or the other get eager to know who we are, where we  are and what is about everything surrounding us. The answers are limited to world under the blue-sky and when the sky gets black at night, we get indoors forgetting much about our surroundings. But the real fact is that the world beneath the blue sky is not even a spec of the whole Universe. The Universe beyond the blue sky matters much more than the world beneath. The world beneath the blue sky is extremely different from the Universe and that world exists in the Universe and therefore we also exist in the Universe.

We have very very limited knowledge about the Universe. There’re potential dangers as well from the outer space to the planet Earth. We all now have enough convincing evidence that the extremely big Chicxulub meteor crater happened about 65 million years ago in the Yucatan peninsula triggered a huge change in Earth’s atmosphere making it extremely difficult for the Dinosaurs to survive. Most of them went extinct and the rest evolved to nowadays known birds and reptiles. Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for 165 million years but since they did not had ability to think like we humans do, they were completely defenseless against such a big climatic change. If such an event to occur right now, then humanity is also more or less defenseless and is likely to perish or evolve by a big change.

Not only an asteroid impact, but there are other bigger dangers to the Earth that could destroy it, like a rogue or wandering planet in the Milky Way coming closer, or is on a collision course to the Earth. If a wandering Black Hole comes closer to the Solar System then it’ll swallow the Sun and the whole Solar System. If in a distant Supernova explosion, the emitted high energetic Gamma ray jet hits Earth’s atmosphere, then momentarily all the atmosphere will get extremely hot like a hell making it impossible for us to survive. Our Moon is going away from Earth by around an inch every year. Millions of years ago the Moon was much closer to Earth than now is. Earth’s axis of rotation, the high tides and the seasons are very much influenced by our Moon. A time will come when the Moon will leave revolving around the Earth and will revolve round the Sun and we will not be able to stop it. Then the Earth’s polar axis will change directions continuously, the ocean water will not have tides any more and the seasons will change very often. Around 5 billion years from now the Sun will begin to die and enter a phase called Nova. In the Nova phase the Sun will bloat so much that it will engulf at least three inner planets – Mercury, Venus and Earth.

Even if we assume that human beings evolve to physical and mental capability such that they’re able to survive all the above mentioned and other plenty more dangers, there is one entity of the Universe called the Dark Energy which is not only going to destroy the Earth but the whole Universe as well. Dark Energy is a property of empty space-time to keep increasing itself from nothing. So essentially all the space-time in the entire Universe is increasing itself since last several billion years and it’ll continue to increase exponentially. A result of this right now is that all the extremely distant galaxies several billion light years are going apart from each other. A time will come several-several billion years from now that all the galaxies, nebulae, stars, planets, molecules, atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons and quarks inside them will be ripped apart and there will be nothing left out other than pitch dark Universe. The question is can we stop this apocalypse? There is no way we can stop the Universe getting ripped apart and we have only several billion years to do it. Nothing will be there to be done in the whole creation. This Dark Energy is the biggest problem of the whole Universe and there is not much known about it. I hope this Dark Energy entity either entirely is a big misunderstanding or we get a solution to save the Universe from it.

All of the matter we see including ourselves, plants, animals, birds, planets, moons, Sun, Stars, galaxies, nebulae – all of that total in the whole universe comprises only about 4.9% of the total content of the universe. Around 26.8% of the matter called as Dark Matter is not being seen even if it is there in front of us. The scientific evidences indicate that it is there as it exerts gravitational force. Rest 68.3% of the content of the Universe is the Dark Energy which is essentially the entire fabric of space-time in the whole universe.

Dark Energy is expected to expand the universe to an ever accelerating rate beyond control which is called a Runaway Universe.

My Activity in Astronomy

So far, I’ve done some very small Astronomy projects, participated in several Star parties, have been operator of a computerized fully automatic telescope observatory and having small size automatic telescopes as well. I’ve been looking at our Moon, planets, Nebulae, Star clusters, double stars and galaxies. Years ago when I started using telescope I did not know much about it. In recent years, I learnt how to operate it as well as take some photographs using it along with a DSLR. Though I’m not a passionate photographer I like Astrophotography. The reason being that there’re so many beautiful deep space objects in the sky that are not so nicely visible through a human eye as it has an exposure time of only 1/12th of a second. With Astrophotography it is possible to capture a lot of details of the object and do scientific research on Spectroscopy as well. Humans have never gone beyond our Moon and therefore Astrophotography (visual, radio, X-Ray, infrared) and Spectroscopy are the only ways to know more about the celestial objects. So here I’m sharing some of my night sky photographs and my automatic telescope setup photographs.

1
The Pleiades cluster
2
Planet Jupiter and its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto
3
Planet Jupiter and a couple of its moons

4

Our Moon

And, here is my automated telescope setup with a Canon DSLR and a laptop hooked up, taking photos of the planet Jupiter when it was at a closest point to Earth during year 2017.

The beauty of Astronomy

The universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere is so different and every human being has a natural eagerness to know about it. Renowned Astronomer Carl Sagan said that we’re made of star-stuff. Meaning that all the matter we’re made up was once existing in a star. It is believed that the matter from which we’re made up once existed in a star much bigger than our Sun. For stars it is a fact that the bigger they’re the younger they die in a Supernova. That star must would have exploded to a Supernova emitting a huge nebula of gas and dust of most of the elements of the periodic table. That core of the star must would have condensed to a Black Hole and must be wandering in the Milky Way not known where it is right now. From that nebula our Solar System was born – our Sun, Planets, moons, asteroids and comets.

The Universe is so vast that it’s extremely difficult to imagine it. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe is estimated to be around 13.8 billion years old. The fastest any object can travel is at the speed of light even though the speed of light is extremely small than the size of the Universe. Therefore, the farther we look into the Universe we are looking that much backwards in time as well. So the age of the Universe of 13.8 billion years limits our capability to look into the past whereas the Universe is expected to be around 93 billion light years across and still growing. This is because the Universe is growing much faster than the speed of light. In such an enormous our Milky Way galaxy itself is insignificantly small in our Universe, our Solar System is insignificantly small in our Milky Way galaxy and we’re insignificantly small in our Solar System. There are more stars in the Universe than the total grains of sand in all the beaches on this world. But still we live in this Universe and it is our home as well. Till now no evidence or indication of extraterrestrial life outside our Earth is known. But looking to the estimated count of galaxies, stars and planets it can never be ruled out that the origination of life on places other than Earth has not happened or will never happen.

There is a Multiverse theory without any evidence stating that our Universe is not the only Universe but there’re infinite other Universes getting born and then either get much similar to our Universe or way too different from our Universe. Based on Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger’s thought experiment (paradox situations) so called “Schrodinger’s cat” theory all the possible outcomes at any point of time are not in-correct. One may think this at first as stupid. But according to the Multiple Universe theory out of those multiple outcomes only one outcome is witnessed in our Universe and others are happening in other Universes slightly different from our Universe. There’re infinite such Universes and the whole creation is also called a Multiverse. So essentially our identical clone must be existing in other parallel Universes and can start behaving different from us at any point of time. The beauty of our Universe is endless and timeless.

Following are some Astronomy related quotes by great scientists and philosophers:

“Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.” – Socrates, Philosopher

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.” – Plato, Philosopher

“To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” – Stephen Hawking, Astrophysicist

“Space isn’t remote at all. It’s only an hour’s drive away, if your car could go straight upwards.” – Sir Fred Hoyle, Astronomer

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.” – Carl Sagan, Astronomer

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist

“Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.” – Lawrence Krauss, Astrophysicist

Astronomer Carl Sagan requested NASA to take photo of Earth when Voyager 1 space craft reached 4 billion miles away from us but still within the Solar System. In the photo the Earth appeared not even to the size of the smallest pixel. He then explained that everybody born and everthing done by everybody is there in this insignificantly small portion of the Universe called the “Pale Blue Dot”.

I’m going to be in this hobby for the rest of my life and will be doing it with utmost interest, dedication and purity. I’ll spread awareness of Science and Astronomy to the people without any interests. This is because Science is evident only and which is not evident is not Science.

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