Archive | March 2012

Solar max

After a long time, I looked up at the night sky today. The stars glimmering in the pitch dark sky. The brightly lit moon, effortlessly floating in the sky. I see the craters on it, and I remember the times I’ve tried looking for rabbit in those patterns and no matter how hard I looked, I never could find that dreaded mammal! But the moon was quiet majestic, even without the giant rabbit.

Oh, I wish I could go up there, look at those craters up close, but I think I’m gonna have to postpone that trip, it’s solar maximum after all! The entire solar system must be flooded with radiation. And i guess, the moon’s surface must be scorched by now too. It’s a good thing earth has its own magnetic field, the ‘magnetosphere’. If it didn’t, Im sure I would be getting barbecued right now, getting cooked in the sun’s radiation! But even with that in mind, this is an exciting time! There are sun spots popping and solar flares blowing out of the sun’s surface everywhere. It’s quiet a chaotic! But the chaos has a tinge of excitement to it.

But what exactly is the solar maximum?? They way we experience seasons on our planet, the sun undergoes seasonal changes too. This cycle of seasons are periodic changes in the energy output given by the sun, known as the solar cycle. We are currently four years into the solar maximum period. The period in which the sun is most active. It began in 2007 when, the scientists picked up a sun spot on the surface of the sun with reversed polarity. Such strange sunspots mark the beginning of the next solar cycle. The scientists immediately started working on the data to try and predict what will be the intensity of this particular solar maximum. To everyone’s surprise, the scientists at National Center for Atmospheric research (NCAR) announced: “the ‘storm’ is coming, and this time’s solar maximum will be 30-50% stronger than the previous one”. Everyone was quite shocked as the solar minimum we had before was quite dull and prolonged. Everyone expected this time’s solar maximum to be similar. But of course, the sun surprised us with the data that indicated that this year’s solar maximum may be as intense at the historic solar max of 1958.

But what exactly happens in a solar maximum? Well in short, everything goes berserk! The number of sunspots increase and they harbour more energy than usual. Solar flares are shot out quite often. And occasionally, the sun releases a massive amount of energy in a wave called a Coronal Mass Ejection or CME in short. This wave has a large portion of the sun’s own plasma in it! Super-heated electrons and protons and gigantic amounts of radiation accompanied by a magnetic field. These are potentially lethal!(even sound lethal!) Normally, We are protected by earth’s own magnetic field, ‘the magnetosphere’. But when the massive jolt of charged particles in the CME hit the magnetosphere, it’s punched hard enough to pull it away from the earth, exposing the surface facing the sun to large amounts of radiation. The charged particles are pushed toward the poles, and on the way there, they collide with the particles in the atmosphere creating magnificent auroras which can be seen as far south as mexico!

This massive burst of energy can irrevocably damage many our communication sattelites and the power grid. In extreme case scenarios, even people who are flying in planes at high altitudes and astronauts in space can receive high doses of radiation which can lead to chromosomal damage and cancer.

Well, in the next few months, I think we might get to experience a full blown CME. And the data is clearly asking us to brace ourselves, but in the meantime, I’m just going to sit back, and enjoy the show!


Footage of solar flares –

Information about geomagnetic storms –

More information about current solar max –


Black Holes

The universe is one of the most exciting places. It is home to some of the most powerful and destructive forces, the monsters. But out of all these you really can’t get anything bigger or scarier than a black hole. Black holes consume whole planets, stars and everything in its path. It gives physicists headaches. The black holes rule the universe. They truly take center stage. They dominate the process of evolution of the universe. They are the most mysterious objects, their gravity is absolute. In the past they were seen as science fiction but now scientists have enough evidence to prove their existence. Black holes are the end point of stars, matter, energy, gravity and everything else. They have the power to destroy everything in their path but they also help to form galaxies. The 21st century marks the golden age of black hole physics. The changing ideas will one day bring us closer to understanding these goliaths and the awesome power they possess.

So what is the source of their awesome power??? It is the primary force which exists all around us…GRAVITY. One of the basic principles of gravity is that gravity sucks. Gravity helps us to keep our feet on the ground and the earth orbiting the sun, but the gravity in a black hole is off the charts. A black hole will suck everything nearby- Asteroids, planets and even stars. Their gravity is so immense that they even swallow LIGHT. 

Think of it like this- Imagine a black hole as a waterfall. The water is gravity. The beam of light is a kayak (a small boat used for rafting). Upriver the current is slow so the kayaker can paddle away safely but closer to the waterfall the current is stronger. Think of the edge of the waterfall as the edge of a black hole. No matter how strong the kayaker is once he comes close to the edge he’s going down. Black holes are so destructive because once you get close to one the gravity keeps on getting stronger. It gets so strong that it even swallows light. That is why black holes are black. Anything that gets close is surely doomed.
Don’t think of a black hole as a faraway phenomenon. Black holes are on the loose. They are right here in our cosmic neighborhood. Black holes could come right behind you and gobble you up and they wouldn’t even burp. So if you see one, Watch Out!!!

If a black hole came into our solar system it would tear us apart and pull the planets harder than the sun does. It would totally disrupt the gravitational balance of the solar system. It would tear planets from their orbits and smash them into each other. That would be an epic disaster. It would even devour our sun. If a black hole approached earth it would suck the atmosphere and then the earth itself. It would be the beginning of the end. But a black hole is more than a big sucking piece of empty space. It’s incredibly dense (heavy). How dense??? 

Imagine the earth and now start crushing it. Crush it beyond the point where the atoms themselves collapse, crush it until it’s this size of the golf ball. It would still weigh as much as the earth and have the same amount of gravity but it would be smaller than your palm. That’s how dense a black hole is.
But what can make something that small and dense, that powerful??? I mean you can’t possibly have factories where black holes are manufactured right??? What if gravity could do the job itself?????

Well there is one place that has enough gravity to produce objects with such high density. Yes, inside massive stars ten times heavier than our own sun. When they die they unleash large amount energy and explode into a huge display of fireworks which lasts for days. This spectacular firework display is called a supernova. But there are even bigger stars 100 bigger and denser than our own sun and have a 100 times more gravity. When these stars die it sets the biggest explosion in the universe, a HYPERNOVA. This marks the birth of a black hole.

If you have a star, a super massive star 100 times the mass of the sun, at the end of its life  the core runs out of fuel nothing is left to hold it up and the core collapses down into a baby black hole under its own gravity.
Think of it like this…

A star is a nuclear fusion reactor pumping energy outwards at the same time the star’s massive gravity crushes the star inwards. For all the years in the stars life the nuclear fusion and gravity are locked in standoff, but the moment the star runs out of fuel it’s all over. Gravity wins. In a millisecond the star’s core shrinks to a fraction of its original size and a baby black hole is formed. The moment this happens the baby black hole starts devouring what’s left of the star. The black hole keeps sucking so fast that it chokes, blasting out huge beams of energy and basically eats its way out of the star. This happens in milliseconds; actually the star is dead even before it hits the ground. In a second it blasts out a phenomenal amount of energy, more than the energy the sun will produce in its whole lifetime. What’s left is a black hole and two huge beams of energy hurtling through space at the speed of light. 


These jets are called gamma ray bursts. They are incredibly energetic events in terms of raw power. Gamma ray bursts only second to the big bang itself. Gamma ray bursts are so powerful that they will fry anything in their way. If a gamma ray burst hit our solar system it would vaporize everything. But fortunately all gamma ray bursts mostly occur outside our galaxy so you can relax. Each and every time a gamma ray burst happens it’s the birth cry of a black hole.

By counting the no. of gamma ray bursts scientists can estimate the number of black holes out there. In 2004 N.A.S.A. launched the swift probe to study and understand gamma ray bursts. It still exists today and records at least one gamma ray burst every day. This discovery has rocked astronomy to its foundation and furthermore this probe can only see a fraction of what’s out there.

Now we know the universe is full of black holes, billions of them, but how are they up close????Scientists are planning trips to visit one. But physicists are horrified of black holes…why?? Because in a black hole the laws of physics breakdown, time stops and gravity becomes infinite. The edge of a black hole is called the event horizon; it’s the edge of time and space. But it’s not even physical, you wouldn’t even know if you fell through one but once you are inside you are doomed…

When you fall into a black hole, your feet are closer to the black hole so the gravity they feel is more while comparatively your head is farther from the black hole, so the gravity it feels is less. So basically you get stretched to the point where you are ripped apart. This process is called ‘sphagetification’. Because, you basically get stretched into a long, thin tube of pasta.
If you survive this, things will go haywire. The gravity is so immense that its stops time. This sounds like nuts but its true, it’s there in the math. That’s what actually happens. It’s woven into the fabric of the universe itself.
If a space probe would approach a black hole, it would seem to slow down then it would appear to stop completely. This whole process might just take an instance but from the outside the probe would seem to fall ever more slowly. Because its clock compared to yours is going infinitely slower.

Even now Scientists really can’t answer the question, what happens inside the black hole???? It breaks the laws of physics as we know them; it’s a nightmare for physicists. May be there are bigger laws governing the black hole which we just don’t know yet.
What do we understand about the black holes is that, they are born from the dying stars and most of them are small. Only a few miles across. But now the scientists have discovered some black holes which are larger than our solar system, these are called super massive black holes. And one of these monsters lies at the heart of our own galaxy; the Milky Way.

Our solar system lies in the Milky Way which is made up of billions of stars including our sun. All revolving around a mysterious region right at the center. Scientists looked at this center and saw a densely packed swarm of stars moving at the speed of millions of kilometers per minute. Only one thing could throw stars around at such high velocity; A super massive black hole. But the Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy with a super massive black hole at its center. Most galaxies have super massive black holes at their center.

But how did black holes get so big???And what are they doing at the center of galaxies???? To understand this we nearly have to go back 14 billion years to the beginning of the universe. Back then the universe was just filled with gas left by the big bang. In some places the gas was thick enough to form super massive stars. These stars burned hot and fast and then exploded to form small black holes. There were many stars so obviously many black holes were also formed. Gravity pulled all these black holes to form even bigger black holes. These black holes became larger and larger over the millions of years; each grew producing stronger gravity and pulling in more and more gas. New stars were formed by this gas forming primitive galaxies. But the black hole kept on taking more and more gas until it can take no more, at last it released the most power full flamethrower in the universe.

A young galaxy is a large cluster of stars formed by large amounts of gas. At the center of the galaxy is a super massive black hole feeding on the gas and getting bigger. You can imagine when the galaxy is very young and still forming, there is a super massive black hole forming at the core and the gas is still falling into it. Near the black hole, things are getting hot, that materiel is heating up, gas is speeding into the black hole but it overloads and there is no room for all that excess hot gas, it has nowhere to go but out. It is blasted into space in huge jets of energy, each jet 20 times wider than our own solar system and shoots clearly through the galaxy. The super massive black hole has ignited a QUASAR.

Quasars are the brightest and the most intense flamethrower in the universe. They can outshine whole galaxies. Quasars blast away huge quantities of gas from the surrounding galaxy, the equivalent to ten earths every minute. Black holes suck gas in and quasar blows it out. Eventually there is no gas left and the galaxy stops forming.
With no gas to feed on the quasar jets shrink and die. What’s left is a super massive black hole at the center of the galaxy and young stars just like our own milky way, back when it was young.

Black holes have always fascinated me since my childhood. These mysterious beasts have a lot of secrets. And scientists are trying harder, than ever before to reveal these secrets and are trying to understand how these beasts work and what tales they have to tell…



We live in the Milky Way galaxy which is made up of hundreds of billions of stars. There are over 200 million galaxies in the known universe, each one is unique, enormous and gigantic. Galaxies had a violent birth and they will die a violent death. But where do galaxies come from?? How do they work?? What is their future?? And how will they die??

 This is our galaxy, the Milky Way. It’s over 12 billion years old. It’s basically a huge disk with giant spiral arms and a bulge in the middle. It’s just one of the huge numbers of galaxies in the universe.
Galaxies are first and foremost a large collection of stars. They are stellar nurseries. Where stars are born and they die. The stars in a galaxy are formed in huge collections of dust and gas called nebulas.
 These are the pillars of creation in the eagle nebula. 

Our galaxy contains billions and billions of stars and most of them are systems of planets and moons. But for a long time we knew nothing about galaxies. About a century ago we thought the Milky Way was all there was. Scientists called this our island universe. For them no other galaxies existed. Then in 1964, an astronomer Edwin Hubble changed that thinking. Hubble was observing the universe with the most powerful telescope at that time, the 254cm Hooker on Mount Wilson near Los Angeles. Deep in the night he saw fuzzy blobs of light very far away.  He realised they weren’t individual stars at all; they were whole cities of stars, far beyond the Milky Way galaxy. The astronomers had an existential shock. In one year the ideas changed from the universe being a single galaxy, the Milky Way to the universe consists of billions of galaxies. Hubble had made the biggest discovery in the field of astronomy.
This is the whirlpool galaxy, consisting of a whopping 160 million stars.
 This is the m87 galaxy. It’s one of the oldest galaxies out there. The stars in this galaxy glow gold.
This is the sombrero galaxy. It has a huge glowing core, with a ring of dust and gas around it.
Galaxies are gorgeous; they represent in some sense the basic unit of the universe itself. They are like gigantic pinwheels twirling around in space. They are like fireworks created my mother nature.
But galaxies are big, very big. On earth, distance is measured in kilometres. But in space, distance is measured in light years, the distance light travels in 1 year, which is just under 9 and a half trillion kilometres. Our galaxy is about a 1, 00,000 light years across, but this is still a spec in the cosmic distance.
Our Milky Way galaxy may seem massive to us, but it is pretty small compared to some other galaxies out there.
Andromeda- our closest neighbour is over 2, 00,000 light years across, nearly twice as big as the Milky Way
M87- the largest elliptical galaxy in our own cosmic backyard is larger than Andromeda
But even m87 is tiny compared to IC1011 the largest galaxy in the known universe. It is over 6,000,000 light years across, 60 times bigger than the Milky Way.
 We know that galaxies are big and they are everywhere, but where did they come from??
The universe started in a big bang, an extremely hot and dense phase which took place 14 billion years ago (please refer to the article “the moment of creation” for further details). Galaxies couldn’t form in such extreme conditions, so obviously they must have formed after the big bang.

It takes gravity to form stars, and even more gravity to form galaxies. But where did this gravity come from?? To understand this, the scientists use the Hubble telescope. The Hubble telescope is one of the most powerful telescopes; in fact it is so powerful that it helps us to peer back in time. How?? The Hubble telescope sees lots of galaxies, but the light we see today from those galaxies left them 100s of millions of years ago. It has taken all that long to reach us. So what we see today is in fact the ancient history of those galaxies. So the further we see, the more we peer back in time.

But there is a limit to how far the Hubble can see, to see even further, we need to use an even bigger telescope, a telescope too large to launch into space. But now we have such a telescope. In the dry desert of northern Chile. It’s called the A.C.T i.e. the Atacama Cosmology Telescope. This telescope unlike others uses microwaves. Hence it is not only able to see the distant galaxies but also how they grew. Using this telescope astronomers are trying to understand how stars evolve from a group to a network of stars we see today.
Early galaxies were a mess. They were simply huge clusters of stars, dust and gas. But today galaxies look neat and orderly. So how do chaotic galaxies transform into beautiful spiral and elliptical galaxies we see today. The answer is GRAVITY. Gravity controls the shape and future of galaxies. And there is an unimaginably destructive source of gravity at the heart of most galaxies. And there is one very deep at the centre of our own milky way.
We all know that galaxies are very large clusters of stars, which come in all shapes and sizes. But the question is whether all the galaxies were always the same. Obviously, the answer is NO. The very first young galaxies were ugly and chaotic, consisting of stars dust and gas. Even our own milky way was once a cluster of many baby galaxies. What pulled all this together is gravity. Gradually gravity pulled all the stars inward until they started spinning faster and faster. At some point of time they were spinning so fast that they formed a disk. The stars and gas were swept together into giant spiral arms. This process was repeated billions and billions of times across the universe, until the universe we see today was formed.
All galaxies seem to be unique, but they all have one thing in common, they all seem to orbit something. For years scientists wondered what could be powerful enough to change how a galaxy behaves. What emerged from years of research was a single term, a BLACK HOLE. But not just any black hole, a super massive black hole. The first clue that super massive black holes existed was that there was an immense amount of energy radiating from the core of most galaxies. This energy was produced by the black hole when it was feasting at the material around them. Sometimes they absorb so much, so fast that they release huge beams of pure energy from their poles, which stretch for trillions of kilometres. This event is called a quasar. But our galaxy, the Milky Way does not have a quasar shooting out of its centre. Does that mean that our galaxy doesn’t have a super massive black hole at its centre??

A team of scientists set out to find the answer. They used the Czech telescope to monitor the centre of our galaxy. They noticed that the centre of the Milky Way was very chaotic. There was a huge amount of energy radiating from its centre. And the stars which were close to the centre were whizzing around at tremendous speeds. The stars here were moving at speeds in excess of a million kilometres per hour. Only one thing could be powerful enough to fling stars like that – a super massive black hole.

This discovery changed the way scientists look at the universe. But there was a problem with this discovery, a super massive black hole may be very powerful, but it didn’t have enough gravity to keep the galaxy together. According to the laws of physics, galaxies should fly apart. So, why don’t they?? This was a mystery until a Swiss astronomer Fritzwicky started wondering why galaxies group together in clusters. After years of research he devised the theory which stated that something unknown was at work. He named it dark matter.

 To prove this theory, scientists created a virtual galaxy, with virtual stars and virtual gravity. But to their surprise the virtual galaxy always came apart. The same thing happened over and over again. After many tries scientists added the extra gravity which was supposed to be produced by dark matter, and to their surprise, they got a perfect galaxy. So now we know that dark matter is basically the adhesive which holds galaxies together and prevents them from falling apart. Some scientists also say that dark matter was responsible for the creation of galaxies. But even to this very date, scientists have no idea what dark matter is.

Dark matter is so weird also because it’s made up of ghostly particles. You cannot touch it, feel it, see it, smell it, taste it or even push against it. It may pass right through you as if you didn’t exist. It’s everywhere around is and yet we have no way of detecting it. Almost 83% of the universe consists of dark matter. And all the stars, planets, moons etc. are made up of the remaining 17%. Dark matter is very important of the universe. Without it we wouldn’t exist. And recently it’s been detected in space. It’s clear to us now that dark matter is a crucial part of the universe. It was responsible for the birth of many galaxies and it prevents them from falling apart. But still we know so little about them.

Using massive telescopes, scientists have been able to spot billions of galaxies. But when we look at the night sky, galaxies seem isolated. But actually they live together in groups called clusters and these clusters of galaxies are linked together in super clusters containing tens of 1000s of galaxies. So where does our milky way galaxy fit it??

If we take a look at the big picture, our galaxy is a part of a local group of galaxies consisting of 30 or more galaxies. Our galaxy and the Andromeda are the biggest galaxies in this local group. If you look at the even bigger picture, the Milky Way is a part of the Virgo super cluster of galaxies, which contains over a million galaxies. But it doesn’t end there; these super clusters are connected into structures called filaments.

A project called the Sloan digital sky survey has been started by a group of young and ambitious scientists. The goal of this project is to create a 3-D map of the entire universe. Scientists working in this project have discovered a filament which is 4.1 billion light years across!!!!! It’s called the Sloan great wall and it’s the largest known structure or pseudo-structure in the universe discovered so far.
But scientists have taken this idea even further; they have made a virtual universe in a super computer. Here you can’t see individual galaxies nor galaxy clusters, what you can see are super clusters linked together in filaments.  When we look at the entire universe, we can notice a filamentary pattern, a cosmic web containing galaxies and clusters of galaxies that light up the universe. On the largest of scales, the universe looks like a giant sponge. Each filament home to millions of super clusters, held together by dark matter. This dark matter holds together this mega structure of the universe. This is the big picture, this is where we fit in, and this is our universe….



There is no life in me,

I’m just a lonely person on the street

Pay no attention to me…

As ill only spoil your dreams…



People walk by me,

As if I not there…

They look right through me,

As if I’m dead


Don’t worry,

I like it this way,

In fact I would prefer it to stay the same…


Do you want to hear my story??

My sad, depressing tale??

Alright I’ll tell you.

But I’ll make it brief,

I have no intention of boring you…


I died a long time back…

It was nothing fancy

Just a plain suicide…

No one mourned

And there wasn’t a funeral…


How did I do it, you ask?? 

Wait, I’ll tell you..

I once wore a mask,

Just like the one you are wearing right now,

I took it off…

That’s my suicide… 


The air feels strange today,


Silence everywhere.


The birds are silent,


the leaves are still,


And the rain won’t fall,.


But this silence isn’t calm,


It’s suffocating,


It’s deafening me!!


I need a break,


I need it now!!


I can’t find it anywhere,


I hope it rains now..!!

Is this me?

I saw my reflection today,

It looked kinda strange.

The same plastic smile,

The same wrinkled skin,

The same dull eyes,

So what was strange???

The eyes seemed intriguing

So I looked into them.

A cold chill ran down my back,

As I realized, those eyes were dead…

A hollow me

The sun seems dull today,


The air is choking,


Darkness consumes me,


The shadow of grim lurks around me,


He reaps the happiness away,


He closes me away…


He’s looking for my vulnerabilities,


He’s covering every happy memory with sadness,


Bringing my sad memories to the surface,


Memories I chose to suppress,


Memories I chose to forget.


What should I to do??


Just stand and watch??


Just stand watch as I turn into him??


An empty shell of a being,


Who is hollow inside,


Who embraces the darkness,


Who is the symbol of DEATH..!!