Indian Team joins GLXP

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 18, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

An Indian team, called Team Indus has joined the Google Lunar X Prize. They have not mentioned much about themselves biographically or provided contact information of any kind. Their about page says:

Team Indus seeks to represent the aspirations of one of the world’s oldest civilizations and youngest population. Headquartered in New Delhi, India we are a team of professionals from Technology, Science, Finance and Media background all of whom have made a habit of pushing boundaries.

Team Indus is a for-Profit organization and plans for GLXP to be the first step towards establishing a Global Innovation brand. We plan to reward all contributors to our team by ensuring long-term commercial interest. We are in the process of setting up a separate non-profit education foundation that will work towards creating a space education & awareness campaign in India. All donations made to Team Indus will be directly passed onto this foundation. All articles, media generated in our pursuit of GLXP will be assigned to this foundation.

We have a few out-of-the-box theories on each phase of the mission, going radical on technology was the obvious choice given the late entry. Our initial planning suggests we will take about 3years to prepare for a potential launch, the launch in all likelihood will be done from India. Team Indus plans to attempt the Endurance and Distance bonus prizes.

It is a privilege to be part of GLXP’s exclusive group of teams, we are excited by the possibilities and eagerly look forward to putting up a good show!

They’re aiming for a launch by 2013-14 which is roughly the timeline that Chandrayaan-II is looking at for its launch! Chandrayaan-II, mind you has been in the works with help from Russia from 2009.

It is a challenge and one that possibly can be tackled. I’ll be following the team closely through their twitter account. I believe that even if they do not launch in the timeline they have set they must work towards launching because of the novelty of such a concept in India!


Additions: Hubble Supports Water Discovery

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 15, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I wrote quite hurriedly about the Hubble Space Telescope providing support to the Chandrayaan-1 discovery of water in the lunar exosphere. I had provided the links to the story to Srinivas and he’s written about in the Times of India [Bangalore, Delhi]. I got a bit worried last night when I saw that the abstract published was presented in the poster session of the meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

With a bit of help from Syed Maqbool Ahmed, PI, CHACE (which made the discovery of water in the lunar exosphere) and Daniel Fischer, I was able to ascertain a few things and I am posting them here for the benefit of everyone concerned.

Daniel informed me that posters are considered “publications” but that a paper in a refereed journal would have greater impact and would be cited more often. It was Syed who finally explained the whole concept to me. The paper in which the result would be published as a paper is expected to happen next month. It is expected to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. One of the persons who presented the poster, Alex Storrs is a co-investigator on the Hubble Space Telescope. Syed explained to me that since they were waiting for the paper to be officially published, they presented it as a poster in the meanwhile.

Trying to find out information about the authors of this poster also took me to a 2009 story in PhysOrg, where Storrs is quoted as saying that initial results did not point any clear evidence for water in the lunar exosphere. It is very interesting that almost a little more than a year later, the same person has confirmed CHACE’s results of water in the lunar exosphere.


Liam Wyatt and the Mumbai Wikipedia GLAM Meetup

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 14, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

For the past few days, Liam Wyatt has been going around cultural institutions in Mumbai. We had a meetup yesterday at the Pinstorm offices in Santacruz. Our thanks to Netra there who offered and allowed us use of space on such short notice. We had a nice turn up today of around 20-25 people.

We started off with directly with Liam’s talk on his work with the British Museum. His work/documentation of his work here can be found here. He then talked about his idea behind doing a project with the British Museum after a controversy the year before with the British National Archives. He said that the relationship was mutually beneficial to both and did not compromise on the principles of either Wikipedia or the British Museum. He talked about the series of conferences called GLAMWIKI that have already happened in London and Paris and are planned in Washington DC and Barcelona.

He then went on to talk about five of the events that he conducted during his 5 month stint as the Wikipedian-in-Residence at the British Museum. These included the Backstage Pass, One on One Collaborations/Photos Requested, Feature Article Prize, the Hoxne Challenge and the School Translations.

Backstage Pass involves a free tour of Museum objects in display and out of display by curators of the Museum for Wikipedians working on an article. The One-on-One Collaborations was an exchange of requests between Curators and Wikipedians who needed each others help – curators to improve articles on Wikipedia and Wikipedians for expert advice on articles in Wikipedia. Photos Requested requested for photos in different parts of the museum. Feature Article Prize was an interesting if controversial experiment. The British Museum offered 100 pounds for the 5 articles in Featured Article in Wikipedia related to an item in the British Museum. This became similar to the pay-for-edit idea. However, the rationale was that since the prize money was not for an article on the British Museum and was for an object/topic related article, it was okay. The Hoxne Challenge was an effort to see how Wikipedians could improve an article on one subject given access to subject experts etc.The subject given was that of the Hoxne Hoard discovered in England in 1992. I think it goes without saying that the article reached Featured Article rating pretty quickly. The last was the School Translations project where a group of French school children that Liam knew translated the articles on certain items in the British Museum from English into French as part of their English class homework. The students later visited London (like they regularly apparently did) and visited the Museum to see the objects they had written about as part of class.

These were some of the implementations possible in the 5 week period whilst Liam was with British Museum.

Bishaka and Liam reported on their visits to The Museum (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay) and Jnanapravaha. I accompanied Liam and Bishaka to The Museum. I am pleasantly surprised by the way they have transformed it! We’ve reported on positive responses from these cultural institutions. Liam and Bishaka will be visiting one more institution tomorrow.

In the discussion that followed, we had a discussion about GLAM applications in Indian libraries and archives. Ashwin Baindur asked about how to work with institutions like Maharashtra Archives which are facing a brunt of the budget cuts (they get the money after the song and dance shows, museums etc all get their cut) and have trouble with up-keep of their archives. Liam replied that this would mainly be in helping them digitise records. The trouble, Liam said, was on where to begin and how to priorotise work. Stating the example of the National Library, Kolkata he said that some books were not even catalogued. We agreed that Libraries and Archives also suffered because there was no good Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software for Indic languages. Liam suggested a French example of how an old French cursive text made it un-OCR-able (new word – mine!) and got help from Wikipedians to manually type in text onto WikiSource.

Bishaka raised the point that all of the GLAM activities could also be simultaneously done in various languages in-parallel. So, during a Backstage Pass event in Mumbai, we could improve the English, Hindi and Marathi (as an example) articles at once.

We then had a brief introduction to (I have written about this in detail earlier). The part that relates to Wikimedia Commons was a demo on how a plugin for Firefox developed by the same team helped in uploading files in the .ogg format to Wikimedia Commons.

We had a small reference to the Workshop for Women on Wikipedia (WWW) and we suggested the idea to two students who had come from SNDT Women’s University to the meetup. We’ve requested them to check on the possibility of using their labs to conduct the Workshop in Mumbai on or around March 8, 2011 (to re-iterate: the centenary celebrations of Women’s Day.

All-in-all it was a fun 7th meetup of Wikipedians in Mumbai.


Hubble Space Telescope confirms water in lunar atmosphere finding

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 13, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Tirtha Pratim Das of the Space Physics Lab, VSSC wrote an article in the Voyage Magazine, a magazine written by a few people working in the ISRO labs about the Hubble Space Telescope confirming the presence of water in the lunar exosphere.

The Hubble Space Telescope was making observations of the LCROSS impact last year when it spotted a continuous signature of water vapour emanating from the lunar exosphere. Writing in the Bulletins of the American Astronomical Society, Storrs et. all write an article called “The Impact of the LCROSS Satellite with the Moon as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope“, the authors write:

Images immediately before and after the impact show an enhancement in the scattered light near 300 nm within a minute of the event. Spectra show persistent emission of the OH (1-0) band at 283 nm, which may indicate a permanent lunar exosphere of OH as reported by Sridharan et al (2010), rather than OH produced by photolysis of water liberated by the impact event.

Amidst the hullaboo over the ISRO/DEVAS deal, this is good news for ISRO. Congratulations once again for the CHACE and Chandrayaan-1 teams.

[+ Clarifications]


Need to Protect the Lonar Crater

ote: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 10, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Suvrat Kher writing today about the Lonar Crater on his blog, Rapid Uplift talks in the last paragraph about the need not only to protect the impact crater but also the ejecta blanket that surrounds it. The Geological Survey of India protects the impact zone itself but not the ejecta blanket which has been threatened by urbanization and agriculture in the locality of Lonar.

Khagol Vishwa has been running a Save Lonar campaign and perhaps some of the recent studies of the crater will enhance its importance and help the organisation achieve the World Heritage Site status that they are asking for Lonar.


India and the Thirty Meter Telescope

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 10, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Srinivas, Kirk and I went to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) offices in Mumbai for a talk by A N Ramaprakash on India’s Participation in the Thirty Meter Telescope project. At the outset, let me tell you that the talk degraded in the middle on a single point and we walked out of it. But, I still think there were points discussed that are worth putting out in the open.

India’s Decadal Vision Document prepared in the year 2004 called for India’s participation in a very large ground-based telescope in the optical or infra-red spectrum. Work on this recommendation began in 2006. The Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) had been in touch with efforts like the European Extremely Large Telescope project about such possible Indian participation, but also came to the conclusion that a national effort was needed for such an effort based on the work done by Prof. Padmanabhan.

Aryabhata Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Raman Research Institute (RRI) and IUCAA met on September 16, 2008 for a brainstorming session at IIA, Bengaluru  to finalise that India would participate in either European Extremely Large Telescope(E-ELT), Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) or the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project based on certain criteria. This included a participation of 10-15% in the project; involvement in the construction and operations in India and a national facility setup for purposes related to the telescope.

Members of the E-ELT, GMT and TMT visited India in October, 2008 and made presentations to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

DST asked for a Detailed Project Report (DPR) from the institutions involved i.e. IUCAA, IIA, RRI and ARIES. An Advisory Committee was formed with renowned scientists like Narlikar, Padmanabhan, Kasturirangan and Swarup. Under it were 5 working groups – Technology, Science, Hardware, Software and Human Resources Development were formed along with a Co-ordinating Committee. After many meetings and brainstorming sessions, visits to industry and exposing Indian industry to the idea of working in the project, the Committee presented the DPR set the criteria for selecting a project based on the 2004 Decadal Document.

The criteria included scientific compatibility and capability, synergy with Indian facilities, risk of realizing technologies needed for the project, the partnership model involved and model of project management, cost of project, guarantees and level of contribution that could be made in-kind, possibility of development of human resources in India and suitability for follow up in India.

Ramaprakash then went on to place on record the reasons for the choice of the TMT over E-ELT and GMT.

Ramaprakash said that at first glance, the E-ELT appeared the most appealing because it was an all-around package and involved access to its various facilities. The drawbacks was that becoming a part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) which ran the project needed an act of Parliament. Besides that, it involved a hefty joining fee which was to be paid in cash (as against in-kind). This, for Brazil was $130 million. The annual subscription fee was related to GDP – which was growing for India. This would mean that India could end up paying money for which India did not have any need for and end up subsidizing the smaller European countries. ESO also had the E-ELT as a stand alone partner but the cost involved in participating in E-ELT would be as good as joining ESO. ESO also did not provide guaranteed telescope time despite paying a subscription – as time was based on merits of observation. This made E-ELT a non-option for India’s case.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) was the cheapest and smallest telescope of the bunch. It was a large  (14) with small partners. The technology that would be used to build the GMT was considered riskier. The LBT project was one of the worry of the technology aspect of the project. It also required a large contribution in cash. It was also found that the mirror technology was patented by the Steward Mirror Lab, Arizona and hence a problem for the point about Indian contribution in construction of the telescope. Overall, the approach was also deemed to be not scalable for even bigger telescopes.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) was a small collaboration (6) of large partners. It was a low technology risk project with many of the technologies demonstrated at the Keck Telescope. The technology was portable and could be made use of in a future Indian large telescope project. The project also guaranteed 70% of the contribution to the project in-kind. It also helped that the observatory was in the northern hemisphere and was hence suitable for follow-up observations, if necessary from India.

The Thirty Meter Telescope Project was hence selected by India for contribution to it.

The DPR was submitted to the DST in January 2010 and revised subsequently as per DST requirements by February 2010. At this point, the RRI opted out of the project on April 14, 2010. It did not state any reason in writing but stated it had other priority projects. Despite this, the DST gave approval for the project and gave the green signal to join the Thirty Meter Telescope with Observer Status. This was done by India on June 24, 2010. From below, when I mention countries, it refers to the institutions involved in TMT from that country.

Ramaprakash then explained the three steps by which an institution/country could partner with the TMT. These were Observer, Participant and Full Partner stages. The Observer status is something that India shares with China in the TMT. It includes participation in non-executive meetings, participation in science advisory roles, access to internal documentation and had no commitment (in-cash or in-kind) to the project but was to show strong intent in joining the project. The second was the Participant stage at which one signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Canada and Japan were at this stage of involvement. The third was the Full Partner stage involved construction and about 20 years of operations.

The load sharing is currently expected among the 6 participants is roughly 30% US contribution, 25% each from Japan and Canada and 10% each from India and China. The National Science Foundation in the US has been asked to provide 25% funding after choosing either TMT or GMT. It has been directed to make this choice as soon as possible. But despite the choice, the actual fund flow would begin only in 2015. Both TMT and GMT are wooing for this money but have claimed to have strategies if this money does not come through. Various organisations in the US are committed to paying the 30% US share. Canada is in some terms sitting on the fence. It has stated that if work does not begin on the TMT by 2014, it would join the E-ELT project. Japan has gone through a government change whilst this project was on and it has led its scientists to present the case again to the current government. As a result of this, the project does not seem to have the support of the Japanese government yet. Chinese institutions have claimed that they will get full funding for the project by the end of the year.

The TMT partners are currently developing the proposal jointly to be presented to the National Science Foundation and using that as the basis for requesting funding in the respective countries’ agencies.

Before going into the status of this project in India, Ramaprakash outlined some of the areas where India could contribute in-kind. This involves polishing of the primary mirror. The primary mirror is made out of 574 segments. The technological challenge is in developing a mass production model for these mirrors to deliver them in time for the project completion. These mirrors have to be delivered at the rate of nearly a segment every two days for them to work within project timelines. He clarified that each segment might need as long as it does to get polished (weeks, months, years) but the challenge was to line them so that a segment is delivered every 2 days. India is competing in this with USA, China and Japan. To provide risk mitigation, TMT will give the work to 2 countries. India is also interested in the segment support assembly, the primary mirror actuators, edge sensors, observation control software, remote observation capabilities and science and data archival capabilities.

This proposal was submitted to DST by the groups in India in November 2010. It includes request for seed funding in prototype development, travel support, human resource development by getting access to observation time in large telescopes. India is in some trouble since we have to convince the TMT project members that it can deliver the 70% in-kind contribution by late 2011.

The DST requirement is that this create the possibility of nearly 300 optical or infra-red astronomers in the country by 2020, increase PhD intake, enhance faculty numbers and participation in TMT instrument construction and use. A slide showing the current number of astronomers in India raised a cry from the audience. It was at this point, that the talk simply spiralled into a slugfest on the possibility on delivering the targets. The audience (mostly astronomers) felt that there would be no way to reach the number of 300. A person even targetted IUCAA (the institution that Ramaprakash was from) saying that the institute could not raise the numbers for which it was developed. As some tempers were lost, Ramaprakash tried to control the talk.

I think rather than taking the project as a challenge, the audience got involved in something un-related. Ramaprakash could have avoided the table which evoked the response that it did from the audience. Also, he tried replying in jest to some serious audience question. Under these circumstances, where the old guard seemed more obsessed with pessimistic views simply showed that astronomy in India had not moved on as thought of and there also seemed to be some friction between older organisations like TIFR and newer ones like IUCAA. All in all, this is bad for Indian astronomy and maybe the reason why young Indians do not turn to this science. The budding and interested amateur astronomy community in India speaks a totally different story! The professional astronomy organisations in the country seem to be in the past century!


Kala Ghoda Arts Festival – Feb 7

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 9, 2011 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Kirk arrived in Mumbai again for the Kala Ghoda Festival at quarter to midnight on February 6, 2011. He was to reach at half an hour past two in the afternoon. So, he missed the Festival on Feb 6. I wanted to go there but was tired and a bit lazy to go there in the evening after attending the Chai and Why session at Prithvi in the afternoon.

We headed to Kala Ghoda in the evening of Feb 7, 2011. We had planned on attending the literary session on literary spaces available in Mumbai. We walked in a few minutes into the discussion where Marathi poet Hemant Divate was speaking. He spoke of his work of editing the literary journal Abhidhanantar. He said that Marathi had a vibrant poet community but there is as was a sense of danger that there might not be Marathi poetry or places to publish Marathi poetry very soon. The themes was shared by Divya Nadkarni of Nether.

In reply, Ranjit Hoskote of PEN, a writers association said that since the 1870s the world of literature has been living in this apocalyptic phase of it being the end of the written word or books or good literature. He said that we had done well till date and will continue to do well in the future.

The talk went on about how there needs to be more spaces for literary publication and discussion. The talk was joined in by Sharmishta Mohanty of Almost Island and Indira Chandrasekhar  of Out of Print. The session was moderated by Sampurna Chatterji of PEN.

Divya was the youngest of the lot and seemed the most pessimistic. I went on Feb 8 and had a look through the books and did buy the first and second issue of Nether. I hope to read about it whence I complete my massive backlog.

Personally, I think there was no place that a new reader can “learn” about reading such work. There is no known place where one can learn to discern things about the world of Mumbai literature without following it for a pretty long time. The magazines seem to be publishing works of poetry and prose without really helping a reader understand what is happening in the literary scene. The question did come up about the literary scene – and the difference in all the answers showed it had not been thought about or written about. There are now operations like PEN and Caferati in South Mumbai but not yet the widespread Book Clubs culture which could help in strengthening the literary scene in Mumbai.


R K Manchanda on Scientific Ballooning

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 7, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Today’s Chai and Why session at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu was on “Scientific Ballooning”. Manchanda, who has been working with TIFR for about 44 years was faced with a young school going audience brought there in two buses. Manchanda presented about scientific ballooning work done at the National Balloon Facility, Hyderabad and also shared some of the interesting applications and research from the field of scientific ballooning.

Delving into history, Manchanda said that the first balloon was flown on June 4, 1783 and was a paper balloon flown using smoke. The first scientific application of balloon was made in 1912 to study the source of radiation. He shared pictures of early flights of these balloons from India, some even done by Indian scientists like Homi Bhaba. He shared that some of the first balloon was fabricated in the basement of the TIFR, Colaba campus before the current National Balloon Facility was setup in Hyderabad. He ended by mentioning the example of Lighter than Air (LTA) balloons.

After a brief description of Archimedes Principle, the working principle of the balloons. He said that the research balloons had a thin film of polyethylene and were filled with lighter than air gases like hydrogen and helium. On the point of why we used such research balloons, Manchanda said that these were to bypass the effect of the atmosphere which absorbed certain wavelengths of light. He said that it was mainly used for the study of the Very Cold Universe or InfraRed Astronomy and the Very Hot Universe in the ultraviolet and gamma astronomy. He said some of the science themes that balloons cover are astroscience, Earth Sciences and heliophysics. A new and rising field is called Geo Engineering and the balloons are working towards contributing in the field.

Manchanda believes that balloons had a few advantages. He said that balloons could be launched from anywhere, could be made ready in around 6 months, was low cost and was a very stable platform for long duration flights.

Getting back to the National Balloon Facility he said it was established in 1971. It is one of the 5 such establishments in the world and the only one that fabricates its balloons. He said that besides the science, it was also a technology center and hence also conducted research on ballooning to meet the requirements of future science applications. It was started by a gentleman by the name of Gokhale in 1971 who took over the efforts in Hyderabad. Some of the lab facilities like a 184 meter long table, labs for Quality Control, Telemetry and Data Centers and boasts of a 100% flight success rate (with success even during testing phases). In the QnA session, Manchanda said that the Quality crew worked as the balloon was sewed together. These are hand sewn balloons with about 185 sections. The Facility has carried X-Ray, LIDAR, Gamma Ray and InfraRed payloads. The facility has been used by other countries as well and has even been sent out to countries like the US and Canada. He said that the lab had achieved 100% indigenous development capability.

Talking about the balloon flight, he said it went through various stages like planning, wind sounding, launch operations, tracking and cut off and recovery of payload with parachute. Going in depth, he said wind sounding was done to enable to understand the possible track and inform air traffic controllers. He later showed a video explaining the launch operations (unfurling of the balloon, attaching of the payload, filling the balloon with hydrogen gas, tensioning the payload tether and launch of payload). It was tracked using Google Earth using GPS and other modes. When it was ensured that it was in an empty space, cut off instructions were given. The payload would separate from the balloon, a rope attached to the skin of balloon would tear and empty the balloon and would fall on land with a parachute system.

Talking about applications of the balloon systems since 2001. Called the diversity plan, the Centre has concentrated on tethered vehicle, remote operations, airships and balloons. The work on tethered flight was on science, surveillance, disaster management etc. TIFR has been working with Tata Indicom to fly a tethered balloon to a height of 500 meters which helped provide a cell phone network of 60 km region. Normally, the network infrastructure is deployed on top of a building which provides a 3 km region and could pose as a health hazard. Currently, this balloon is planned for rural operations where deploying a cell network would be very expensive.

Another application is something called a quasi geosynchronous platform. Manchanda said that at altitudes of 18-20 km, there was a region where wind velocities fell to almost zero. Deploying balloon platforms to this height would provide an opportunity for providing communication systems.

Talking about ballooning, Manchanda said they were considering balloon flights from Andamans to mainland India (Chennai) and flights over the South pole from India’s Antarctic Station, Maitri. The flight from Andamans to Chennai would give a flight time of 3 days and covering a distance of 4500 km, which provides a lot of time for conducting experiments. From Maitri, Manchanda said, the circular pattern of winds over the South pole, would allow balloons to fly in circles, remain in eye contact and could travel for upto 3 weeks, extending the time provided for collecting science data.

Answering a question of why Hyderabad was chosen as the site of the balloon facility, Manchanda said that the closeness to Equator provided improvement in sensitivity of instrument measurements due to rigidity of the magnetic fields near the Equator for studying certain kinds of particles.

Answering another question, Manchanda said that the largest balloon would cost about Rs. 50 lakhs while the smallest balloon would cost about Rs. 50,000.

He mentioned that general operation balloons had a thickness of 6 microns while the ones launched before rocket launches from Sriharikota would have films as thin as 3 microns. He said that each hand sewn balloon had to be filled with 1 cubic meter of Hydrogen to lift a kilogram of payload. Balloons were generally only filled upto 40% to allow for their expansion when in rarer atmosphere at high altitudes. He also answered that various factors led to the balloon launch being either in the night or early morning.

R K Manchanda is also working on a payload for ASTROSAT and said that student payloads are accommodated for free as piggyback. He can be reached via email at


Astrology is not a Science petition

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 6, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

The Times of India had a report today morning that a public interest litigation (PIL) had been dismissed in the Bombay High Court on the grounds that Astrology is considered a science in India. This is based on a 2004 Supreme Court order which declared Astrology to be a science and allowed it to be taught in Indian universities.

Raghu Kalra of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Delhi has started an online petition requesting the Supreme Court to reconsider its order.

I wanted to say this: “Science is an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world. Astrology’s predictions are not verifiable, reproducible or testable and hence not Science.”

To teach, Astrology in a University, I do not think it is necessary to establish that it is a science. It can be taught as is.


A fusion power generator in every home?

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on February 4, 2011 as per the time stamp. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

In my early morning flip-through of the Times of India, I came across this interview with M Srinivasan, a retired BARC scientist and the chairperson of the organising committee of The International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. About 60 scientists are expected to attend the conference to be held in Chennai next week. The thought that made me pause was Srinivasan’s vision of having a nuclear fusion power generator in 20-100 kW category in every home.

The concept is great. It could easily replace the diesel and kerosene guzzling generators that are used in buildings and houses today. It also does away with transmission and distribution losses that comes along with having a central grid style architecture. A recent Google Talk by environmentalist Stewart Brand talked about having a few MW installation of nuclear fission reactors being under design with similar purposes.

Srinivasan describes that cold fusion study in India began with a group of 12 scientists in BARC who were inspired by a Times of India report! Following some work, research came to a standstill in the 1990s and then resumed only in 2008.

There is skepticism among the scientific community about the working of cold fusion. This mostly comes out of the non-repeatability of the original experiment conducted in 1989 by Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah. Following the results which “did not tally with textbook nuclear physics” in the words of Srinivasan, efforts were made to explain the single positive result. Some even went to the extent of saying that the above was not a nuclear fusion reaction at all! Others have even suggested calorimeter errors.

There have been recent demonstrations of working of cold fusion, some as recently as January 14, 2011.