Wednesday, May 11, 2011

National Technology Day: 11 May

On 11 May 1998, then Prime Minister Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened a press meet at his residence in New Delhi and made the following short statement:
"Today, at 1545 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokhran range. The tests conducted today were with a fission device, a low yield device and a thermonuclear device. The measured yields are in line with expected values. Measurements have also confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. These were contained explosions like the experiment conducted in May 1974. I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out these successful tests."

After these successful tests, the nuclear program (started by Indira Gandhi in 1974) was declared finished. In all five tests were carried out with name "Operation Shakti" in Pokhran in Rajasthan (INDIA) on 11th and 15th MAy 1998. A team of scientists from Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) and Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) were lead by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (scientific advisor to the prime minister and head of DRDO) and Dr. R. Chidambaram (Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, India). Since then, May 11 has been officially declared as National Technology Day in India. Same day, Prime minister added a phrase "Jai Vigyan" in to the slogan "Jai Jawan- Jai Kisan" earlier given by Former Indian Prime Minister Sri Lal Bahadur Shashtri.

Wish all the Indians, Happy Technology day. On this occasion let us have a look at the scientific fact sheet of these tests done by India. As described by Dr. R. Chidambaram (one of the chief project coordinators of the program) the first three detonations took place simultaneously on 11th May. Two tests (Shakti-I and Shakti-II) out of three, done on 11th, were having yield of 45 kt and 15 kt respectively. Whereas, the third one (Shakti-III) was a sub-kiloton device with a yield of 0.2 kt. Full description can be found here.

Shakti-I was for test purposes and that is why the yield was downgraded from theoretical value of 200 kt to 45 kt. The device tested in Shakti-II was an actual nuclear warhead that can be delivered by bombers or fighters. This was the actual test which was planned based on improvements in the 1974 devices. This test was canceled earlier in 1994 due to international pressure on India. At the end, the new design proved to be a successful one. Shakti-III used Plutonium for test purposes so that it can be used as alternative nuclear fuel for reactors for getting clean fuel. In my personal opinion, this research will get a setback after the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. Shakti-IV and Shakti-V were carried out to get more data to study the performance of these devices. Shakti-V used U-233, which is an artificial isotope of Uranium. This isotope was produced in India itself from Thorium. 

Successful experiments on May 11 were followed by two more on May 13 which also was successful and India became a nuclear weapon state and capable of carry out research on utilization of nuclear energy for fuel. With all pride, here is a word of caution! A lesson should be taken from Japan Nuclear meltdown and security measures should not be neglected for these weapons and reactors.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Orion - losing it's brightest member

I was trying to see one of the most beautiful constellations, Orion ('Mrigsiraa', meaning "head of deer" in Hindi), for last few days. I failed to see it because I was not brave enough to face the below freezing temperatures of Edmonton, Canada. Nevertheless, I saw it few days ago, thanks to my tenacity, and I arranged a photograph too (with the help of Jerry, one of my colleagues). I was curious to know about it because of news that discusses Betelgeuse, one of the stars in the constellation (Photograph below). This photograph was taken from the city of Edmonton on 2nd February 2011 around 9 PM. The star is marked in photograph for easy identification . The next photograph is to help you identify the constellation in the evening sky.

The Orion as taken from the city of Edmonton on 2 February 2011 around 9 PM (Click on the picture to see enlarged for better viewing.)

                                 The Orion (picture courtesy Google)

Let us come back to the news which was all about the life cycle of this star. This star can be recognized as the one which is brightest and a little red in color. Betelgeuse (Ardra, meaning moist in Hindi) is in its last stage of life or you can even say that it has already died and what we see is probably the light which it emitted around 500 years ago just before it died. Some scientists say that the light generated due to this supernova explosion will appear as a second sun and there would be light in the sky even in the absence of the sun. I do not want to go into scientific details because it has been already discussed at many forums. 

In summary, the discussion mainly deals with the scientific facts and evidences about this star's stage. On one hand, many people relates this phenomenon with the end-of-the-world-2012 story. On the other, there are also believers who think the story of Star Wars coming true, which fantasizes the presence of two suns in the sky.

I think I will not be able to tell you more than what is already available through various sources, but I will definitely advice the reader to witness the beauty of the this constellation whenever you get the time, if not with the help of a telescope then definitely with your naked eye. 

This would be a great fun for those who are fascinated by what lies beyond our insignificant (in terms of size) earth.

To conclude, I will add few basic facts about this phenomenon:

1) The star itself is roughly 18 to 19 times the mass of the Sun, with a brightness of 100,000 times greater than the Sun itself.
2) Betelgeuse, the tenth brightest star in terms of apparent magnitude--the brightest stars one can see from earth is indeed going to transform from a red super-giant into a supernova explosion.
3) Claims about the second sun seems to be a myth because its believed that the intensity of the supernova will be less than the 1/100000th of the brightness of the SUN.

So have fun and enjoy watching it.... and do put in your comments to lets me know your experiences.

Following tips can be helpful in watching it

1) If you are in Northern hemisphere, by looking south east after the sunset, you can see it just above the horizon It will look like picture 1 above.

2) If you are in southern hemisphere, just see above your head little towards south.

3) Take help from the pictures and images shown above.

People more comfortable in Hindi can read more about it among other places here or here...