Archive for the ‘Science Essay’ Category

Semaphore Towers ~ A Pre – Telegram Communication System

July 17, 2013 46 comments

Semaphore Towers

A Pre – Telegram Communication System

Its a typical rural Bengal landscape, a villager makes is way through agricultural fields, but the chimney like structure is definitely unique. Its not a chimney of the brick kilns that dot the Bengal rural landscape nor is it a wtach tower used to keep eye on invading Bargi (Maratha).

Semaphore Tower, Parbatichak, Arambagh, Hooghly, West Bengal
Semaphore Tower, Parbatichak, Arambagh, Hooghly, West Bengal

Its a semaphore tower, quiet a few of which still dot the rural as well as urban landscapes of West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Read more…

Transition of Venus and the Birth of Cinema

July 4, 2012 4 comments

6 June 2012 5:00 am Kolkata. I was up in my Saltlake terrace to witness the sunrise, yes sunrise. But it was no ordinary sunrise it was something special, very special, something that wont be witnessed in the next 117 years!!!!!

Transit of Venus (The tiny black spot on the 9 'O clock position of the solar disc is Venus). Shot just after sunrise from Calcutta

Transit of Venus (The tiny black spot on the 9 ‘O clock position of the solar disc is Venus). Shot just after sunrise from Calcutta

Yes you have probably got it by know I was about to witness a rarest of rare celestial event, the transition of Venus. It was well past the schedule sun – rise time but the sun was yet to be seen in the heavily polluted sky above the concrete jungle of Saltlake.

Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen (Sketch Courtsy: Biamn B Nath)

Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen (Sketch Courtsy: Biman B Nath)

It was almost 5:30 am more than a half an hour after schedule sunrise time I got the first glimpses of the sun. It was partially covered by clouds but soon the whole disc of the rising sun emerged out of the clouds. I pointed my Nikkon D60 DSLR fitted with the Sigma 70 – 300 mm (no filter was required) lens and zoomed in at the maximum level and clearly a dot was visible at the 9 O clock position. Yes it was Venus, walking along the disc of the sun.

As I photo documented the rare celestial event, using a x – ray plate as makeshift filter, I was transported back in time and back in 1874 when French scientist Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen also photographed the transition of Venus using a new photographic technique.

The root of the story goes back to early 18th century when Edmund Halley, of Halley’s comet fame, came up with the theory of measuring the distance between the Sun and Earth (Astronomical Unit) by taking advantage of the transition of Venus.

But transition of Venus was not a regular event and Halley left for the heavens in in 1742, 19 years before the next transition of Venus was to take place. Halley used the concept of parallax during the transition of Venus to accurately measure the astronomical unit (AU). Halley wanted to place two observer in the same longitude maintaining a maximum North – South distance, thus taking maximum advantage of the parallax error.

During the next transition of Venus in 1761 voyages were sent all over the world carry out Halley’s experiment. But the scientist came across a strange problem!!!!. It is understood that a exact time of the Venus entering the Sun’s disk is to be noted. But the scientist observed that the circular dot of Venus turned into a water drop shape the moment it entered the solar disc. The phenomena was not only unexplained but also unexpected but it prevented the accurate time keeping and in the proses failed to fined the accurate value of AU.

The phenomena came to be known as “Black Drop Effect” and the scientist were unable to come up with any solution for the next transition in 1769.

Janssen's 48 frames (Each teeth like structure represents the portion of the solar disc with Venus as a dot) (Image Courtsey: Desh)

Janssen’s 48 frames (Each teeth like structure represents the portion of the solar disc with Venus as a dot) (Image Courtesy: Desh)

For the transition of Venus in 1874 the scientist were more prepared not only they had more advance telescope but they had a new weapon in their armory – PHOTOGRAPHY!!!! Photography was the the most powerful tool of measuring and recording the exact moment of the transition. But shooting multiple frames in a short span of time was something unknown at that time.

Enter Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen, the French scientist who inspired by Samuel Colt’s revolver design, developed the PHOTOGRAPHIC REVOLVER which shot 48 frames in 72 second. Janssen discover not only solve the problem of “black drop” but helped to measure the value of AU with great accuracy. But the story continued and two decades later the Lumiere brothers, used Janseen idea to create the first movie camera leading to the invention of cinema.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” goes an old saying and it is hard to believe that a scientific need of observing a rare celestial event can lead to the discovery of the most popular source of entertainment in the modern world.

As I stood on my Saltlake terrace wondering about the strange coincidence Venus was well into her walk along the solar disc. It was time for another black drop and time for Venus to bid good bye to the Sun only to return after 117 years!!!!!


Special Thanks:

  • Prof Biman B Nath: Baman B Nath is a professor of astrophysics at the Raman Research Institute, Bangalore. A talented artist Baman (da) has provided me not only with the sketch of Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen but also provide valuable inputs regarding the transition of Venus.
  • Prabir Biswas: Fellow photographer and armature sky watcher, Prabir (da) has provided me valuable tips for photographing the transition of Venus.

The Glass Pyramid

November 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A pyramid located at the foot of the highest mountain of the world may sound unbelievable, but a pyramid does exist at the foot of Mt Everest. This glass built structure located at an altitude of 5050 meters is the first semi-permanent high altitude research centre, which includes a self-sufficient energy system as well as a fully equipped scientific laboratory. The Pyramid is a glass and aluminum structure, measuring 13.22 m (43.37 ft) at the base and 8.40 m (25.7 ft) in height. Its geometric shape provides stability and resistance to the elements such as winds, snow and rain. The outer covering of reflective glass makes the structure environment-friendly.

The Glass Pyramid at Lobuche, with Mt. Pumori in the backdrop

The Glass Pyramid at Lobuche, with Mt. Pumori in the backdrop

The pyramid, known as the Ev-K2-CNR centre was the brainchild of Ardito Desio, a veteran Italian mountaineer who started the project in 1987 at the age of 90. Their first project involved the re-measuring the height of the two highest peaks of the world, namely Everest and K2, hence the name Ev-K2-CNR centre. Today this fully independent laboratory uses only renewable power sources: water, sun and wind. Waste is separated and disposed of by an environmentally sound Waste Disposal System.

The International Laboratory/Observatory is also equipped with video conference facilities allowing researchers to be involved in scientific meetings as well as teaching and awareness-raising activities. Today this laboratory supports a variety of research project ranging from meteorology to social anthropology and from geology to medical science.

Glass Pyramid with Lobuche Peak & Glacier

Glass Pyramid with Lobuche Peak & Glacier

Thanks to its particular geographic position, the Pyramid offers a unique opportunity for studying:

  • Environmental and climatic change (daily data collection, 365 days a year)
  • Medicine and human in remote environmental conditions
  • Geology, geophysics, seismic studies, geodesy and geomatycs
  • Flora, fauna and high altitude biology
  • Hydrobiology and e paleolimnology
  • Anthropological and ethnographical studies
  • Clean Technologies and Environmental Management Systems, climatic and environmental change (daily data retrieval, 365 years a day)

The Ev-K2-CNR Committee was created to further knowledge of mountain environments and to improve the quality of life of inhabitants of mountain regions, by:

  • Developing and promoting scientific, technological and cultural activities related to mountains and high altitude.
  • Supplying technical, logistic and organizational support in mountain areas, particularly the Himalayas and Karakorum, or in other remote areas of the Earth.
  • Promoting development, capacity building and technical scientific training activities to the benefit of local mountain populations.
  • Developing awareness raising initiatives on mountain research and on mountains in general.

The pyramid is located at Labuche, a small village just before Everest Base Camp and the views from here are simply spectacular the conical peak of Pumori lie on the north and on the west lies the irregular mass of the Lobuche Peak, with the cascading Lobuche Glacier, along with a host of other peaks on all sides.


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