Friday, July 24, 2015

Tools, the lack of them and deploying resources

Many a time we forget how to turn our limitations into our privileges in today’s rat race.

Not many of us know Robert Evans. Some may know him as Reverend Evans because of his numerous books on the history of nineteenth century Evangelism. But he has a whole other dimension through his passion that defined him. His passion to hunt supernovae in the darkest nights. He holds the world record for visual discoveries of supernovae; yes the number is a whooping 42 with an added number of five photographic sightings. Though supernova by definition is a catastrophic stellar explosion ejecting most of its mass as energy as high as that emitted by a star like Sun in its entire lifetime, the universe being so expansive, this is sighted as a small twinkle in a spot in the sky, which was dark before. Imagine your king size bed with a black bedspread. Throw a handful of sand onto it so that the grains are scattered across it. That is one galaxy as viewed from earth with a high power telescope. Now imagine 2000 such beds arranged around the first bed. That’s the sky on a moderately moon lit night. If a single grain of sand is added anywhere in this, our hero Evans can spot it. Well, he calls it the average memory of a star gazer. The astronomical society could only envy his distinctive supernova spotting skill. It was quite a puzzle for them as to what robotic telescope he was using. To solve the mystery of that extraordinary telescope and the probable high end observatory he employed, Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Rises and his team visited his home once in the Blue Mountains of Australia. His wife Elaine received them with a smile and took them to meet Evans in his "observatory". In the domestic storage room at the back of his ranch house he had a simple 16 inch telescope that was much smaller in size than the fuel tank of an entry level car.  Reiss and his team was quite taken aback when he carried it to the deck next to his kitchen and set it on a homemade plywood mount facing sky against thick foliage of the Eucalyptus trees in his backyard. It was through a square-foot sized, foliage-free area, using this unsophisticated machine that he spotted 42 supernovae that mankind has known - when the automatic robotic 60 inch telescope of Corralitos Observatory in New Mexico spotted just 14 during the same time span. With a shy grin Evans would say, "There’s something satisfying I think about the idea of light traveling for millions of years through space and just at the right moment as it reaches the Earth someone looks at the right bit of sky and sees it. It just seems that an event of such magnitude should be witnessed".  Though Evans took it as his privilege to witness nature’s magnificence, to the thousands of physicists around the world, this imparted much more than mere wonder, it paved the way to various theories on expansion of universe and dark energy. Evans believes he had two advantages. When majority of telescopes were mounted in observatories in Northern Hemisphere, the half of sky spanning over the entire Southern Hemisphere lay vast before him. And while the gigantic robotic telescopes took a good half of an hour to set the field and focus on a galaxy, it took him a little more than a minute with his simple manual telescope anywhere on the face of earth. Clubbing these with his unique memory of star tracks, he made history.

It is not what tools we have, what facilities we are bestowed with, it is the passion with which we pursue our endeavor, the strong desire to strive forward uncompromisingly towards our goal and undoubtedly, understanding our advantages, strengths and limitations at the right time and mobilizing them towards a greater good that matters. Scientific research is an ever evolving, competitive discipline and as comrades-in-arms in this fight for the advancement of mankind, we cannot compromise, but even turn our flaws to our strengths, turn an Achilles’ heel into robustness in our onward expedition

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