You are on page 1of 3

Chapter 1

On Stars and Humans

At this stage we say au revoir to the occupants of the spaceship but

elaborate a little on how Purna had gone about his mission.
The clue to his approach lies in his remark that his task was simpli-
fied by the largeness of the human population. For, instead of watching
just one human being, he surveyed human groups in largish habitations
like cities in different countries. In a typical city he saw human beings
at different stages of life from pre-birth stage right through to old
age and death. Besides, by observing their physical characteristics like
height, weight, colour of hair, texture of skin etc., Purna was able to
form a fairly accurate view of how these characteristics of a typical
human being change with age.
For example, Figure 1.1 illustrates the distribution of height and
weight amongst human beings in a typical city. Notice that there is a
trend in these points which rises from low values of height and weight
and reaches a plateau wherein there is not much variation in height but
a larger variation in weight. Also there are many more points on the
plateau than in the rising part of the trend. What does this distribution
First we note that the distribution of points in Figure 1.1 relates to
one point of time: it gives the characteristics of the human population
at the time of the survey. All the same it contains clues as to how
an individual human being changes its characteristics with time. For, a
child at birth is at the left-hand end A of the distribution where both

4 From Black Clouds to Black Holes

Figure 1.1: A schematic plot of height and weight of a group of human beings
residing in a city.

the height and weight are small. As he or she grows in age, these values
increase so that the person moves up the distribution until reaching a
full adult height at point B. Thereafter the height will not increase but
the weight might well do so! The section BC thus contains the bulk of
the adult population reflecting its relatively steady state. The fact that
there are more points on the section BC than on the section AB tells
us that on an average the human being spends a greater fraction of life
as an adult than as a child growing to adulthood.
The growth in age of a human being can also be correlated with
the greying of the hair on the head and also, in most cases, with the
thickness of hair growth. Likewise age can be correlated with the texture
of the skin which evolves from a smooth texture to a wrinkled condition.
It is evident that by collecting such information about the human
population, Purna brought considerably greater knowledge about the
Earthmen than Sunya could by his extensive observation of just one
human being. The method adopted by Purna had the added advantage
that it took much less of his time.
? ? ?
Ch. 1. On Stars and Humans 5

This book is not about humans; it is about stars. Our mission is to try
and put together a credible account of how stars evolve through their
However, the above example guides us as to what approach we,
as human observers, should use to find out how stars change as they
get older: how they are born and how they die. Fortunately, as Purna
observed in the case of humans, we have a large stellar population to sur-
vey. If we are clever about it, we should be able to observe the different
physical characteristics of stars in a group and use those observations
to tell us how these characteristics change in a star as it ages.
The alternative to this approach, the method used by Sunya is
clearly not going to help us here. For example, for us the Sun is the
nearest star and following Sunyas method we may be tempted to follow
its evolution all through its life. The Sun, however, does not perceptibly
change during a typical human life span; in fact, it has not so changed
during the entire recorded history of human civilization. Indeed, as we
shall find later, the characteristic time scale for change in a star like the
Sun is thousands of millions of years!
Returning therefore to the method used by Purna we should first
find out what are the relevant physical characteristics of stars that can
be observed from here and whose changes are correlated with the stars
age. In the earlier chapters we will give a discussion of these properties.
Armed with this information we will then be able to follow the re-
markable story of a stars life, a story that begins in a black interstellar
cloud and which may well end with the star becoming a black hole.

Related Interests