Acknowledgements

Permission is gratefullyacknowledged fromthe following sources for the illustrations appearing on
the pages indicated:
Associated Universities Inc. National Radio Astronomy Observatories © 1978 photograph by
Richard A. Perley and Anthony G. Willis (p. 57), BeUTelephone Laboratories, Holmdale, N.J.
(p. 6)), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (p. 12), MoUht Wilson and Las Campanas Observatories,
Carnegie Institutionof Washington (pp . 22, 38), Professor S. Naranan (p. 4), National Aeronautics
and SpaceAdministration tp. 18below), National OpticalAstronomy Observatories(pp. 23,24,58),
Palomar Observatory. California Institute of Technology (pp . 8, 28, 47, 54-55), Tata Institute of
Fundamental Research, photographs by Bharat Upadhyaya (pp. 16, 18, 45), line drawings by
Drawing Office Sta!T (pp. s, 15, 21, 33, 39, 42).
ISBN81-237-0026-1
First Edition 1986
Revised Edition 1992
Sixth Reprint 2004 (Saka 1926)
©]ayant Narlikar, 1986
Published by the Director, National Book Trus t
Ancient Hindu concepts of the Universe are depicted _
here. It showsthe Earth as restingon elephants restingon
a turtle which. . in cum, rests on a cobra.
_ The ' Maya Stele' , showing dates carved 0 0. stone. The
Mayan civilization used the 36S-day calendar based on
the Sun.
Nehru Bal Pustakalaya
A JOURNEY
THROUGH THE
UNIVERSE
JAYANT NARLIKAR
Cartoons
Sudhir Dar
NATIONAL BOOK TRUST, INDIA
The concept of the Universe based on the idea of the Greek philosopher Thales (640-550
Bc), in which -the Earth floats like a ship on water. The central figure is Archimedes.
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNIVERSE
Astronomy Through the Ages
The star-studded sky on a clear night is a spectacular sight. It
has inspired poets and artists to great heights of creativity. Over the
ages, philosophers and religious leaders have spent their lives
contemplating the starry heavens and wondering about man's place
in the vast universe.
But the most common feeling that the sight inspires is one of
curiosity. What are these twinkling points of light that we call
stars? Are they all alike? How far away are they from us? Why do
they shine? What is the status of the most spectacular of heavenly
bodies, the Sun and the Moon? .. And, if you are extra curious you
may also wonder whether or not there are other objects out there
which we cannot see with our eyes.
The science of astronomy was born out of this curiosity. And it
can well claim to be the oldest of sciences. For, right from the
earliest times, man has puzzled over these questions and tried to
work out logical answers to them. .
We find evidence of such attempts from the archaeological
remains of ancient civilizations such as those of Egypt, Babylon,
China and India . Manuscripts which have come down from the
ancient Greek civilization of more than two thousand years ago,
show how man tried to work out the pattern behind the somewhat
chaotic movement s of a handful of heavenly bodies called the
planets.
What is so special about planets? You can find out for yourself if
you watch the night sky for several months. First, you will see that
stars, as a rule, rise in the east and set in the west, as the Sun does.
There is one star, however, which does not seem to move at all.
This is the Pole Star that lies towards the nort h. Now imagine that
the night sky is a gigantic sphere with ourselves at its centre, a
sphere that rotates from east to west around a line joining our
position to the Pole Star. If all the stars were stuck onto this sphere,
they would appear to go round this line, from east to west.
This is the picture the Greeks had constructed in describing
stars. The planets, however, did not fit into the scheme so well.
Instead of being ' stuck to' this revolving celestial sphere , they
seemed to have additional motions of their own. This is what you
If we expose a film to a clear sky throughout the night the star-trajectories appear as
circular arcs; the smallest one in the picture shows that even the Pole Star is not fixed . It
is slightly off the Earth's rotation axis.
will find if, for exampl e, you look at the positions of the planets
Venus and Mars in relation to other stars . Thes e planets appear to
change their positions , and in no fixed pattern. This explains the
name ' planet' which means ' wanderer' in Greek.
Why do planets wander ? When confronted with this question
human beings found two very different answers : one based on
science, the other on superstition.
The superstitious believed that planets wander because they
have some ' extra power' which is denied to stars: and out of this
belief arose ' astrology'. Astrology assumes that planets are
' powerful' and exert their .influence on human destiny.
But those with a scientific bent of mind tried to understand why
planets move in this way. The answer was not easy or quick. About
two thousand years ago the Greek astronomers, Hipparchus and
Ptolemy, demonstrated that there is a pattern in the movement of
planets. This patt ern ,however, appeared complicated because the
Greeks had a stubborn belief that the Earth is fixed in space and
that everything goes round it. In the sixteenth century Nicolaus
Copernicus showed that the pattern of this planetary movement
looked much 'simpler if planets (including our Earth) are assumed
The planetary trajectories appear haphazard when seen against the backdrop of distant
stars. The loops in the picture indicate the obse rved forward and retrograde motions of
planets.
to move around a fixed Sun. But his ideas were greeted with
hostility.
Earlier , in the fifth century, the Indian astronomer, Aryabhata
had stated that the Earth is not fixed, but revolves around a
north-south axis and this was why stars appeared to rise and set.
But so great was the Greek influence in scientific matters even in
India that Aryabhata's correct reasoning did not receive support
even from his disciples and successors.
It was only in the seventeenth century, thanks to the researches
of Galileo, Kepler and Newton, that it was well established that
planets move round the Sun. By 1687 with Newton's laws of
motion and gravitation the movements of planets were explained
accurately and today the astronomer can predict where a certain
planet will be found at any given time in the future.
As in the case of the movement of planets man's surveys of
the universe over the centuries have revealed many strange
Nicolaus Copernicus.
7
p
- - - - - c - - - - - - - - ~ - - _ l A
s
Johannes Kepler established that a typical planet (P) moves in an elliptical orbit with the
Sun (5) at one of the two foci of the-ellipse. (S' is the other focus) Kepler's laws tell hot»
theplanet moves on this track. LaterIsaac Newton'slawof gravitation, explained why the
planets move in this way.
phenomena. To understand ' these mysteries, man' s best tool
has been science. Indeed, our many questions about the heavens
have received reasonably satisfactory answers from the laws of
science known to us today .
Let us begin our exploration of the universe, armed with the
tools provided by science. But first let us look at . these tools.
Astronomical Telescopes
Although the telescope was invented by Hans Lippershey in
Holland, it was Galileo in Italy who was the first to put it to use for
astronomical observations. Basically, a telescope makes use of
curved reflecting surfaces and/or lenses to bend the light rays from
a distant source in such a way that its clear and magnified image is
formed closer to the, observer. Even the human eye forms images
on the retina by the same optical principles; but it has limitations
regarding how clearly it can see and how faint an object it can
detect.
When you look at a tree in the distance you cannot make out its
individual leaves. A telescope ' brings the tree closer' and enables
you to see the leaves clearly. The telescope therefore increases the
clarity of the object under study. In astronomical jargon we say
that the telescope has improved the ' resolution'.
In the same way a large telescope can collect and focus light
more effectively and therefore help us to see things that the human
eye cannot see. Thus , by exposing a photographic plate to the light
coming through a telescope for several hours, the astronomer is
able to get photographs of faint nebulae which are otherwise
invisible to the human eye.
Galileo was able to discover the four nearest satellites of the
planet Jupiter by studying the planet through his newly acquired
telescope. He also discovered sunspots-the dark patches on the
bright disc of the Sun-that are not visible to the naked eye.
Today's telescopes are far bigger and vastly superior to the one
Galileo used. The largest telescope using visible light is in
Russia, although the largest working telescope is the Hale
Telescope at Mount Palomar in southern California in the USA.
Thediagram illustrates howareflecting telescope works , The dottedlinesare raysof light
from a distant star which arereflected by the large concave mirror M and .then brought
into focus to form a bright and clear image at I.
Star ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~
) : : ~ ~ - X_: ~ = - = ~ ~ ~ - F ~ : ~ ~ ~ _ ...,
- -
Star _ - - - - - - - ~ - - - - - - - -- - :::..
This illustration of the galaxy was obtained by exposing the photographic plate for
several hours. The galaxy is not visible to the human eye.
This telescope has a main mirror with a diameter of five metres. It
is now planned to make even larger ' next generation' telescopes.
Technical pr oblems make the building of very large telescopes
difficult. Extreme precision is needed in the entire system if the
astronomer is to trust the image that is formed by the telescope.
(Have you seen your image in a mirror with an uneven surface?) To
get this kind of precision the mirror has to be ground very carefully
and very fine. Moreover, if the mirror ' dish' is very large it tends to
sag under its own weight. The mirror also gets distorted by
9
temperature changes during .night and day. These effects are small
for small size mirrors. So, nowadays many astronomers prefer
building smaller mirrors which are linked together .
The multi-mirror telescope (MMT) at Mount Hopkins in
Arizona, USA, is the first telescope of this kind. It uses high
precision electronics to combine the six images formed by its six
component mirrors into an even clearer and brighter single image.
The light collected by the MMT's six mirrors is therefore equal
to the light collected by an ordinary telescope with a single mirror
of about 4.5 metre diameter. We can call it the effectivediameter of
the telescope. The next generation telescopes will have effective
diameters from 8-16 metres.
Indeed, whatever model is chosen for a future telescope,
electronic devices will play a dominant role in processing the
The Hale Telescope at Mt. Palomar, California.
information that is brought by the light from an astronomical
object through the telescope. That is why the new 2.3 metre Vainu
Bappu Telescope at Kavalur in south India houses an electronic
computer as an indispensable astronomical accessory.
How can a computer help the astronomer? It can help him guide
the telescope accurately in the direction of the distant star or
galaxy; it can form an image of the object on the computer
terminal ; it can control the various instruments attached to the
telescope to make various technical measurements and present
them in the required way, and so on.
11
The multi-mirror telescope at Mt. Hopkins, Arizona.
The new telescope at Kavalur, south India.
Today's astronomer, however, does not confine himself to
telescopes using visible light. Modern technology has provided
him with other resources also.
Astronomical images can be formed on the screens of computer
terminals linked to the telescope. COSMOS is one such computer
facility.
Radioastronomy
More than a hundred years ago the Scottish physicist [ames
Clerk Maxwell established an important fact - that light is an
electromagnetic wave.
[ustas a pebble when dropped into a pond produces waves on
the water surface, so too is light produced by a source-a wave
which shows rapidly changing levels of electric and magnetic
disturbances. And, just as a wave pattern repeats itself, so do these
dist ur bances- they go up and down in intens ity with perfect
regularity. The di stance over which the patt ern repeats itself is
called the 'wavelength' of the wave.
The light which the human eye perceives has a very short
wavelength. If we divide the length of one metre into a thousand
million equal parts, each part would be called a nanornctre. The '
wavelengt h of visible light lies in the range 400-800 nanometres.
------
--:::::===-
q
Electric d isturbance
Direction of propagation
Magnetic dis t urbance
A schematic picture of an electromagnetic wave. The waves denote the
undulating strengths of the electric and magnetic disturbances.
The different colours of the rainbow-violet, indigo, blue, green,
yellow, orange and red have light waves of different wavelengths
but within the range of 400-800 nanometres. Ked has the longest
wavelength and violet, the shortest. Telescopes using visible light
are called ' optical' telescopes.
But , the important aspect of Maxwell's findings for astronomy is
contained in the question: "What sort oflight is described by waves
whose wavelengths do not fall in the 400-800 nm band?" For , if
such light exists, our eyes do not respond to it . Can we, however ,
detect its existence in some other way?
The answer is "yes". We do it everyday-for example, when we
switch on the radio. Radio programmes are transmitted over ' radio
waves' that have much longer wavelengths than the waves of visible
light. When you listen to a medium-wave programme on 25
metres, this programme is brought to you by electromagnetic
waves of 25 metres wavelength .
The first scientist to appreciate the importance of radio waves for
astronomy was Karl Jansky in the 1930s. Just as optical telescopes
help us obtain important information about sources of visible light
15
in the universe, radiotelescopes tell us about the emitters of radio
waves in the universe .
Although it is barely fifty years since Jansky made the first radio
detector, technology has advanced so rapidly that now,huge radio
telescopes are found all over the world. The big radio telescope at
The array of antennae that constitute the Ooty telescope.
Ootacamund in south India is more than half a kilometre long. The
world's largest radio telescope at metre wavelengths is being built
at Narayangaon near Pune. It will have 30 dishes of 45 metre
diameter spread over an area of several square kilometres.
Radioastronomers have not only built large individual telescopes,
but they have also linked them across continents so as to improve
16
their accuracy and resolution. This kind of linked telescope system
is called a Very Long Baseline Interferometer (VLBI). The
resolution achieved by a VLBI is like observing two points one
centimetre apart clearly and distinctl y made out from a distance of
1,000 kilometres!
In the development of radioastronomy too electronics has
contributed enormously. Computers are used to construct visible
images of a radiosource by ascribing different colours to its
different parts according to their brightness- much like a
geography map in which mountain ranges of different heights are
shown by different colours. This is called 'image processing'.
Space-astronomy
Besides radio waves and visible light waves there are other types
of waves with varying wavelengths such as microwaves, infrared,
ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays. Do we have telescopes for
them too? We do; but not on the surface of the Earth . For , the
Earth is surrounded by a gaseous layer of atmosphere that absorbs
these waves coming from outer space. If we want to detect these
waves, we have to set up our detectors above the atmosphere.
Space technology enables us to do this. At a modest level
detectors are sent up in balloons and rockets but at a more
ambitious level, detectors can be placed in a satellite that goes
round the Earth. In the 1970s and 1980s many satellites with such
detectors were launched and brought back new information about
our universe. Encouraged by these successes the space agencies of
the USA and Europe have now joined hands in sending forth
a space telescope. This telescope mainly uses visible light ,
hut it can be 10 times more efficient than the ground based
telescopes.
17
Balloon launching at Hyderabad.
The det ector on the X-ray satellite
UHURU launched in 1972.
The space telescope launched
in 1990.
Thus, man's advances in technology continue to help him in his
search for the answer to the ultimate question: "What is our
Universe like?"
Let us now turn our attention to the answer provided by our
present-day tools .
What is the Universe like?
We start our journey from the Earth.
Of course, to the inhabitant s of the planet Earth the most
spectacular object in the sky is the Sun. Abeut 150 million
kilometres from us, the Sun controls the movements of not only the
Eart h but eight other planets as well . Two of these planets are
nearer the Sun than the Eart h and the other six lie further away.
Astronomers have a special unit called the 'astronomical unit' to
measure distances within the solar system. One astronomical unit
(AU) equals the distance between the Sun and the Eart h. The
out ermost planet of the solar system, Pluto is about 39 AU away
from the Sun.
The AU is a good unit of measurement within the solar system,
but it is too small for distances to stars . (It would be like using
centimetres to measur e the distance between Bombay and Del hi!)
We, therefore, use the 'light year ' . One light year (L. Y.) is the
distance travelled by light in one year. Now, you know that light
travels at a speed of about 3,00,000 kilometres per second. In a
year there are nearly 30 million seconds. So light travels a distance
of nearly 10 million million kilometres in one year. Enormous
though this figure seems, we will find that even the light year is
too small a unit to measure the size of the Universe. But let us
continue our journey in stages .
Not all the stars seen in the sky are at the same distance from us,
19
TABLE
Some facts about planets around the Sun
Planet Radius Mass Length of Length of Distance Number of
(in kilo- (Compared the day the year from the moons
metres) co the (in Earth- (in Earth Sun in AU'
Earth' s days) years)
mass')
Mercury 2,439 0.056 58.7 0.24 0.39
Venus 6,050 0.81 243 0.61 0.72
Earth 6,378 1.00 I I
Mars 3,394 0. 11 1.88 1.52 2
Jupiter 71,880 318 0.4 11.86 5.20 16
Saturn 60,400 95 0.43 29.46 9.55 17
Uranus 23,540 15 0.43 84.01 19.2 5
Neptune 24,600 17 0.62 164.79 30. 1 2
Pluto 1500 0.002 6.4 248.4 39.5 2
, AU = Astronomical Unit = 1.496 million kilometres
Earth mass =6 million million million million kilogrammes
as the ancient Greeks believed. The nearest star Proxima Centauri ,
is about 4
1
/
4
light years away from us. So when you glimpse this
star you see it as it was 4'/4 years ago. And, of course, other stars
are even further away.
How far do we have to travel to get to the furthest star that we
see? Let us look at this question somewhat differently. First we
have to realize that the Sun itself is a star. It looks so bright to 'us
because we are so close to it. A 6O-watt bulb appears bright in your
room at night , but the same bulb seen from far away appears to be
a mere point oflight. In the same way, stars appear faint compared
to the Sun, not because their light is less powerful but because they
are so far away. Indeed, there are stars which are so faint that we
cannot see them with our eyes but can only see their images on
photographic plates taken through a telescope.
Astronomers have now found out that the solar system and all
the stars we see are part of a gigantic group called the Galaxy. The
Galaxy looks like a flattened bun with a small bulge at the centre.
Its diameter is 100,000 1.Y. and the entire system has more than
one hundred billion stars (I billion=I ,000 million) . Since the
Earth is a part of the system, we see those stars that are more
densely concentrated in a band going round us. This white band is
called the Milky Way.
Astronomical photographs of the Milky Way and other part s of
the sky do not , however , show a continuous white band. There are
dark patches within the white band . For a long time astronomers
Schematic pictureof our Galaxy. We are located at the arrow about two-thirds of the
way distant from the centre of the Galaxy.
21
Montage of the Milky Way made up from photographs taken in different directions.
thought that the dark patches were due to an absence of stars. This
impression was wrong. These dark patches are caused by pollution
of the Galaxy! Apart from stars, the Galaxy contains a small
amount of gas and dust and these tend to absorb starlight and
lessen the range of one's vision. Just as thick fog, or industrial
smog, cuts down visibility, dust between the stars curtails what the
earthbound astronomer can see.
How much of a star's light is absorbed en route to us depends on
the absorbing material and the wavelength of the light . Light of
short wavelengths (blue and violet colours) tends to be absorbed
and scattered more than light of long wavelengths (red in colour).
This is why light from a source gets progressively reddened as it
moves away from the source and the nature of reddening can tell
the astronomer what kind of dust is responsible for it.
The telescopes of the twentieth century also proved wrong
22
another long-held belief. Our solar system is not located at the
centre of the Galaxy; rather it is situated two-thirds of the way out ,
at a distance of about 30,000 L.Y. from the Galactic Centre. Thus,
just as Copernicus dethroned the Earth from the 'centre of the
Universe' so did astronomers like Harlow Shapley dethrone the
Sun from any privileged position in the. Galaxy. .
So if we want to go to the furthest star in our Galaxy, we have to
travel about 80,000 L.Y.-if we wish to go right through the
Galactic Centre to the other side.
What will we find when we have crossed the Galaxy?
A spiral galaxy.
An elliptical galaxy.
Here again, another cherished belief has been disproved. Our
Galaxy is not at the centre of the Universe. Telescopes show that
there are galaxies like ours all over the Universe . Indeed galaxies
come in various sizes and shapes, and there is nothing special about
our Galaxy. Many galaxies have spiral shapes with two or more
arms (containing more densely packed stars) winding out like a
spring ; quite a feware elliptical , shaped like eggs, while some show
no definite pattern or shape.
It was in the mid-1920s that we got to know about the rich world
of galaxies, thanks largely to improved techniques of observation.
24
And , by the end of the twenties Edwin Hubble from Mt. Wilson
Observatory near Los Angeles made a remarkable discovery.
Hubble found that all these galaxies are running away from us!
And the farther away a galaxy is the faster does it speed away.
How can an astronomer measure the speed of a remote star or
galaxy? He is able to do this because of a property of waves, known
as the Doppler effect.
To understand this effect let us take the example of a railway
train rushing through a station at great speed. Suppose the engine
~
" _ :
, -
-- - -
2.
1.
""'!l""1-H'-/4+i-t•.~ - - - - - - - -
,.,
The Dopplereffect operates by thedecreaseof wavelength of sound from anapproaching
source (the successive waves are closely spaced) and increase of wavelength from a
receding source (the waves are spaced apart) .
of the train blows its whistle continuously as it dashes past. To a
man standing on the platform the whistle sounds very shrill when
the engine is coming in and somewhat flat when it moves away.
This happens because sound travels in waves, and when these
waves are sent out by an approaching source their pitch goes up;
when they come from a receding source the pitch goes down.
Applied to light waves, the Doppler effect means that the
wavelength of light from a receding source increases . The increase
in wavelength is in proportion to the speed with which the source is
26
moving away. The Doppler effect for light waves is thus useful to
the astronomer in finding out whether the source of light is
approaching or moving away. In the 1920s Hubble used this effect
in the following way:
Just as sunlight splits into several colours when passed through a
prism, so does the light from a remote star or a galaxy. The
splitting produces a ' spectrum' of the object , telling us how light
waves of different wavelengths make up the total light from the
source. In addition to the continuous range of colours from red to
violet found in the typical spectrum, there are also dark and bright
lines. The dark lines indicate absorption of light while the bright
ones Indicate emission. Atomic theory tells us that the dark lines
occur when the light from the source is absorbed en route by cool
atoms while the bright lines come from atoms that radiate at high
temperatures. From this we now know that individual atoms have
characteristic wavelengths at which they either absorb or emit
. radiation. The specific wavelengths at which the dar k or bright
lines occur can t h e r e f o r ~ tell the astronomer the type of atom
causing them.
Hubble found dark lines in the spectra of galaxies and by
measuring their wavelengths he was able to identify that they were
due to the atoms of calcium. However , these lines occurred at
wavelengths longer than expected- the lines were shif ted towards
the red end of the spectrum. With the help of the Doppler effect
Hubble was able to work out the speed of motion away from us, of
each galaxy he observed. He found that the phenomenon of red
shift (as it is called) is universal and that the extent of shift is greater
for fainter galaxies. Assuming that the fainter the galaxy the more
distant it is, Hubble concluded that the farther a galaxy is the 'faster
does it recede from us.
27
H+K
1,200 km 9-'
Hedstutts
Photographs of galaxies
and their spectra with the
H andK absorption lines
of calcium. The lines are
more red-shifted for fain..
ter galaxies and hence
Hubble concluded that
fainter galaxies, being
farther, recede faster
than the nearer brighter
ones.
39.000 km s- '
22.000 km s -'
15,000 kme"
I II II I I III
_.-
I I I ' II I I I "
I II I I I II I
-- --
I I I- - - I I 1 ' 1'
III ," I i i '
-_ .
11-' - -- -ii-I I I I
111 11 III ' III
- - _.-
II-' - I-ITI I II 1
I , ' I I II I
-------
, ' , I I ' I
Cl ust er
Distance in
nebula i n
li ght-y ears
78,000,000
V,rC
1,000,000,000
U-sa

1,400,000,000
Corona
Borealis

2, 500,000,000
Boot es

3,960,000,000
Hydra 61.000 xme"
A.. . .tIIU. _ ............. ",Iodll" , , dA/ A. ""- llMIlctt.
liRA H.Illl It. 0... ..,lit·,.. ",,,,,.•botll • •S " 11119"
"11_',,, , ., •. SX10-"It. f1,fI.
OItt.,,_ ... " 1M ...... ....... ..... tf $0 1I 1t1/_ .._ _ ,.....eI.
Known as Hubble's law, this conclusion dramatically changed
our view of the Universe. It led to the idea that the Universe is
'expanding'; the galaxies are moving away from one another much
like the dots on a balloon that is inflated. And, of course, there is
nothing special about our Galaxy. If we were to look at the
Universe from another galaxy, we would notice the same thing:
other galaxies would be seen moving away from our new vantage
point.
28
)
How far does this expansion extend? With our present
telescopes, the answer is "as far as we can see", which is up to
distances of several billion L.Y. Thus, when an astronomer
photographs a galaxyone billion L. Y. away, he is seeing it as it was
one billion years ago. It is quite likely, that by now the galaxymay
not be there at all!
So if we venture out of our Galaxy the chances are that we will
meet more and more galaxies as we travel on for billions of light
years. So far there is no evidence that there is a limit to the
Universe. The limit is rather on what we can see and how much we
• can understand.
Let us examine how far we have succeeded in unravelling the
mysteries of the Universe. We begin with our own environment-
the solar system.
The expansion of the Universe canbecompared to the expanding surface of a balloon
that is being inflated. The dots G
1
, Gz, G
3
move away fromone another as the balloon
expands.

Origin of the Solar System
How was our solar system created? A complete answer is not yet
known. Current findings suggest the following picture:
It is believed that the Sun, the planets , their satellites and other
smaller components of the solar system were formed from a cloud
of gas. Initially the cloud was very large and cold. But before long
its different components began to attract each other because of the
force of gravitation and the cloud thus began to shri nk. (It is
believed that there was also another event which may have been
responsible for triggering off this contraction. We will look at this
event later. )
Normally a cont racting ball of gas shrinks in size from all
directions . However, with the pre-solar cloud, another factor had
to be taken into consideration. The cloud was revolving around an
axis. This revolution brought into play a further force-the
'centrifugal force' .
If you tie a small stone to a string and whirl it round, the stone
tends to fly away from the axis of rotation . This tendency to fly
away is caused by the centrifugal force. The stone is held back due
to the tension in the string which counters the centrifugal force.
In the case of the contracting cloud, the gravity was not
sufficient to hold back the gaseous material, which therefore
tended to flyaway from the axis of rotation. The result was that the
cloud did not shrink uniformly from all dir ections: it shrank along
the axis of rotation and flattened out perpendicular to it. Thus it
took the shape of a disc surrou nding a central hulge. The Infra Red
Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) launched in 1983 succeeded in
discovering such protoplanetary discs around a few nearby stars
like beta pictoris.
Scientists also believe that magnetic effects played an important
30
role during the contraction. They slowed down the rotation of the
central bulge and increased it on the outer parts of the disc. T.hese
effects also led to the disc spreading out much farther than it would
otherwise have done.
Weli, the central bulge shrank further to form a star that we call
the Sun while the disc broke up into lumps that became planets .
-
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, ~ I /
I ; / I ; ~ ! I I / I ; ,
, 1/////1 / (
//1/1.'(.1 (
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Shouldthe stringtiedto thestone break, the stonewillmove outwards . This
tendency is described by the centrifugal force
The central bulge became considerably hott er than the disc,
because when gas is compressed it heats up .
The chemical composition of the planets depended largely on
how far they were from the central ball of fire. Imagine various
gases moving out from a central region which is very hot. As they
moved outwards they cooled. Those which solidified at high
temperatures became the nearby planets, while those which
retained their gaseous form at low temperatures became the more
distant planets. The Earth being . one of the nearby planets,
therefore has a predominant share of metals while more distant
planets like Jupi ter or Saturn are made up largely of helium,
hydrogen, etc.
. By measuring the fraction of radioactive elements in rocks on the
Earth as well as in meteorites (tiny pieces of matter moving round
in the solar system) scientists estimate that the age of the solar
system is around 4,600 million years.
Was the Moon an off-shoot of the Earth or did it form
independently? The samples of lunar soil taken during the many
expeditions to the Moon suggest that the Moon's make-up is very
different from that of the Earth. So it is likely that the two formed
independently and that the Moon somehow got trapped by the
Earth's gravitational pull and became its satellite.
The Different Types of Stars
Paradoxically, scientists seem to know more about the stars
which are far away than about the planets of our own solar system.
There are two reasons for this .
First , the stars (like our Sun) are very hot. At high temperatures
of several thousand degrees, matter can exist only in very simple
form for at these temperatures atoms, which are the basic building
32
---
--
./
,,-
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/
-,
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8
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Plasma
.....
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---- -
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Ion Electron
In a bound atom of hydrogen the negatively charged electron moves round the
positively charged proton. In a high temperature plasma the two opposite charges are
no longer bound.
blocks of matter, cannot retain their structure . They get stripped of
their electrons which move freely. What is left are ' ions' which also
move freely. The stars are therefore made of positively charged
ions and negatively charged electrons forming a mixture, the
'plasma'. A study of the plasma at high temperatures is easier than
that of more complicated atoms and molecules in solid or liquid
form at low temperatures .
The second reason why the study of stars is simpler is that there
are so many of them . How this helps the astronomer can be
understood with this imaginary example :
33
Suppose an intelligem being from outer space visits the Earth
and wants to find out about human beings. There are two ways it .
could do this. One is to go to a maternity hospital , see a child being
born t nd then observe its life in detail. This way our visitor will
know only about one human being and that too after watching him
or her for several decades. This is time-consuming and not very
accurate, for, studying one human being will not give a correct
picture of the variety of the human population on this planet.
, ..
..
!I I(II
,
- . ' ~
~ r-
,-
----,
MAiERNITY
WARD
The second method is to survey a group of human beings-say
the population of a town. This will provide information about men
and women of different ages, their heights, weights and other
physical characteristics . Such a study gives an idea of how human
beings are born, grow up, get old and die.
In the same way by studying the different types of stars in a
group the astronomer can form a fairly accurate picture of how
stars are born, how they change with' time and how they die. This
is a better method, and certainly more effective than looking at
only one star. For this, the astronomer needs to know the physical
characteristics of stars; how big are they? How hot is their surface?
What are the chemical elements on their surface? What are their
masses?
Due to the many observational techniques available today and to
our greater understanding of the basic laws of science, we now
know the answers to these questions. And, of course, just as
human beings are not all alike, stars in a cluster exhibit variety.
Two astronomers , E. Hertzsprung and H.N. Russell, devised a
good way of classifying stars in a diagram. This diagram is called
the H-R diagram, after its inventors. The diagram plots a graph in
which the horizontal (x) axis shows the temperature of the surface
of the star while the vertical (y) axis indicates the total quantity of
energy coming from the star per second.
The Sun's surface temperature is about 5500° Celsius while its
luminosity (quantity of light emitted per second) is two hundred
million million million megawatts. In the H-R diagram it is the
convention to plot the stars cooler than the Sun to its right and
those hotter to its left. When such a plot is made for stars in a
cluster the following pattern usually emerges: a band of points
stretches from the top left hand corner (hot and bright stars) to the
35
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0' BO 85 AD FO GO KO tAO M'S
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Spectral type/Colour inde x
A typical H-R diagram. The Sun's position is shown by S. The
absolute magnitude and spectral typelcolour index indicate [he
star's luminosity and surface temperature respectively.
bottom right hand corner (cool and faint stars). This band is called
the ' main sequence' . As we shall see, a star spends most of its life
on the main sequence . There are some stars outside the main
sequence on the top right hand corner. These are bright but cool -
and are called ' red giants' . Red, because their surface has a reddish
tinge: giant , because they are much larger than a main sequence
star like the Sun. Similarly, there are a few ' white dwarfs' below
the main sequence .
36
The H-R diagram has been very useful in putting together the
biography of a star. We will now see how a star changes its
appearance as it grows old and thereby moves its position on this
diagram.
The Biography of a Star
Let's look at the life of a star from the time of its birth from a
dark cloud of gas. Astronomers have found several dark clouds
made predominantly of hydrogen in our Galaxy, in some of which
the 'process of star formation is still going on. How does a star
form?
We already know the answer in the case of the Sun. Just as the
Sun was formed from a shrinki ng cloud of gas, so a typical star
condenses from a contracting cloud. In fact, the process of star
formation may not be confined to only one star at a time. Imagine
instead, a gigantic cloud containing enough matter to form a
thousand stars, shrinking under its force of gravity. The large
cloud cannot retain a coherent shape throughout this process and at
some stage it begins to break up into smaller bits. These sub-units
are small enough to retain their identity and event ually condense
into stars.
When exactly is a star born? Aclue to the answer lies in the most
visible property of a star: its shine. As in the case of the Sun, the
shrinking ball of gas begins to heat up and eventually becomes hot
enough to shine. From studying the physical details of star
formation we know that in its early stages the star radiates more
heat in infrared waves. Indeed, the detection of such waves in the
Orion Nebula confirmed that new stars are still being born there .
However, there is more to a star than just its shine. The star
must be able to generate enough energy to keep shining. It is the
37
The Orion Nebula is a region where new stars are believed to have come
into existence recently.
same with the Sun, which is also a star. Man has always wondered
where it gets the energy for its radiation.
This question was finallyanswered about 50 to 60 years ago. The
Cambridge astrophysicist A.S. Eddington studied the internal
structure of a star and concluded that though the outside
temperature of a star is about a few thousand degrees, its central
temperature is considerably higher-going up to several million
degrees! In the 1920s, when Eddington made this startling
38
discovery the subject of subatomic physics was very new. People
knew that in an atom electrons go round a central nucleus . But no
one had thought of the possibility of a large nucleus breaking into
smaller nuclei or small nuclei joining together to form a big
nucleus. Today we know that the former process, known as
'nuclear fission' is the principle behind the atomic bomb, while the
latter process of 'nuclear fusion' gives us hydrogen bombs .
Eddington believed that it is the latter process offusion that goes
on inside the Sun. Four nuclei of hydrogen combine to form a
bigger nucleus of helium. In this process energy is released, just as
in a hydrogen bomb.
There is an important difference, however, between the Sun and
the hydrogen bomb. In the hydrogen bomb energy comes out in
H
Hydro gen
Nuclei
H
__- /1 Fusion 8 + Energy
Helium
Nucleus
+ Energy
Schematic diagram illustrating nuclear fission and fusion.
the form of an explosion. Fortunately for human existence on
earth, energy is not released in the Sun in a gigantic explosion but
is being emitted steadily. This is because the Sun's enormous mass
has a strong gravitational force which exercises a restraining
influence on the process.
In order to find a lasting solution to today's energy problems
scientists are trying to generate fusion energy which is steady and
non-explosive. But without the Sun's advantage of a strong
gravitational controlling influence other forces and methods have
to be discovered. This has not been possible so far, but with the
improvement in technology in a decade or two man should be able
to succeed in this. venture.
To return to the star. The process of converting hydrogen to
helium is slowand steady and can supply a star like the Sun with
HYDROG£N BoMB THE SUN
enough energy to last for several billion years. When stars are
burning hydrogen in this way and shining steadily, they are on the
main sequence of the H-R diagram. .
But a stage will come in the life of a star when it exhausts the
available hydrogen in its central hot region. What will happen
then?
The fusion process in the star is temporarily switched off. When
the generation of energy stops the star does not have enough
pressure inside and its central core' begins to shrink under its own
gravity. (The central high pressures are essential for maintaining a
star's equilibrium, for a star's natural tendency is to cont ract under
its own gravity. The pressures are able to stop this contractionif
they are strong enough.)
The weakening of its central pressure and the shrinkage of its
. core, however, help restart the star's fusion process. For, as the
core containing helium contracts, it heats up. When temperatures
rise to about a hundred million degrees, the helium begins to
undergo nuclear fusion. Three nuclei of helium combine to
produce one nucleus of carbon. In this process' more heat is
released and this in turn provides enough pressures to hold the star
in equilibrium. In fact, the pressures begin to assert themselves so
much that the star, instead of contract ing, begins to expand. This
is when it becomes a giant star.
The Sun will also go through this process after it has exhausted
its central fuel of hydrogen . It will then become so inflated that it
will swallowthe closer planets Venus and Mercury and also gobble
up the Earth! But there is no need to get worried; for this will not
occur for at least 6 billion years or so. By then, space technologists
will undoubtedly have found the means to escape from the Earth
alive.
41
H ~ L I U M
H Y OROG EN
The onion-skin structure of a highly evolved star.
During the giant stage the nuclear process in the star goes
through several ' on' -' off states. When most of its helium is
exhausted, the process is temporarily switched off. As before,
switching off leads to a Shrinking of the central core which then
heats up. With it heating up, the process starts again, adding
helium to carbon and making the heavier nucleus of oxygen. And
thus the process goes on and on, with heavier and heavier elements
forming in the centre.
At· this stage the star's structure is rather like that of an onion
with several skins made of different elements one on top of the
other. The outermost and coolest layer is of hydrogen. The next is
of helium, followed by carbon, oxygen, neon and so on. The
innermost part is made of heavy metals like iron, cobalt and nickel,
all formed by successive fusion processes.
42
The star, however, cannot maintain an unbroken shape after
this. Just as an overweight man faces the prospect of heart disease,
high blood pressure and other medical complications, so does a
massive star have in store a catastrophic future .
The future of stars which are not more than five or six times as
massive as the Sun, is quite peaceful. These stars lose their outer
envelope in mild explosions or flares and eventually settle down
with only the material in the core. The material blown out often
appears as an illuminated ring surrounding the star, and is called a
' planetary nebula' . A star exhibiting minor explosions or flares at
the surface is called a ' nova star' .
The core that is finally left is very hot bur as a star it does not
radiate much energy in the visible range. Such a star is called a
white dwarfon the H-R diagram. Wit h a density one million times
that of water , a handful of material from a white dwarf would
contain several tons of matter.
The white dwarf is a strange kind of star. Unlike other stars it
does not have thermonuclear reactors producing energy at its
centre. How then does it manage to support itself against its own
contracting force of gravity? The key to this question lies in
quant um theory-the subject that tells us how physical systems
behave when studied on the microscopic scale of atoms and
molecules. Quantum theory tells us that in the tightly packed
material inside a .white dwarf a new kind of pressure is built up
which resists further compression. This pressure is available,
however, provided the star is not too massive.
In the 1930s it was S. Chandrasekhar who demonstrated that for
a star to exist as a white dwarf its mass should not exceed
approximately 1.44 times the mass of the Sun. If, after the red
giant stage is over, the core is left with a mass higher than this
limit , the star will continue to shrink. This mass limit is called the
'Chandrasekhar limit' and for this important work Chandrasekhar
received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1983.
To complete our discussion of a star's life let us look at the fate of
massive stars-those more than five to six times the mass of the
Sun called 'supernova stars'. These stars are not -able to maintain
their internal equilibrium after the giant stage and simply explode.
In a supernova explosion, the star loses its outer envelope in one
go. The explosion is accompanied by the ejection of the atomic
nuclei of the various elements in the 'onion skin', together with
particles called neutrinos which are the first to come out.
During the explosion the .supernova is extremely bright and can
outshine an entire galaxy of a hundred billion stars! This
brightness lasts only a fewhours , the more long term impact being
from the ejected particles and the 'shockwaves' that the explosion
generates.
44
S. Chandrasekhar
In 1054 Chinese and Japanese astronomers recorded sighting a
supernova explosion . In the early stages the star was so bright that
45
it was visible during the day. Now it is not visible to the naked eye
even at night. But photographs show a spectacular picture of the
debris of the explosion. The star is now named the Crab Nebula. In
1987 a supernova we 11 off in the nearby Magellanic clouds. It was
not only well documented by optical astronomers but it was also
detected by a few neutrino laboratories who recorded the early
arrival of neutrinos.
The Crab Nebula is located about.six thousand light years away.
Had it exploded nearby, say within 30 light years from us, its
par ticles, travelling with great force, would have ripped through
the Earth's atmosphere, destroying the layer of ozone gas that
protects us from the deadly ultraviolet rays of the Sun.
Catastrophic though such an explosion would be for us now,
scientists believe that our solar system may have been formed as a
.result of a nearby supernov.a explosion. When describing the
formation of the solar system, this was the ' another event'
that triggered off the contraction of the presolar cloud of gas, for a
supernova explosion releases shock waves which, impinging on a
nearby gas cloud, can set off its contraction.
Thus the death of one star in an explosion can stimulate the birth
of another!
Aftermath of a Star Explosion
When a massive star becomes a supernova and explodes it breaks
into two parts: the inner core and the outer envelope . The ejected
envelope holds the key to an important and practical question:
where do the various chemical elements we see around us. come
from?
For example, take a stainless steel spoon. Wher e did the steel
come from? From an iron and steel plant where iron ore was
46
The Crab . cbula
subjected to chemical treatment. But where did the iron ore come
from? From a mine somewhere in the Earth. How did the iron ore
get there? It must have been part of the existing material when the
Earth formed. Tracing back the history of the spoon we are finally
led to the ultimate source-the supernova.
1.
For , at the time of its explosion the star had already manufac-
tured atomic nuclei ranging from helium to iron. So your stainless
steel spoon was made from a material which was processed deep
inside some star and finally ejected into outer space in a supernova
explosion. It has beef! through a nuclear furnace several billion
'It""at\ "l:t1V"
IRON AN])
STEEL
PLANT
.tt-.
degrees hOI! Elements heavier than iron are also made inside stars
under special conditions.
Four astrophysicists, Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge, William
Fowler and Fred Hoyle have done detailed calculations and found
out how the different chemical elements are cooked within the
stellar furnace. Later we will come across another method of
cooking light elements like deuterium and helium; for it appears
that stars by themselves are not able to deliver all of the helium
observed in the Universe.
Let's get back to the core left behind after the star's explosion. In
the early 1960sit became clear to astronomers that the core by itself
remains as a very compact, very dense star , called the 'neutron
star ' . As its name implies, the star is made up mostly of particles
called neutrons . The neutron star is far denser than the' white
dwarf. The density in its central region is a million billion times the
density of water! A neutron star with as much mass as the Sun may
not be more than 10-15 kilometres in diameter.
But just as Chandrasekhar found that a star cannot exist as a
white dwarf if it is too massive, so do the astrophysicists today find
that a star cannot exist as a neutron star if its mass is more than two
to three times that of the Sun. So if, for example, a supernova
explosion leaves behind a core five times the solar mass, this core
cannot maintain itself as a neutron star. Its strong gravitational pull
inwards will make it shrink more and more. Before we address our
attention to such massive cores, let us ask the more practical
question: "If a neutron star is so small in size how do we observe
it?"
An accidental discovery in 1968 provided the answer . Jocelyn
Bell, a student of radioastronomy at Cambridge University found
in the course of some routine observations that faint but regular
50
pulses from an unknown source were arnvmg through her
telescope . Thepulses came at about 1.3 seconds intervals but were
repeated so precisely that Bell and her mentor A. Hewish first
thought that they might be messages from some distant civiliza-
tion! Closer examination , however , showed that the signals were in
fact coming from a neutron star that was rapidly spinning about an
axis. Because of the regularity of the pulses it came to be called a
'pulsar' . Thus a neutron star may not be 'seen' by an optical
telescope but can be detected as a pulsar by a radio telescope. The
Crab Neb ula is also known to house a pulsar which is the
remaining core of the supernova of that nebula.
Black Holes
But what about supernova cores that are very massive?
According to our present understanding of physics, cores which
are so massive that they cannot maintain themselves as neutron
stars, continue to shrink until they become mere points. But before
they come to this stage, they become what are known as ' black
holes'. To understand what a black hole is, let us digress a little.
, t !
40'
11-12 -67
19" 19"'
The pulse pattern of a pulsar.
- ] 0
20
I , , .
00"
You must have noticed that the harder you throw a ball up i n the
air the higher it goes; but pulled by the gravity of the Earth it
eventually comes down to the ground. Is it possible to toss the ball
up so fast that it never comes down? The answer is, "Yes". The
limiting speed is about 11.2 kilometres per second. Unless you
throw the ball faster than this speed it will come down. This speed
is called the 'escape speed'.
Although even the strongest man on Earth does not have enough
strength to throw a ball up with the escape speed , we have now
made powerful rockets which do. These rockets send up spacecraft
that do not have to come down. In 1972, the spacecraft Pioneer 10
was sent up. By now it has not only left the Earth but even the solar
system.
Of course, the escape speed depends on the strength of the
gravitational pull of the Earth. The Moon's gravitational pull is less
than the Earth 's and therefore the escape speed too is less, in fact a
quarter of that of the Earth. If the Earth was compressed from all
sides, its gravitational pull would increase and it would be
increasingly difficult to make rockets which could send spacecraft
away from the Earth . This is true of any contracting object-as it
shrinks the .speed needed to escape from it increases.
To get back to the shrinking core. A piece of matter when trying
to escape from the core surface will find it increasingly difficult to
do so. In fact, a stage will come during the cont raction when the
escape speed becomes equal to the speed oflight. Beyond this stage
even light will not be able to escape from the surface let alone any
living or non-living object. The shrinking core is then able to pull
back all light trying to escape outwards and so it will not be visible
to an outside observer.
At this stage it becomes a black hole. A shrinking core with five
52
Accretion Disc
Normal Star
Black Hole
Artist's impression of a double star system containing a blackhole. Many believe such a
system exists at the location of the X-ray source Cygnus Xcl . Figure shows that the
matter falling into the black hole forms a disc round it, called the 'accretion disc'.
times the mass of the Sun will become a black hole when its
diameter is only 30 kilometres.
How do we ' see' a black hole if it cannot emit any light? We can
in principle, detect its existence by examining its environment.
For , invisible though it is, the black hule continues to attract other
matter from its surroundings. A black hole revolving around
another star can pull gas from its surface. When falling into the
black hole this gas gets heated and radiates X-rays. Many
astronomers believe that the X-rays coming from a double star
system called the Cygnus X-I are being emitted this way.
Of course, once the limit of three times the solar mass is
exceeded imagination is the limit of a black hole's mass! In Cygnus
53
Photographs of galaxies
andtheirspectra withthe
Hand K absorption lines
of calcium. The linesare
morered-shifted forfain-
ter galaxies and hence
Hubble concluded that
fainter galaxies , being
fanher, recede faster
than the nearer brighter
ones .
X-I the suspected black hole has at least six times the mass of the
Sun and black holes much more massive than this are believed to
exist in the Universe.
The World of Galaxies
Over the last five decades astronomers have found out how stars
are born, how they generate energy and how they manufacture
chemical elements in their cores but they are not yet certain how
galaxies were formed.
A galaxy has many many stars. .Our Galaxy, which has more
than a hundred billion stars is neither very small nor very large
when compared to other galaxies. Galaxies, like stars, are often
found in clusters and it is likely that clusters of galaxies were
formed from gas clouds just as clusters of stars were also formed.
However, we have not yetbeen able to explain the different shapes,
masses and composition of galaxies. '
A curious and puzzling feature about galaxies is that, whether
.singly or in clusters, they seem to contain a lot more (say, ten times
more) unseen matter in and around them than is visible through
stars, gas and dust. This dark matter is most probably different
from the stuff we are familiar with, e.g. atoms, neutrons, protons,
etc.
Radio astronomers have found galaxies which are powerful
radiators of radio waves. Cygnus-A, discovered in the late 1940s, is
one of the strongest radio sources.
A typical radio source is like a dumb-bell with two blobs of
strong radio emission located on two sides of a galaxy. Often there
is also a small core that emits radio waves in-between the two
blobs , Sophisticated telescopes have revealed jet-like structures
emerging from the core towards the outer blobs. Scientists are now
56
Computer reconstruction of a jet in a radio source.
convinced that plasma at fast speeds is ejected from the central
core in jet-like fashion and somehow starts radiating after it collides
with the tenuous intergalactic gas in the neighbou rhood of the
galaxy.
Then in 1963 'quasi-stellar objects' -also called 'quasars' were
discovered. As the name implies, these objects look like stars but
they are much more powerful. The first quasar to be discovered,
3C-273 may be more powerful than our Galaxy, as far as light
emission is concerned. A small percentage of quasars are radio
sources also and have a double structure like the typical radio
source.
57
Most astronomers believe that quasars are very far away. Since
even from great dislances they appear so bright, they must be
powerful radiators of energy.
What is the source of the quasar's energy?
Quasars radiate at a powerful rate but unlike the Sun and other
stars they radiate from such a small region of space that nuclear
energy is not able to account for their extraordinary brightness.
Most astronomers believe that the clue to the quasar's energy lies
in gravity. Fred Hoyle and William Fowler in 1963 were of the
opinion that a very massive object shrinking under its own gravity
The quasar 3C-273.
could somehow act as a source of the quasar' s energy. Today, the
same idea is associated with the black hole. A massive black hole, a
hundred million times the mass of the Sun, is needed to power a
quasar like the 3C-273 . But even here, the demands on the
efficiency of the energy source are very great and we do not know
whether nature permits processes working with such high effi-
ciency.
How did the Universe Begin?
Difficulties of finding answers have never deterred man from
asking deep questions . We do not yet know how galaxies and
quasars ' were created. But we have hopes that science will
event ually provide the answer. . . So what about the ultimate
question: "How and when was the Universe created?"
Hubble' s law states that the Universe, as seen at present is
expanding. The galaxies in it are muving away from each other.
Can we use this information to piece together a historical account
of what the Universe was like in the past and to predict what it
will be like in the future?
We can, using Einstein's general theory of relativity, determine
the history and fate of the Universe and the following picture
emerges:
Some ten billion years ago there was a gigantic explosion, often
called 'the big bang', which heralded the origin of the Universe.
The Universe was extremely hot at the time of creation and had
zero volume! But it started expanding and cooling. In its early
moments it was dominated by radiation and gradually subatomic
particles began to appear in it. What we normally identify with
matter began to appear when the Universe was a few billion-
billion-billion-billion part of a second old and, when the Universe
59
was less than three minutes old, the nuclei of helium, deuterium
and other light elements were formed from these subatomic
particles . The Universe during this early hot phase was much more
efficient than stars in producing helium. It could not, however ,
produce heavier chemical elements like carbon, oxygen, etc. These
elements had to be made in stars .
As the Universe got older and cooler , galaxies began to form in
it, but we don't yet know how. Today the Universe is about ten
billion years old, and we do not know how long it will keep on
expanding and getting cooler. Einstein' s tlieory holds out two
possible alternatives. The first is that the Universe will expand for
ever while 'the other is that the Universe will slow down and come
to a halt and then contract until it merges back into a point
(- sometimes called the ' big crunch'). Neither of these two
alternatives need cause us any immediate concern since they will
happen billions of years later!
Dowe have any direct evidence that the Universe origi nated in a
big bang? No; but we have circumstantial evidence. Indeed George
Gamow had predicted in 1950that if the Universe has cooled down
from an early hot state, we should then see some radiation that is
the relic of the hot beginning. Of course, the radiation is expected
to be very cold today.
In 1965 Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson did find evidence for
such an all-pervading cool radiation. This radiation is mainly in
microwaves and has a temperature of about 3 degrees on the
absolute scale. (The absolute zero of temperature is equal to -273
0
on the Celsius scale. So we can say that the present temperature of
the Universe is _270
0
Celsius!) Penzias and Wilson received the
1978 1 obel Prize for this discovery.
While the rnaioritv of astronomers accept this 'relic' inrerpreta-
60
Penzias and Wilson in front of their microwave antenna that led to the
discovery of the all-pervading microwave radiation.
non of the radiation, there are still some outstanding difficulties
WIIh this scenario. For example, II is a mystery that the microwave
background IS found to be so smooth. If it is a relic of the early
epochs why does II not carry clear imprints of the events that led to
61
the formation of galaxies? And so, the question as to whether the
Universe originated in a big bang has been answered in the
affirmative by the majority but not by all astronomers. Indeed
some people (including this author) take the view that the question
of the origin of the Universe is so profound that man will never
fully understand its solution.
That, however, need not prevent us from advancing our
knowledge of the Universe further by using more and more
sophisticated observing techniques and with improved under-
standing of the laws of physics. Indeed, with many more
sophisticated telescopes in the offing, our viewof the Universe is in
for dramatic improvement .
The Journey's End
Our celestial journey has taken us from the planets in our
immediate vicinity to vast cosmic energy sources billions of light
years away. With the help of science man has been able to solve
many of the mysteries sur rounding these heavenly bodies although
much still remains to be explored.
Inour tour of the cosmos we sawseveral things such as, how and
why the planets move round the Sun, the sequence of forms a star
goes through in the course of its life, how the chemical elements we
see around us are manufactured in the cosmos. We also caught a
glimpse of the vast world of galaxies that li es beyond the Milky
Way, the fantastic concentration of energy in objects like quasars,
the systematic way in which the Universe is expanding, and so on.
With the aid of careful observation theoretical astronomers have
come up with such interesting concepts as the black hole and the
big bang. But to the scientist exploring the cosmos the most
exciting discovery is the evidence that this vast cosmos appears to
62
be governed by basic laws of science, some of which he already
knows. Why thi s is so is still a mystery. As Albert Einstein put it,
"The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is
comprehensible".
On this note we end our journey of the Universe.
Printed at : Impress Offset, E-I7, Sector-", ~ o i d a
/j
f
ISBN 81-237-0026-1
'-'-"-=--'--' NATIONALBOOK TRUST, INDIA

Acknowledgements
Permission is gratefullyacknowledged from the following sources for the illustrations appearing on
the pages indicated : Associated Universities Inc. National Radio Astronomy Observatories © 1978 photograph by Richard A. Perley and Anthony G. Willis (p . 57), BeU Telephone Laboratories, Holmdale, N.J. (p. 6)), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (p . 12), MoUht Wilson and Las Campanas Observatories, Carnegie Institutionof Washington (pp . 22, 38), Professor S. Naranan (p. 4), National Aeronautics

and SpaceAdministration tp. 18below), National OpticalAstronomy Observatories(pp. 23,24,58), Palomar Observatory. California Institute of Technology (pp . 8, 28, 47, 54-55), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, photographs by Bharat Upadhyaya (pp. 16, 18, 45), line drawings by Drawing Office Sta!T (pp. s, 15, 21, 33, 39, 42).

ISBN 81-237-0026-1 First Edition 1986 Revised Edition 1992 Sixth Reprint 2004 (Saka 1926) © ]ayant Narlikar, 1986 Pub lished by the Director, National Book Trus t

Ancient Hindu concepts of the Universe are depicted _

here. It showsthe Earth as resting on elephants resting on
a turtle which . . in cum , rests on a cobra.

_ The ' Maya Stele' , showing dates carved 0 0. stone. The Mayan civilization used the 36S-day calendar based on

the Sun.

Nehru Bal Pustakalaya

A JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNIVERSE
JAYANT NARLIKAR
Cartoons

Sudhir Dar

NATIONAL BOOK TRUST, INDIA

The central figure is Archimedes. in which -the Earth floats like a ship on water.The concept of the Universe based on the idea of the Greek philosopher Thales (640-550 Bc). .

It has inspired poets and artists to great heights of creativity. And it can well claim to be the oldest of sciences. And.. . right from the earliest times. show how man tried to work out the pattern behind the somewhat chaotic movements of a handful of heavenly bodies called the planets . man has puzzled over these questions and tried to work out logical answers to them . The science of astronomy was born out of this curiosity. What are these twinkling points of light that we call stars? Are they all alike? How far away are they from us? Why do they shine? What is the status of the most spectacular of heavenly bodies. We find evidence of such attempts from the archaeological remains of ancient civilizations such as those of Egypt. . China and India .A JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNIVERSE Astronomy T hrough the Ages The star-studded sky on a clear night is a spectacular sight. Babylon. the Sun and the Moon? . if you are extra curious you may also wonder whether or not there are other objects out there which we cannot see with our eyes. philosophers and religious leaders have spent their lives contemplating the starry heavens and wondering about man's place in the vast universe. For. Over the ages. But the most common feeling that the sight inspires is one of curiosity. Manuscripts which have come down from the ancient Greek civilization of more than two thousand years ago.

the smallest one in the picture shows that even the Pole Star is not fixed . from east to west. First. Instead of being 'stuck to' this revolving celestial sphere . This is the Pole Star that lies towards the nort h. they seemed to have additional motions of their own. It is slightly off the Earth's rotation axis. however. T he planets. This is what you If we expose a film to a clear sky throughout the night the star-trajectories appear as circular arcs. as a rule . a sphere that rotates from east to west around a line joining our position to the Pole Star. as the Sun does. did not fit into the scheme so well. If all the stars were stuck onto this sphere. which does not seem to move at all. you will see tha t stars. There is one star. they would appear to go round this line. . rise in the east and set in the west. Now imagine that the night sky is a gigantic sphere with ourselves at its centre. however. This is the picture the Greeks had constructed in describing stars.What is so special about planets? You can find out for yourself if you watch the night sky for several months.

Hipparchus and Ptolemy. you look at the positions of the planets Venu s and Mars in relation to other stars . The answer was not easy or quick .influence on human destiny.however.will find if. Why do planets wander ? When confronted with this question human beings found two very different answers : one based on science. for example. T his patt ern . and in no fixed pattern . . But those with a scientific bent of mind tried to understand why planets move in this way. appeared complicated because the Greeks had a stubborn belief that the Earth is fixed in space and that everyth ing goes round it. This explains the name 'planet' which means 'wanderer' in Greek . The loops in the pictu re indicate the obse rved forward and retrograde motions of planets. Thes e planets appear to change their positions . the other on superstition . About two thousand years ago the Greek astronomers. T he superstitious believed that planets wander because they have some 'extra power' which is denied to stars: and out of this belief arose 'astrology'. Astrology assumes that planets are 'powerful' and exert their . In the sixteenth century Nicolaus Copernicus showed that the pattern of this planetary movement looked much 'simpler if planets (including our Earth) are assumed The planetary trajectories appear haphazard when seen against the backdrop of distant stars. demonstrated that there is a pattern in the movement of planets.

By 1687 with Newton's laws of motion and gravitation the movements of planets were explained accurately and today the astronomer can predict where a certain planet will be found at any given time in the future. Aryabhata had stated that the Earth is not fixed. the Indian astronomer. thanks to the researches of Galileo.to move around a fixed Sun . But his ideas were greeted with hostility. that it was well established that planets move round the Sun. But so great was the Greek influence in scientific matters even in India that Aryabhata's correct reasoning did not receive support even from his disciples and successors. in the fifth century. Kepler and Newton. . It was only in the seventeenth century. As in the case of the movement of planets man's surveys of the universe over the centuries have revealed many strange Nicolaus Copernicus. Earlier . but revolves around a north-south axis and this was why stars appeared to rise and set.

Indeed . explained why the planets move in this way. To understand ' these mysteries. 7 . it was Galileo in Italy who was the first to put it to use for astronomical observations. Let us begin our exploration of the un iverse . but it has limitations regarding how clearly it can see and how faint an object it can detect. But first let us look at .p -----c--------~--_l A s Johannes Kepler established that a typical planet (P) moves in an elliptical orbit with the Sun (5) at one of the two foci of the-ellipse. phenomena. Even the human eye forms images on the retina by the same optical principles.these tools. our many questions about the heavens have received reasonably satisfactory answers from the laws of science known to us today . Later Isaac Newton's lawof gravitation. man' s best tool has been science. armed with the tools provided by science. observer. (S' is the other focus) Kepler's laws tell hot» the planet moves on this track. a telescope makes use of curved reflecting surfaces and/or lenses to bend the light rays from a distant source in such a way that its clear and magnified image is formed closer to the. Basically. Astronomical Telescopes Although the telescope was invented by Ha ns Lippershey in Holland.

the astronomer is able to get photographs of faint nebulae which are otherwise invisible to the human eye.When you look at a tree in the distance you cannot make out its individual leaves.- :::.X_ :~= -=~~~ -F~~~~_. The largest telescope using visible light is in Russia. by exposing a photographic plate to the light coming through a telescope for several hours. The dottedlinesare raysof light from a distant star which are reflected by the large concave mirror M and .- - - - - - - - - ~ - - - - - - - -. Star ~ - - - - Star _ - - - - )::~~. In the same way a large telescope can collect and focus light more effectively and therefore help us to see things that the human eye cannot see. although the largest working telescope is the Hale Telescope at Mount Palomar in southern California in the USA. : -~ - . Thediagram illustrates how a reflecting telescope works . The telescope therefore increases the clarity of the object under study.- - . Galileo was able to discover the four nearest satellites of the planet Jupiter by studying the planet through his newly acquired telescope. In astronomical jargon we say that the telescope has improved the 'resolution'. Thus .that are not visible to the naked eye. A telescope 'brings the tree closer' and enables you to see the leaves clearly. . .then brought into focus to form a bright and clear image at I. Today 's telescopes are far bigger and vastly superior to the one Galileo used... He also discovered sunspots-the dark patches on the bright disc of the Sun.

Moreover. It is now planned to make even larger 'next generation' telescopes. Te chnical pr oblems make the building of very large telescopes difficult. This telescope has a main mirror with a diameter of five metres. The mirror also gets distorted by 9 . The galaxy is not visib le to the human eye. if the mirror 'dish' is very large it tends to sag under its own weight.This illustration of the galaxy was obtained by exposing the photographic plate for several hours. (Have you seen your image in a mirror with an uneven surface?) To get this kind of precision the mirror has to be ground very carefully and very fine. Extreme precision is needed in the entire system if the astro nomer is to trust the image that is formed by the telescope.

It uses high precision electronics to combine the six images formed by its six component mirrors into an even clearer and brighter single image. These effects are small for small size mirrors. Indeed . So. The light collected by the MMT's six mirrors is therefore equal to the light collected by an ordinary telescope with a single mirror of about 4. The next generation telescopes will have effective diameters from 8-16 metres. California. nowadays many astronomers prefer building smaller mirrors which are linked together . We can call it the effectivediameter of the telescope.temperature changes during . whatever model is chosen for a future telescope.5 metre diameter. USA. is the first telescope of this kind. . Palomar. electronic devices will play a dominant role in processing the The Hale Telescope at Mt.night and day. The multi-mirror telescope (MMT) at Mount Hopkins in Arizona.

it can form an image of the object on the computer terminal.inform ation that is brought by the light from an astronomical object through the telescope. it can control the various instruments attached to the telescope to make various technical measurements and present them in the required way.3 metre Vainu Bappu Telescope at Kavalur in south India houses an electronic computer as an indispensable astronomical accessory. and so on . How can a computer help the astronomer? It can help him guide the telescope accurately in the direction of the distant star or galaxy. 11 . That is why the new 2.

Hopkins. Arizona. The new telescope at Kavalur. south India.The multi-mirror telescope at Mt. .

. COSMOS is one such computer facility. Modern technology has provided him with other resources also. does not confine himself to telescopes using visible light. however.Today's astronomer. Astronomical images can be formed on the screens of computer terminals linked to the telescope.

q ------ --:::::===- . so do these dist ur bances. The ' wavelengt h of visib le ligh t lies in the ran ge 400-800 nanometres.that light is an electromagnetic wave . [ustas a pebble when dropped into a pond produces waves on the water surface .they go up and down in intens ity with pe rfect regularity. If we divide th e length of one metre into a thousand million equal parts . so too is light produced by a source-a wave which shows rapidly changing levels of electric and magnetic disturbances. The distance over which the patt ern repeats itself is called th e 'wavelength' of the wave. T he light which th e human eye perceives has a very short wavelength .Radioastronomy More than a hundred years ago the Scottish physicist [ames Clerk Maxwell established an important fact. each part wou ld be called a nanornctre. And. just as a wave pattern repeats itself.

yellow. the important aspect of Maxwell's findings for astronomy is contained in the que stion : "What sort oflight is described by waves whose wavelengths do not fall in the 400-800 nm band?" For .violet. But . Telescopes using visible light are called 'optical' telescopes. indigo. blue. Radio programmes are transmitted over 'radio waves' that have much longer wavelengths than the waves of visible light. When you listen to a medium-wave programme on 25 metres. We do it everyday-for example. Ked has the longest wavelength and violet.Electric d isturban ce Direction of propagation Magnetic dis turba nce A schematic picture of an electromagnetic wave. orange and red have light waves of different wavelengths but within the range of 400-800 nanometres. the shortes t. The waves denote the undulating strengths of the electric and magnetic disturbances. Can we. The first scientist to appreciate the importance of radio waves for astronomy was Karl Jansky in the 1930s. our eyes do not respond to it . Just as optical telescopes help us obtain important information about sources of visible light 15 . detect its existence in some other way? The answer is "yes" . if such light exists. however . green. when we switch on the radio. Th e different colours of the rainbow. this programme is brought to you by electromagnetic waves of 25 metres wavelength .

in the universe .huge radio telescopes are found all over the world. It will have 30 dishes of 45 metre diameter spread over an area of several square kilometres. radiotelescopes tell us about the emitters of radio waves in the universe . Ootacamund in south India is more than half a kilometre long. Although it is barely fifty years since Jansky made the first radio detector. but they have also linked them across continents so as to improve 16 . The world 's largest radio telescope at metre wavelengths is being built at Narayangaon near Pune. The big radio telescope at The array of antennae that constitute the Ooty telescope. technology has advanced so rapidly that now. Radioastronomers have not only built large individual telescopes.

At a modest level detectors are sent up in balloons and rockets but at a more ambitious level. ultraviolet. hut it can be 10 times more efficient than the ground based telescopes. This telescope mainly uses visible light. the Earth is surrounded by a gaseous layer of atmosphere that absorbs these waves coming from outer space. Do we have telescopes for them too? We do.000 kilometres! In the development of radioastronomy too electronics has contributed enormously. we have to set up our detectors above the atmosphere. For . If we want to detect these waves. 17 . This is called 'image processing'. Computers are used to construct visible images of a radiosource by ascribing different colours to its different parts according to their brightness. but not on the surface of the Earth . X-rays and gamma rays. In the 1970s and 1980s many satellites with such detectors were launched and brought back new information about our universe. Encouraged by these successes the space agencies of the USA and Europe have now joined hand s in sending forth a space telescope. T he resolution achieved by a VLBI is like observing two points one centimetre apart clearly and distinctl y made out from a distance of 1. Space-astronomy Besides rad io waves and visible light waves there are other types of waves with varying wavelengths such as microwaves.their accuracy and resolution. infrared .much like a geography map in which mountain ranges of different heights are shown by different colours . This kind of linked telescope system is called a Very Long Baseline Interfero meter (VLBI). detectors can be placed in a satellite that goes round the Earth. Space technology enables us to do this.

Balloon launching at Hyderabad . The space telescope launched in 1990. The det ector on the X-ray satellite UHURU launched in 1972. .

Now . But let us continue our journey in stages . (It would be like using centimetres to measur e the distan ce between Bom bay and Del hi!) We . use the 'light year ' . therefore. to the inhabitant s of the planet Earth the most spectacular object in the sky is the Sun . Of course. So light travels a distance of nearly 10 million million kilometres in one year. Y. T wo of these planets are nearer the Sun than the Eart h and the other six lie further away. 19 .Thus. Pluto is about 39 AU away from the Sun . Not all the stars seen in the sky are at the same distance from us.00. the Sun controls the movements of not only the Eart h but eight other planets as well . but it is too small for distances to stars . One astronomical un it (AU) equals the distance between the Sun and the Eart h . man's advances in technology continue to help him in his searc h for the answer to the ultimate question: "What is our Universe like?" Let us now turn our attention to the answer provided by our present-day tools . you know that light travels at a speed of about 3.) is the distance travelled by light in one year. Abeut 150 million kilometres from us.0 00 kilometres per second. What is the Universe like? We start our journey from the Earth . The AU is a good unit of measurement within the solar system . Astronomers have a special unit called the 'astronomical unit' to measure distances with in the solar system. One light year (L. In a year there are nearly 30 million seconds. Enormous though this figure seems. we will find that even the light year is too small a unit to measure the size of the Universe . The outermost planet of the solar system .

61 I 0.002 58.86 29.050 6.4 0.81 1.439 6.540 24.600 1500 0.62 6.1 39.378 3.52 5.01 164.20 9.056 0. 11 318 95 15 17 0.394 71.4 1.400 23.46 84.2 30.88 0.7 243 0.TABLE Some facts about planets around the Sun Planet Radius M ass (Compared co the Ea rth's mass') Length of the day (in E arthdays) Length of the y ear (in Earth y ears) Distance from the Sun in AU' Number of moons (in kilometres ) Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus 2.24 0.39 0.496 million kilometres Earth mass =6 million million million million kilogrammes .880 60.00 0.5 2 16 17 5 2 2 Neptune Pluto .72 I 1.4 11.55 19.43 0.43 0. AU = Astronomical Unit = 1.79 248.

In deed. not because their light is less powerful but because they are so far away. other stars are even further away. How far do we have to travel to get to the furthest star that we see? Let us look at this question somewhat differently. stars appear faint compared to the Sun. First we have to realize that the Sun itself is a star. but the same bulb seen from far away appears to be a mere point oflight. show a contin uous white band. The nearest star Proxima Centauri. There are dark patches within the white band . And. A 6O-watt bulb appears bright in your room at night. This white band is called the Milky Way. In the same way. The Galaxy looks like a flattened bun with a small bulge at the centre. of course. We are located at the arrow about two-thirds of the way distant from the centre of the Galaxy. Astronomical photographs of the Milky Way and other parts of the sky do not . Astronomers have now found out that the solar system and all the stars we see are part of a gigantic group called the Galaxy. however . we see those stars that are more densely concentrated in a band going round us.000 million) . and the entire system has more than one hundred billion stars (I billion = I . is about 4 1/ 4 light years away from us.as the ancient Greeks believed. there are stars which are so faint that we cannot see them with our eyes but can only see their images on photographic plates taken through a telescope. Its diameter is 100. It looks so bright to 'us because we are so close to it. 21 . Y. For a long time astronomers Schematic picture of our Galaxy.000 1. Since the Earth is a part of the system. So when you glimpse this star you see it as it was 4'/4 years ago.

thought that the dark patches were due to an absence of stars. The telescopes of the twentieth century also proved wrong 22 . or indu strial smog. This impression was wrong. This is why light from a source gets progressively reddened as it moves away from the source and the nature of reddening can tell the astronomer what kind of dust is responsible for it. dust between the stars curtails what the earthbound astronomer can see . the Galaxy contains a small amount of gas and dust and these tend to absorb starlight and lessen the range of one's vision. Light of short wavelengths (blue and violet colours) tends to be absorbed and scattered more than light of long wavelengths (red in colour). cuts down visibility. These dark patches are caused by pollution of the Galaxy! Apart from stars. How much of a star's light is absorbed en route to us depends on the absorbing material and the wavelength of the light .Montage of the Milky Way made up from photographs taken in different directions. Just as thick fog.

we have to travel about 80. at a distance of about 30. Our solar system is not located at the centre of the Galaxy. from the Galactic Centre.another long-held belief.000 L.-if we wish to go right through the Galactic Centre to the other side. What will we find when we have crossed the Galaxy? A spiral galaxy. .000 L. .Y. rather it is situated two-thirds of the way out.Y . Galaxy. So if we want to go to the furthest star in our Galaxy. just as Copernicus dethroned the Earth from the 'centre of the Universe' so did astronomers like Harlow Shapley dethrone the Sun from any privileged position in the. Thus.

Our Galaxy is not at the centre of the Universe . 24 . Telescopes show that there are galaxies like ours all over the Universe .An elliptical galaxy. Many galaxies have spiral shapes with two or more arms (containing more densely packed stars) winding out like a spring . It was in the mid -1920s that we got to know about the rich world of galaxies. shaped like eggs. Here again. quite a few are elliptical. thanks largely to improved techniques of observation. while some show no definite pattern or shape. another cherished belief has been disproved. Indeed galaxies come in various sizes and shapes. and there is nothing special about our Galaxy.

Hu bble found that all these galaxies are running away from us! And the farther away a galaxy is the faster does it speed away. Suppose the engine 1. .And . known as the Doppler effect. To understand this effect let us take the example of a railway train rushing through a station at great speed. How can an astronome r measure the speed of a remote star or galaxy? He is able to do this because of a property of waves. Wilson Observatory near Los Angeles made a remarkable discovery . ~ --- " _ : 2. -- . by the end of the twenties Edwin Hubble from Mt.

The Dopplereffect operates by the decreaseof wavelength of sound from an approaching source (the successive waves are closely spaced) and increase of wavelength from a receding source (the waves are spaced apart) . This happens because sound travels in waves.~-------- ... To a man standing on the platform the whistle sounds very shrill when the engine is coming in and somewhat flat when it moves away. and when these waves are sent out by an approaching source their pitch goes up. when they come from a receding source the pitch goes down . Applied to light waves. of the train blows its whistle continuously as it dashes past. The increase in wavelength is in proportion to the speed with which the source is 26 . the Doppler effect means that the wavelength of light from a receding source increases .""'!l""1-H'-/4+i-t•.

telling us how light waves of different wavelengths make up the total light from the source. radiation.moving away. of each galaxy he observed . Hubble found dark lines in the spectra of galaxies and by measuring their wavelengths he was able to identify that they were due to the atoms of calcium. these lines occurred at wavelengths longer than expected.the lines were shif ted towards the red end of the spectrum. The dark lines indicate absorption of light while the bright ones Indicate emission. He found that the phenomenon of red shift (as it is called) is universal and that the extent of shift is greater for fainter galaxies. However . In the 1920s Hubble used this effect in the following way: Just as sunlight splits into several colours when passed through a prism . The specific wavelengths at which the dar k or bright lines occur can therefor~ tell the astronomer the type of atom causing them. Hubble concluded that the farther a galaxy is the 'faster does it recede from us. From this we now know that individual atoms have characteristic wavelengths at which they either absorb or emit . Atomic theory tells us that the dark lines occur when the light from the source is absorbed en route by cool atoms while the bright lines come from atoms that radiate at high temperatures. 27 . The splitting produces a 'spectrum' of the object . there are also dark and bright lines. In addition to the continuous range of colours from red to violet found in the typical spectrum. With the help of the Doppler effect Hubble was able to work out the speed of motion away from us . Assuming that the fainter the galaxy the more distant it is. T he Doppler effect for light waves is thus useful to the astronomer in finding out whether the source of light is approaching or moving away. so does the light from a remote star or a galaxy.

dA/ A.. we would notice the same thing : other galaxies would be seen moving away from our new vantage point...000 U-sa ~.I-ITI III .000 xm e" ..000 II-' ." -- III _ . The lines are more red-shifted for fain..400.-- .000 V.000 km s -' 2.000 km s. .000. 500. of course.. there is nothing special about our Galaxy.. ". .r~cl""....960. .000 -...._ _ 1 Known as Hubble's law. .. tf $0 1I t1/_ .000 .. It led to the idea that the Universe is 'expanding'.. .' I II 1 I ii ' II I -i i I Photographs of galaxie s and their spectra with the H andK absorption lines of calcium.. OItt..llMIlctt. Hydra A.rC 1.....Cl uster nebula i n Distan ce in li g ht-y ears 78.000..H+K Hedstutts I.000. 0.Iodll" . If we were to look at the Universe from another galaxy. ' I 1..eI...Illl It.."It.000...I I 111 11 I II I II I 1 ' 1' ' III Borealis Corona 22.. 'I I I II I I ..• "11_'..... recede faster than the nearer brighter ones.. .... f1.. ter galaxies and hence Hubble concluded that fainter galaxies.lit·..SX10.... "lfl ~ botll • •S " 11119" . .. " 1M ..fI.. . ) .- Bootes 3... ". 61.000 km e" • • • 28 1.. this conclusion dramatically changed our view of the Universe..1al o r -----_.' .000 11-' . And .000...-I I I._ .. _ t. " " . . liRA H. . the galaxies are moving away from one another much like the dots on a balloon that is inflated. being farther.. _ 39... •.tIIU.200 km 9-' I II II I II I II I III I I" I II ' 15.

The expansion of the Universe can be compared to the expanding surface of a balloon that is being inflated. So far there is no evidence that there is a limit to the Universe. We begin with our own environmentthe solar system. that by now the galaxy may not be there at all! So if we venture out of our Galaxy the chances are that we will meet more and more galaxies as we travel on for billions of light years.How far does this expansion extend? With our present telescopes.Y. when an astronomer photographs a galaxy one billion L. away. he is seeing it as it was one billion years ago. The dots G1 . Gz. G3 move away from one another as the balloon expands. which is up to distances of several billion L. The limit is rather on what we can see and how much we • can understand. Let us examine how far we have succeeded in unravelling the mysteries of the Universe.Y. It is quite likely. Thus. • . the answer is "as far as we can see".

(It is believed that there was also another event which may have been responsible for triggering off this contraction. However. The stone is held back due to the tension in the string which counters the centrifugal force. In the case of the contracting cloud . another factor had to be taken into consideration . the planets . The Infra Red Astronomy Satellite (IRAS) launched in 1983 succeeded in discovering such protoplanetary discs around a few nearby stars like beta pictoris. If you tie a small stone to a string and whirl it round. Current findings suggest the following picture: It is believed that the Sun. their satellites and other smaller components of the solar system were formed from a cloud of gas. Scientists also believe that magnetic effects played an important 30 . This tendency to fly away is caused by the centrifugal force. the stone tends to fly away from the axis of rotation . the gravity was not sufficient to hold back the gaseous material. Initially the cloud was very large and cold. which therefore tended to fly away from the axis of rotation . But before long its different components began to attract each other because of the force of gravitation and the cloud thus began to shri nk. with the pre-solar cloud . We will look at this event later. The result was that the cloud did not shrink uniform ly from all dir ections: it shrank along the axis of rotation and flattened out perpendicular to it.Origin of the Solar System How was our solar system created? A complete answer is not yet known. This revolution brought into play a further force-the 'centrifugal force' . T hus it took the shape of a disc surrou nding a central hulge .) Normally a contracting ball of gas shrinks in size from all directions . The cloud was revolving aroun d an axis.

I. the central bulge shrank further to form a star that we call the Sun while the disc broke up into lumps that became planets .1 ( ( . - /1/ .role during the contraction. T. The y slowed down the rotation of the central bulge and increased it on the outer parts of the disc. .hese effects also led to the disc spreading out much farther than it would otherwise have done . 1/////1 / //1/1. This tendency is described by the centrifugal force . Weli.1 / .'(. ~I/ 1.~!II/I../I. the stone will move outwards . i/ I Should the string tied to the stone break.

First . the stars (like our Sun) are very hot. Imagine various gases moving out from a central region which is very hot. . The Different Types of Stars Paradoxically. So it is likely that the two formed independently and that the Moon somehow got trapped by the Earth's gravitational pull and became its satellite. By measuring the fraction of radioactive elements in rocks on the Earth as well as in meteorites (tiny pieces of matter moving round in the solar system) scientists estimate that the age of the solar system is around 4. At high temperatures of several thousand degrees . etc.600 million years. hydrogen. which are the basic building 32 . Those which solidified at high temperatures became the nearby planets. matter can exist only in very simple form for at these temperatures atoms. one of the nearby planets. The chemical composition of the planets depended largely on how far they were from the central ball of fire. As they moved outwards they cooled. because when gas is compressed it heats up . therefore has a predominant share of metals while more distant planets like Jupi ter or Saturn are made up largely of helium . There are two reasons for this . scientists seem to know more about the stars which are far away than about the planets of our own solar system. while those which retained their gaseous form at low temperatures became the more distant planets. The Earth being . Was the Moon an off-shoot of the Earth or did it form independently? The samples of lunar soil taken during the many expeditions to the Moon suggest that the Moon's make-up is very different from that of the Earth .The central bulge became considerably hotter than the disc .

the 'plasma'.. A study of the plasma at high temperatures is easier than that of more complicated atoms and molecules in solid or liquid form at low temperatures . <...- -: G Ion . How this helps the astronomer can be understood with this imaginary example : 33 .- / Plasma ~0 Electron In a bound atom of hydrogen the negatively charged electron moves round the positively charged proton. cannot retain their structure . ---. The stars are therefore made of positively charged ions and negatively charged electrons form ing a mixture. blocks of matte r.. . '\ \ / I I \ \ 8 / ~ I ~ Bound Atom / -..... In a high temperature plasma the two opposite charges are no longer bound. The second reason why the study of stars is simpler is that there are so many of them .-- <.. What is left are 'ions' which also move freely. They get stripped of their electrons which move freely .... -.. / / / --. / .

could do this. One is to go to a maternity hospital .. There are two ways it . see a child being born t nd then observe its life in detail. . . This way our visitor will know only about one human being and that too after watching him or her for several decades.'~ ~ r- MAiERNITY WARD !I I( II . . studying one human being will not give a correct picture of the variety of the hum an population on this planet. This is time-consuming and not very accurate . . -. . for. .-----.Suppose an intelligem being from outer space visits the Earth and wants to find out about human beings.

the astronomer needs to know the physical characteristics of stars.say the population of a town . devised a good way of classifying stars in a diagram. just as human beings are not all alike. after its inventors. weights and other physical characteristics . And. This will provide information about men and women of different ages. Two astronomers . their heights.N . how big are they? How hot is their surface? What are the chemical elements on their surface? What are their masses? Due to the many observational techniques available today and to our greater understanding of the basic laws of science. of course. For this. Russell.The second method is to survey a group of human beings. In the same way by studying the different types of stars in a group the astronomer can form a fairly accurate picture of how stars are born. Hertzsprung and H . This is a better method. This diagram is called the H-R diagram . we now know the answers to these questions. In the H-R diagram it is the convention to plot the stars cooler than the Sun to its right and those hotter to its left. and certainly more effective than looking at only one star. The diagram plots a graph in which the horizontal (x) axis shows the temperature of the surface of the star while the vertical (y) axis indicates the total quantity of energy coming from the star per second. get old and die. The Sun's surface temperature is abou t 5500° Celsius while its luminosity (quantity of light emitted per second) is two hundred million million million megawatts. how they change with' time and how they die. stars in a cluster exhibit variety. grow up. E . When such a plot is made for stars in a cluster the following pattern usually emerges: a band of points stretches from the top left hand corner (hot and bright stars) to the 35 . Such a study gives an idea of how human beings are born.

. • . 0' BO ... ~.. " c" . A '..-" \ ~~ . The absolute magnitude and spectral typelcolour index indicate [he star's luminosity and surface temperature respectively...-- .· " 0"l":_r.. - + 10 o . . .... o . ... . G ..··. . +5 . ..&> ~ 3! o on - o "n .:..". As we shall see. . .0 ·2 85 . ".. -. Red . because they are much larger than a main sequence star like the Sun .. . 36 .. there are a few 'white dwarfs' below the main sequence . a star spends most of its life on the main sequence ... . " S. .. . The Sun's position is shown by S...M.: "-? . " . Similarly.. . o ... .-- . bottom right hand corner (cool and faint stars). This band is called the 'main sequence' .-- ----. because their surface has a reddish tinge: giant . There are some stars outside the main sequence on the top right hand corner. AD 0 -0 FO GO 0 ·6 KO tAO M 'S 1-6 Spectral type/Colour ind e x A typical H-R diagram. These are bright but cool and are called 'red giants' . .

It is the 37 . However. the process of star formation may not be confined to only one star at a time. As in the case of the Sun. The star must be able to generate enough energy to keep shining. The Biography of a Star Let's look at the life of a star from the time of its birth from a dark cloud of gas. We will now see how a star changes its appearance as it grows old and thereby moves its position on this diagram. Imagine instead. Astronomers have found several dark clouds made predominantly of hydrogen in our Galaxy. so a typical star condenses from a contracting cloud . the shrinking ball of gas begins to heat up and eventually becomes hot enough to shine . When exactly is a star born? A clue to the answer lies in the most visible property of a star: its shine. From studying the physical details of star formation we know that in its early stages the star radiates more heat in infrared waves. there is more to a star than just its shine . The se sub-units are small enough to retain their identity and eventually condense into stars. in some of which the 'process of star formation is still going on. Indeed. a gigantic cloud containing enough matter to form a thousand stars. How does a star form? We already know the answer in the case of the Sun. shrinking under its force of gravity.The H-R diagram has been very useful in putting together the biography of a star. Just as the Sun was formed from a shrinking cloud of gas. The large cloud cannot retain a coherent shape throughout this process and at some stage it begins to break up into smaller bits. In fact. the detection of such waves in the Orion Nebula confirmed that new stars are still being born there .

S. when Eddington made this startling 38 . Man has always wondered where it gets the energy for its radiation. same with the Sun.The Orion Nebula is a region where new stars are believed to have come into existence recently. its central temperature is considerably higher-going up to several million degrees! In the 1920s. This question was finally answered about 50 to 60 years ago. Eddington studied the internal structure of a star and concluded that though the outside temperature of a star is about a few thousand degrees. which is also a star. The Cambridge astrophysicist A.

./1 Fusion 8 Helium Nucleus + Energy H + Energy Schematic diagram illustrating nuclear fission and fusion. There is an important difference. In this process energy is released. known as 'nuclear fission' is the principle behind the atomic bomb.discovery the subject of subatomic physics was very new. But no one had thought of the possibility of a large nucleus breaking into smaller nuclei or small nuclei joining together to form a big nucleus . however. just as in a hydrogen bomb . between the Sun and the hydrogen bomb . Four nuclei of hydrogen combine to form a bigger nucleus of helium . People knew that in an atom electrons go round a central nucleus . Eddington believed that it is the latter process offusion that goes on inside the Sun. In the hydrogen bomb energy comes out in H Hydro gen Nuclei _ _. Today we know that the former process. while the latter process of 'nuclear fusion' gives us hydrogen bombs .

This is because the Sun's enormous mass has a strong gravitational force which exercises a restraining influence on the process. In order to find a lasting solution to today's energy problems scientists are trying to generate fusion energy which is steady and non-explosive. But without the Sun's advantage of a strong gravitational controlling influence other forces and methods have to be discovered. energy is not released in the Sun in a gigantic explosion but is being emitted steadily. This has not been possible so far.the form of an explosion. To return to the star. The process of converting hydrogen to helium is slow and steady and can supply a star like the Sun with HYDROG£N BoMB THE SUN . Fortunately for human existence on earth . venture. but with the improvement in technology in a decade or two man should be able to succeed in this.

begins to expand. But a stage will come in the life of a star when it exhausts the available hydrogen in its central hot region. space technologists will undoubtedly have found the means to escape from the Earth alive. When stars are burning hydrogen in this way and shining steadily. It will then become so inflated that it will swallow the closer planets Venus and Mercury and also gobble up the Earth! But there is no need to get worried . 41 . however. help restart the star's fusion proc ess.enough energy to last for several billion years. Three nuclei of helium combine to produce one nucleus of carbon. they are on the main sequence of the H-R diagram . When the generation of energy stops the star does not have enough pressure inside and its central core'begins to shrink under its own gravity. In fact.) T he weakening of its central pressure and the shrinkage of its . In this process' more heat is released and this in turn provides enough pressures to hold the star in equilibrium. core. the pressures begin to assert themselves so much that the star. the helium begins to undergo nuclear fusion. By then. The Sun will also go through this process after it has exhausted its central fuel of hydrogen . instead of contract ing. for this will not occur for at least 6 billion years or so. it heats up . This is when it becomes a giant star. What will happen then? The fusion process in the star is temporarily switched off. For. as the core containing helium contracts. Wh en temperatures rise to about a hundred million degrees. . for a star's natural tendency is to contract under its own gravity. The pressures are able to stop this contractionif they are strong enough. (The central high pressures are essential for maintaining a star's equilibrium.

H ~ L I UM H Y OROG EN The onion-skin structure of a highly evolved star. With it heating up . adding helium to carbon and making the heavier nucleus of oxygen. the process is temporarily switched off. When most of its helium is exhausted. At· this stage the star's structure is rather like that of an onion with several skins made of different elements one on top of the other. with heavier and heavier elements forming in the centre. all formed by successive fusion processes. Du ring the giant stage the nuclear process in the star goes through several 'on'-'off states. followed by carbon. The innermost part is made of heavy metals like iron. As before. oxygen. And thus the process goes on and on. The outermost and coolest layer is of hydrogen. neon and so on. The next is of helium. switching off leads to a Shrinking of the central core which then heats up. the process starts again . 42 . cobalt and nickel.

The material blown out often appears as an illuminated ring surrounding the star. cannot maintain an unbroken shape after this. so does a massive star have in store a catastrophic future . The core that is finally left is very hot bur as a star it does not radiate much energy in the visible range. These stars lose their outer envelope in mild explosions or flares and eventually settle down with only the material in the core. . and is called a 'planetary nebula ' . The future of stars which are not more than five or six times as massive as the Sun . high blood pressure and other medical complications. Wit h a density one million times that of water . is quite peaceful. Such a star is called a white dwarfon the H-R diagram . however. Just as an overweight man faces the prospect of heart disease.The star. A star exhibiting minor explosions or flares at the surface is called a 'nova star' . a handful of material from a white dwarf would contain several tons of matter.

Quantum theory tells us that in the tightly packed material inside a . During the explosion the .44 times the mass of the Sun.supernova is extremely bright and can outshine an entire galaxy of a hundred billion stars! This brightness lasts only a few hours . In a supernova explosion. This mass limit is called the 'Chandrasekhar limit' and for this important work Chandrasekhar received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1983. This pressure is available. together with particles called neutrinos which are the first to come out. Chandrasekhar who demonstrated that for a star to exist as a white dwarf its mass should not exceed approximately 1. the star loses its outer envelope in one go. the more long term impact being from the ejected particles and the 'shockwaves' that the explosion generates. How then does it manage to support itself against its own contracting force of gravity? The key to this question lies in quant um theory-the subject that tells us how physical systems behave when studied on the microscopic scale of atoms and molecules. the core is left with a mass higher than this limit. To complete our discussion of a star's life let us look at the fate of massive stars-those more than five to six times the mass of the Sun called 'supernova stars'. T hese stars are not -able to maintain their internal equilibrium after the giant stage and simply explode. provided the star is not too massive. The explosion is accompanied by the ejection of the atomic nuclei of the various elements in the 'onion skin'. the star will continue to shrink. however. 44 . Unlike other stars it does not have thermonuclear reactors producing energy at its centre. In the 1930s it was S. If. after the red giant stage is over.white dwarf a new kind of pressure is built up which resists further compression.The white dwarf is a strange kind of star.

In the early stages the star was so bright that 45 . Chandrasekhar In 1054 Chinese and Japanese astronomers recorded sighting a supernova explosion .S.

for a supernova explosion releases shock waves which . Thus the death of one star in an explosion can stimulate the birth of another! Aftermath of a Star Explosion Wh en a massive star becomes a supernova and explodes it breaks into two parts: the inner core and the outer envelope . It was not only well documented by optical astronomers but it was also detected by a few neutrino laboratories who recorded the early arrival of neutrinos. Th e star is now named the Crab Nebula . say within 30 light years from us. But photographs show a spectacular picture of the debris of the explosion. scientists believe that our solar system may have been formed as a . its par ticles. Wher e did the steel come from? From an iron and steel plant where iron ore was 46 .a explosion. Now it is not visible to the naked eye even at night. come from ? For example .it was visible during the day. When describing the formation of the solar system. In 1987 a supernova we 11 off in the nearby Magellanic clouds. destroying the layer of ozone gas that protects us from the deadly ultraviolet rays of the Sun .six thousand light years away. The Crab Nebula is located about. this was the 'another event' that triggered off the contraction of the presolar cloud of gas. take a stainless steel spoon. impinging on a nearby gas cloud. would have ripped through the Earth's atmosphere. Catastrophic though such an explosion would be for us now. Had it exploded nearby .result of a nearby supernov. can set off its contraction. T he ejected envelope holds the key to an important and practical question : where do the various chemical elements we see around us. travelling with great force.

The Crab . cbula .

But where did the iron ore come from? From a mine somewhere in the Earth. How did the iron ore get there? It must have been part of the existing material when the Earth formed. . 1.subjected to chemical treatment. Tracing back the history of the spoon we are finally led to the ultimate source-the supernova.

at the time of its explosion the star had already manufactured atomic nuclei rangin g from helium to iron. .tt-. So your stainless steel spoon was made from a material which was processed deep inside some star and finally ejected into outer space in a supernova explosion.For . It has beef! through a nuclear furnace several billion IR O N AN]) STEEL PLANT 'It"" at\ "l:t1V" .

Before we add ress our attention to such massive cores. But just as Chandrasekhar found that a star cannot exist as a white dwarf if it is too massive. Geoffrey and Margaret Burbidge. The density in its central region is a million billion times the density of water! A neutron star with as much mass as the Sun may not be more than 10-15 kilometres in diameter. William Fowler and Fred Hoyle have done detailed calculations and found out how the different chemical elements are cooked within the stellar furnace. As its name implies. Four astrophysicists. The neutron star is far denser than the ' white dwarf. In the early 1960sit became clear to astronomers that the core by itself remains as a very compact. a student of radioastronomy at Cambridge University found in the course of some routine observations that faint but regular 50 . this core cannot maintain itself as a neutron star. Later we will come across another method of cooking light elements like deuterium and helium. the star is made up mostly of particles called neutrons . very den se star . a supernova explosion leaves behind a core five times the solar mass. Let's get back to the core left behind after the star's explosion. Jocelyn Bell. So if.degrees hOI! Elements heavier than iron are also made inside stars under special conditions . for it appears that stars by themselves are not able to deliver all of the helium observed in the Universe. for example. Its strong gravitational pull inwards will make it shrink more and more. let us ask the more practical question: "If a neutron star is so small in size how do we observe it?" An accidental discovery in 1968 provided the answer . so do the astroph ysicists today find that a star cannot exist as a neutron star if its mass is more than two to three times that of the Sun . called the 'neutron star ' .

cores which are so massive that they cannot maintain themselves as neutron stars. . Black Holes But what about supernova cores that are very massive? According to our present understanding of physics. -]0 20 11-12 -67 . however . . Because of the regularity of the pulses it came to be called a 'pulsar' . But before they come to th is stage. they become what are known as ' black holes'. T he Crab Neb ula is also known to house a pulsar which is the remainin g core of the supernova of that nebula. Thus a neutron star may not be 'seen ' by an optical telescope but can be detected as a pulsar by a radio telescope . t ! I . . To understand what a black hole is. continue to shrink until they become mere points.pulses from an unknown source were arnvmg through her telescope . Hewish first thought that they might be messages from some distant civilization! Closer examination . Thepulses came at about 1. let us digress a little. 40' 1 19"' 9" 00" The pulse pattern of a pulsar.3 seconds intervals but were repeated so precisely that Bell and her mentor A. showed that the signals were in fact coming from a neutron star that was rapidly spinning about an axis.

You must have noticed that the harder you throw a ball up i n the air the higher it goes; but pulled by the gravity of the Earth it eventually comes down to the ground. Is it possible to toss the ball up so fast that it never comes down? The answer is, "Yes". The limiting speed is about 11.2 kilometres per second . Unless you throw the ball faster than this speed it will come down. This speed is called the 'escape speed'. Although even the strongest man on Earth does not have enough strength to throw a ball up with the escape speed , we have now made powerful rockets which do. These rockets send up spacecraft that do not have to come down . In 1972, the spacecraft Pioneer 10 was sent up . By now it has not only left the Earth but even the solar system. Of course, the escape speed depends on the strength of the gravitational pull of the Earth. The Moon's gravitational pull is less than the Earth 's and therefore the escape speed too is less, in fact a quarter of that of the Earth. If the Earth was compressed from all sides, its gravitational pull would increase and it would be increasingly difficult to make rockets which could send spacecraft away from the Earth . This is true of any contracting object-as it shrinks the .speed needed to escape from it increases. To get back to the shrinking core. A piece of matter when trying to escape from the core surface will find it increasingly difficult to do so. In fact, a stage will come during the contraction when the escape speed becomes equal to the speed oflight. Beyond this stage even light will not be able to escape from the surface let alone any living or non-living object. The shrinking core is then able to pull back all light trying to escape outwards and so it will not be visible to an outside observer. At this stage it becomes a black hole. A shrinking core with five

52

Accretion Disc

Normal Star

Black Hole

Artist's impression of a double star system containing a black hole. Many believe such a system exists at the location of the X-ray source Cygnus Xcl . Figure shows that the matter falling into the black hole forms a disc round it, called the 'accretion disc'.

times the mass of the Sun will become a black hole when its diameter is only 30 kilometres. How do we 'see' a black hole if it cannot emit any light? We can in principle, detect its existence by examining its environment. For , invisible though it is, the black hule continu es to attract other matter from its surroundings. A black hole revolving around another star can pull gas from its surface. When falling into the black hole this gas gets heated and radiates X-rays. Many astronomers believe that the X-rays coming from a double star system called the Cygnus X-I are being emitted this way. Of course, once the limit of three times the solar mass is exceeded imagination is the limit of a black hole's mass! In Cygnus

53

Photographs of galaxies andtheir spectra with the Hand K absorption lines of calcium. The lines are morered-shifted for fainter galaxies and hence Hubble concluded that fainter galaxies , being fanher, recede faster than the nearer brighter ones .

.

. Radio astronomers have found galaxies which are powerful radiators of radio waves. masses and composition of galaxies.Our Galaxy. ten times more) unseen matter in and around them than is visible through stars. Often there is also a small core that emits radio waves in-between the two blobs .X-I the suspected black hole has at least six times the mass of the Sun and black holes much more massive than this are believed to exist in the Universe. neutrons. A typical radio source is like a dumb-bell with two blobs of strong radio emission located on two sides of a galaxy. Galaxies. This dark matter is most probably different from the stuff we are familiar with. However. how they generate energy and how they manufacture chemical elements in their cores but they are not yet certain how galaxies were formed . Scientists are now 56 . is one of the strongest radio sources. atoms. ' A curious and puzzling feature about galaxies is that. Cygnus-A. gas and dust.g. they seem to contain a lot more (say. which has more than a hundred billion stars is neither very small nor very large when compared to other galaxies. etc. are often found in clusters and it is likely that clusters of galaxies were formed from gas clouds just as clusters of stars were also formed.singly or in clusters . A galaxy has many many stars. discovered in the late 1940s. whether . e. like stars. protons. The World of Galaxies Over the last five decades astronomers have found out how stars are born. we have not yetbeen able to explain the different shapes. Sophisticated telescopes have revealed jet-like structures emerging from the core towards the outer blobs.

these objects look like stars but they are much more powerful. o convinced that plasma at fast speeds is ejected from the central core in jet-like fashion and somehow starts radiating after it collides with the tenuous intergalactic gas in the neighbou rhood of the galaxy. As the name implies. 57 . as far as light emission is concerned . Then in 1963 'quasi-stellar objects' -also called 'quasars' were discovered. 3C-273 may be more powerful than our Galaxy. The first quasar to be discovered . A small percentage of quasars are radio sources also and have a double structure like the typical radio source .Computer reconstructi n of a jet in a radio source.

Most astronomers believe that quasars are very far away. . Fred Hoyle and William Fowler in 1963 were of the opinion that a very massive object shrinking under its own gravity The quasar 3C-273. Since even from great dislances they appear so bright. Most astronomers believe that the clue to the quasar's energy lies in gravity. What is the source of the quasar's energy? Quasars radiate at a powerful rate but unlike the Sun and other stars they radiate from such a small region of space that nuclear energy is not able to account for their extraordinary brightness. they must be powerful radiators of energy.

But we have hopes that science will eventually provide the answer. the demands on the efficiency of the energy source are very great and we do not know whether nature permits processes working with such high efficiency . Today. . often called 'the big bang'. as seen at present is expanding. How did the Universe Begin? Difficulties of finding answers have never dete rred man from asking deep questions . So what about the ultimate question: "How and when was the Universe created?" Hubble's law states that the Universe. The Universe was extremely hot at the time of creation and had zero volume! But it started expanding and cooling . T he galaxies in it are muving away from each other. In its early moments it was dominated by radiation and gradually subatomic particles began to appear in it. . A massive black hole. We do not yet know how galaxies and quasars ' were created. But even here. the same idea is associated with the black hole. when the Universe 59 . What we normally identify with matter began to appear when the Universe was a few billionbillion-billion-billion part of a second old and . which heralded the origin of the Universe. is needed to power a quasar like the 3C-273 . a hundred million times the mass of the Sun. using Einstein's general theory of relativity.could somehow act as a source of the quasar's energy . Can we use this information to piece together a historical account of what the Universe was like in the past and to predict what it will be like in the future? We can. determine the history and fate of the Universe and the following picture emerges: Some ten billion years ago there was a gigantic explosion.

Today the Universe is about ten billion years old. It could not. produce heavier chemical elements like carbon. Of course. The first is that the Universe will expand for ever while 'the other is that the Universe will slow down and come to a halt and then contract until it merges back into a point (. Indeed George Gamow had predicted in 1950 that if the Universe has cooled down from an early hot state. etc . and we do not know how long it will keep on expanding and getting cooler. but we have circum stantial evidence. While the rnaioritv of astronomers accept this 'relic' inrerp reta60 . As the Universe got older and cooler . The Universe during this early hot phase was much more efficient than stars in producing helium. the radiation is expected to be very cold today. oxygen. So we can say that the present temperature of the Universe is _2700 Celsius!) Penzias and Wilson received the 1978 1 obel Prize for this discovery. we should then see some radiation that is the relic of the hot beginning. These elements had to be made in stars . galaxies began to form in it. In 1965 Arno Penz ias and Robert Wilson did find evidence for such an all-pervading cool radiation. Einstein's tlieory holds out two possible alternatives. the nuclei of helium . Neither of th ese two altern atives need cause us any immediate concern since they will happen billions of years later! Dowe have any direct evidence that the Universe originated in a big bang? No. however .sometimes called the ' big crunch'). (The absolute zero of temperature is eq ual to -2730 on the Celsius scale. This radiation is mainly in microwaves and has a temperature of about 3 degrees on the absolute scale.was less than three minu tes old. but we don 't yet know how. deuterium and other light elements were formed from these subatomic particles .

Penzias and Wilson in front of their microwave antenna that led to the discovery of the all-pervading microwave radiation. non of the radiation. If it is a relic of the early epochs why does II not carry clear imprints of the events that led to 61 . there are still some outstanding difficulties WIIh this scenario . II is a mystery that the microwave background IS found to be so smooth. For example.

the fantastic concentration of energy in objects like quasars. Indeed. With the help of science man has been able to solve many of the mysteries sur rounding these heavenly bodies although much still remains to be explored . That. how the chemical elements we see around us are manufactured in the cosmos. With the aid of careful observation theoretical astronomers have come up with such interesting concepts as the black hole and the big bang. our view of the Universe is in for dramatic improvement . how and why the planets move rou nd the Sun. We also caught a glimpse of the vast world of galaxies that lies beyond the Milky Way. and so on. need not prevent us from advancing our knowledge of the Universe further by using more and more sophisticated observing techniques and with improved understanding of the laws of physics. The Journey's End Our celestial journey has taken us from the planets in our immediate vicinity to vast cosmic energy sources billions of light years away. the question as to whether the Universe originated in a big bang has been answered in the affirmative by the majority but not by all astronomers. the systematic way in which the Universe is expanding. the sequence of forms a star goes through in the course of its life. But to the scientist exploring the cosmos the most exciting discovery is the evidence that this vast cosmos appears to 62 . Indeed some people (including this author) take the view that the question of the origin of the Universe is so profound that man will never fully understand its solution.the formation of galaxies? And so. however. In our tour of the cosmos we saw several things such as. with many more sophisticated telescopes in the offing.

.

Why thi s is so is still a mystery. On this note we end our journey of the Universe. . As Albert Einstein put it. some of which he already knows.be governed by basic laws of science. "The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible" .

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