Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hey! India does it again.

     India has done it again.

     March 3 2011 is a big day for Indian space science programme.

     The reason:  A team of scientists led by  37-year-old Kolkata-based space scientists, Dibyendu Nandi of the has attained a major breakthrough in the important field of solar science. He belongs to the Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata,

    The team has used a computer model of solar activity to explain how the sun lost its spots and solar storms for a long period. Sunspots are dark spots on the sun with strong magnetic activity. The results were published in the prestigious scientific journal, ``Nature.''

    ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  had the privelege of interacting with Nandi at Calangute in Goa during the international space climate conference in January 2011. It was great meeting him and BMM found him to be extremely affable and pleasant.

     On Wednesday, BMM was in constant touch with Nandi regarding the report which BMM was filing for the Times of India (TOI).. Prior to sending the item to the Times, BMM read it out to Nandi first for correcting factual errorts. Despite his busy sked, he patiently listened to the report and made the necessary changes. Thanks Nandi.

     BMM then alerted Toi and the editorial team responded very enthusiastically.

     The TOI report has been reproduced below: with some alternations.

     The work of the scientists has been praised by NASA as a breakthrough in generating advance knowledge of sustained good weather in space. Nasa had scheduled a conference on Thursday involving several international scientists to discuss the results. 

     BMM listened to the discussion, but the communication was getting snapped continuosly. So, BMM switched off at 1.30 a.m. hoping to hear the full audio through another link.

    Speaking to TOI from Kolkata, Nandi explained that with his work would help airline operators while they scheduled air traffic, especially on polar routes, apart from helping space agencies in their plannings. “Did you know that there is weather in space just like weather on earth? And that dark spots on the sun’s surface called sunspots can affect weather in space and can disrupt flights over the earth’s polar region?” Nandi asked rhetorically
   “The shorter, polar routes are preferred by airline operators because less fuel is consumed and predictions of good weather can be used to direct heavier traffic through these remote regions,” he said. 

   The research was funded by the Ramanujan fellowship of India’s Department of Science and Technology and by a grant from NASA. Others on Nandi’s team were Andres Munoz-Jaramillo from Harvard’s Smithsonian Centre For Astrophysics and Petrus Martens from Montana State University.

   Nandi explained that the sun was made up of a hot gas called plasma which tosses and turns deep within, creating magnetic fields. These fields pop out of the solar surface creating dark sunspots which have been observed systematically since Galileo trained his telescope on the sun in the early 17th Century. 

   He said that the energy output of the sun, which influences earth’s climate system, fell to low levels for a sustained period. During this time, he said, there were no storms in space, providing perfect space weather conditions. 

   “In fact it was the quietest the sun had been in almost a century and scientists started wondering what was wrong with the sun,” he told TOI. 

   The scientist said sunspots often explode, ejecting vast amounts of charged particles into space. These particles rush through the earth’s polar region, creating beautiful auroras, but also disrupting sensitive electronics of airlines and messing up their communication system. 

   Nandi said his team found that changes in a large river of hot plasma, flowing inside the sun, disrupted the formation of sunspots and distanced the previous sunspot cycle from the following one. The last sunspot cycle ended in 2007. Nandi said the delayed start of the new sunspot cycle could be a boon for India’s maiden mission to the Sun, Aditya. Nandi is a co-investigator on this Rs 40 crore mission tentatively slated for 2014.

   Congrats once again Nandi. U have done India proud.

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