Ultima Thule : Floating Snowman

NASA space craft “The New Horizons” flew past it and beamed it’s clear photo back. Ultima Thule is said to be the oldest and farthest celestial body discovered via a telescope in 2014. The picture taken by telescope was a blurry one showing the body as one oblong shaped. But new picture taken by spacecraft is very clear. It shows that Thule is made up of two ice lobes gravitating towards one another making it look like a Snowman. Picture has been taken from a distance of 27000 kilometres with a resolution of 140 metres per pixel. Thule is 4 billion miles from Sun.

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Creating a mini sun on the earth: ITER

Of all kinds of energies, the heat energy is most disorganised. This is because heat energy is the reflection of speeds and collisions of the atoms. Third law of thermodynamics states that entropy of universe is always increasing. Since entropy of a system is the measure of randomness or chaos, this means all kinds of energies when used for doing useful work waste a part in the form of heat energy.

Most of the stars are made of hydrogen. It is the fuel that they burn everyday to produced light and heat. Hydrogen atoms exist in 3 forms called isotopes namely H, D and T called hydrogen, deturium and tritium. Hydrogen contains 1 proton and 1 electron and is the simplest of all atoms found in the nature. Deturium contain 1 proton and 1 neutron in the nucleus and 1 electron on the orbit. Tritium nucleus contains 1 proton and 2 neutrons and 1 orbiting electron. The abundance of deturium and tritium atoms is very low on the surface if the earth. Also the tritium atoms are radioactive. 

Chemical reactions occur using only the electrons present in the outer shells through exchange. This process of combining atoms into molecules involves very small energies. Since in nature every thing tends to settle down to state of lowest energy, it means when these molecules are formed energy is liberated. We know most of the elements on the earth are found in the form of ores which are stable forms. 

There are other reactions which involve changes in the nucleus. In these reactions the atom of given element transmutes altogether into another   atom and tremendous amount of energy is liberated. The atoms which have very heavy nuclii are prone to disintegration. Such type of reactions are called Fission reactions. 

There is yet another category of reactions in atoms combine to form bigger atoms and release of energies. Such reactions start with lighter elements most prominently Hydrogen and its isotopes. These reactions are called Fusion reactions. Fusion reactions are source of energy liberated by the stars including our own Sun. 

Nucleus of atom is very compact as compared to the size of atom. Protons which reside in the nucleus along with neutrons must overcome the forces of repulsion to be confined into such a tiny space. There is a energy which is called binding energy which results from the continuous exchanges between protons and neutron through other fundamental particles.

Similarly for such atoms to fuse require that repulsion is overcome. Atoms as we know are in constant motion with spread of different speeds which follows Boltzmann distribution. As said earlier, the speeds increase as the temperature is increased. Then they collide with each with more force and a stage is reached when they overcome the repulsion and fuse into a single entity. 

In the Sun’s core temperatures reach  never to 15,000,000° Celsius. Hydrogen atoms are in a constant state of agitation, colliding at very great speeds. The natural electrostatic repulsion that exists between the positive charges of their nuclei is overcome, and the atoms fuse. The fusion of light hydrogen atoms (H-H) produces a heavier element, helium.

Mass and energy are the same identities. Mass can be converted into energy and we see the examples everyday in our lives. Reverse is also true and since lots of energy is condensed to turn it into mass, so lots of energy is liberated by a very small of mass. Einstein gave us a very compact beautiful equation of energy mass equivalence. 

E=mc2

Since c which is speed of light and highest possible speed with a value of 300000000 meters/sec, squaring it results in enormous number. So even if mass is small, energy obtained is phenomenal. This is explained of law of conservation of mass. In any reaction, mass and energy cannot be destroyed or created. This means the mass of all the reactants should be equal to the mass of all the products. 

It so happens that the final mass of products is smaller than the starting mass of the reactants. Take for example the following fusion reaction in which 1 atom of deturium combines with 1 atom of tritium to form 1 atom of Helium and 1 neutron. The reaction is written as follows.

3H1+2H1 = 4He2 + 1n0



Masses of some elements and neutron are given below in kilograms. 

particle {}_0^1 {\rm{n}} {}_{92}^{235} {\rm{U}} {}_{37}^{93} {\rm{Rb}} {}_{55}^{141} {\rm{Cs}} {}_1^3 {\rm{H}} {}_1^2 {\rm{H}} {}_2^4 {\rm{He}}
mass (x 10-27 kg) 1.675 390.173 154.248 233.927 5.007 3.343 6.645

Since 10-27 kg is common to all, let’s keep it out for later use and do the arithmetic with given values. 

Mass of the reactants

= (5.007 + 3.343) =8.350 

Mass of products

=(6.645 + 1.675) =8.320

So the mass lost =(8.350 -8.320)= 0. 030 x 10-27 Kgs 

So this loss of mass results in the creation of equivalent amout of energy. Using the formula of Einstein we get,

E =0. 030 x 10-27 x(3×108)2=0.27×10-11 joules= 17.1 MeV 


This is the energy  which is generated by 1 atom of deturium and 1 atom of tritium. 1 gram of this fuel will yield energy which is sufficient to heat 9.8 cubic meters of water from 0 degree Celsius to 100 degree Celsius.

Our sun produces the light and heat by burning every second 600 million tons of hydrogen into helium, releasing an enormous amount of energy. But without the benefit of gravitational forces at work in our Universe, achieving fusion on Earth has required a different approach.

At such high temperatures as are inside the sun, atoms are ionised and all the matter exists in the form of plasma or the charged ions gas. Due to enormous gravitation pull whole mass remains constrained and does not disintegrate away.


Now scientists of many countries like France, USA, Russia, India and European countries have pooled resources to create a mini sun on the earth and this project is going on in France. It is called ITER (originally an acronym of International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and Latin for “the way”) is an international venture. To stimulate the internal conditions existing inside the sun on the earth reactor, temperature has to be 10 times that of sun. Most crucial step is to contain the plasma because of the absence of sun like enormous gravitation force. In this reactor, the plasma will be contained in a container but will not touch the container walls. This container is very high magnetic field which will force the ions to move inside the walls without touching them.

When this project will become successful, it will open the way to provide the world with much needed energy. This energy will be non polluting and clean with no hazardous emissions like fossil fuels.

Winter is here

The winter season is here and I am really afraid. It is because although we belong to North India and were used to the bitter cold and harsh summers but we have been living in Mumbai for the last 25 years and become acclimatized the weather of the place. There is hardly much winter in Mumbai. But now I have returned to North and stay in Dehradun which experiences a very severe winter.

The changes are taking place. The sun is rising late each day. Earlier I went out for morning walk at around six o’clock. It is dark now at this time and the walk time has been delayed by about an hour. The nights are long and dark and day seem to be over even at the noon. The houses where I live have an awful design which prevents any sunlight from shining on most of them. Whenever the sun comes to pour its benevolent light there are trees everywhere acting as shields and prevent the sunlight from reaching the homes. The home has already begun to resemble a cold storage and feet become cold and numb.

The darkness never leaves these houses and I always feel like running away from them to get into open for some sunlight. In summer these houses become furnaces. No air ever circulates in them.

So I try to go for walk at around 45 minutes past six. The sun is not out yet. There are crows sitting on the branches of an dry tree and make incessant noises. There are kites surveying the area on the ground for any rats or other game. Sometimes I went out in the dark and found the stars shining in the sky along with the moon. I walk about 4 kilometers and find so many people walking. Almost all of them are regular.

The darkness in the East begin to dissolve and a red color hue spreads across. It is the advent of sunrise. Now you find a bunch of storks flying in a formation towards the place nearby where they will land at a river and forage for all day. Each day they make this journey and return in the evening to rest on the tree tops.

I return to the home and coldness envelopes me again. I take tea, some breakfast, bath and dress and leave for the office. The coming days shall be even more harsh when the real winter will set in.

Chemistry of Tanning

People in Asia and Africa where plenty of sunshine is available and weather is hot have a auburn or dark skin. This is because of production of melanin in the skin and making it look brown or dark. In Europe, particularly the Northern parts, there is hardly any Sun to be seen for most of period of the year. Due to the shortage of melanin, the color of the skin is white or what is called fair.

Most people are not satisfied with whatever have God given to them. For example, the people in India want to look fair like Europeans and vice versa. Europeans come to India and sprawl themselves on the sunny beaches in the hope of getting the tanned skin.

Tan is caused by the action of UV rays on the cells of the body. The UV rays have higher energy than the visible spectrum light. UV spectrum is further subdivided into three ranges namely UVA, UVB & UVC with decreasing wavelengths and increasing energies from UVA to UVC. UVC are so energetic that they react with the matter in atmosphere and never reach the Earth. UVA & B both break the bonds. UVB stimulates the production of melanin by burning the skin and destroying DNA and gives the tan to the skin.

Interaction of UVB with skin produces vitamin D3 which is required to transport calcium to the bones. Additionally UV reduces the stress and eases the tension. There is scientific evidence that sunshine has a mood lifting effect and people in the places where the Sun is not seen for months show the symptoms of depression. Thus UV which is always seen in the negative terms has good side also.

But it is not healthy to expose your body directly to the UV rays. Instead sunscreens are beneficial and make the tanning in the Sun. How much time is safe for tanning is calculated by Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ratings on sunscreens. The SPF number is a “multiplier” and formula to calculate the safe time is = Minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number

For example, if a sunscreen has a SPF value of 20 and it takes 12 minutes for your skin to burn without sunscreen, then sunscreen will protect you for 240 minutes (12 min. x  20 SPF = 240 min.). Doctors recommend a water-resistant sunscreen rated 15 SPF or higher with UVA and UVB protection, generally labeled “broad spectrum.”

Maybe the best tan is sunless. “Tan in a Can” products use materials that generate a tan without UV exposure. Creams, gels, lotions, and sprays contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar that colors the outer skin cells. Unfortunately, this nice tan usually lasts only one week because you constantly shed dead cells.

 

It was a Sunny Morning in Dehradun

I am a regular morning walker and usually out at around 15 minutes to Six in the morning. Usually I am alone for most of the time when out but sometimes some of my colleagues come across and we talk about the olden times. It is the early September. The monsoon rains which usually abate in this month have not receded. The monsoon has played truant in its regular months of July and August but has picked up now in September when it was time to go away. The children shall sing now “rain rain go away”. Usually after mid September there are scattered showers and season begins to cool here in contrast to Mumbai where rains extend till the end of September followed by the torrid months of heat, called second summer, till December.

Generally, the sky is overcast here these days. Although clouds are not threatening of black sort. So the mornings are generally cloudy. But today, it was all clear and blue skies began showing up in the West. In the East, when I was just out, Sun was not up yet but had begun knocking at the door of night. In the dawn, the things have begun to take shape as if precipitating from the pitch black solution of the night which erases all the distinctions between things. While the day separates the entities into different individuals, night merges them all into one black thick solution. Silhouettes looked beautiful like the drawings of a painter. And why not, the greatest of all painters is at work. But with a difference albeit. He never cares for praise or criticism. He does not stand any scrutiny.

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The contours of the things have begun to take shape. There is a tinge of crimson in the East. Then the sun has risen. After many days, it is the bright morning resplendent in the glory of sun. The sun light has first dawned on the pinnacle branches of mighty trees and darkness which was spread over there has jumped down to make way and welcomed the Sun. The scene was stunning. I can say that still this place is very beautiful.

Chemistry by Nature

Nature is a great chemist. It synthesizes millions of compounds every moment ranging from simple molecules like methane to very complex molecules like carbohydrates, cellulose and proteins. Most of these compounds are synthesized by plants. From the plants they are passed on to animals because the animals cannot synthesize their food by themselves. But there are many chemical reactions occurring inside the cells like breaking down the complex molecules and unlocking the energy which is stored in them.

Where does all the energy locked inside the different molecules come from? Most of it is derived from the Sun light. In many cultures like Hindus and Egyptians, Sun is worshiped as the harbinger of life. They may not be knowing the scientific facts behind it. Energy tries to dissipate and some storage is required to held it at one place and use it whenever required. Cells are the prime example.

How do the plants get hold of the energy. They carry out a reaction called photosynthesis in which they combine carbon dioxide and water in the presence of sunlight. All this work is done with the help of a big organic molecule called Chlorophyll. The products of this reaction are sugar and oxygen. When human beings consume the sugar, they break it down again to carbon dioxide and water and energy absorbed from the sun is unlocked and nourishes our bodies.

This reaction is a fuel burning reaction. But unlike the burning of fuels it happens at a very low temperature (body temperature) in our bodies although both reactions are exothermic in nature. How is this achieved? First of all, only those reactions are possible which results in products having lower energy than the reactants. But to initiate the reaction, the system has to cross a energy hill called energy of activation.

Catalysts are capable of making the reactions occur at low temperatures because they lower the energy of activation. In our bodies there are specialized proteins which are called enzymes which act as catalysts. These are very specific and one enzyme is specialized for only one task.

Catalysts also determine the kind of product that is synthesized. For example, the hydrogenation of unsaturated oils can be carried out by reaction with hydrogen. In the case of using a catalyst, only cis addition to the double bond is allowed whereas without catalyst in addition to elevated temperature and pressure conditions, the product formed is a mixture of both cis and trans products.

Since in the nature most of the reactions are carried out at ambient conditions, enzymes are generally utilized by the nature. In the case of molecules having asymmetric carbon centres a mixture of 50:50 ratio is produced without enzymes. These are called stereo-isomers and rotate the light in left and right direction. But in nature only one of these forms is synthesized. After all animals consume only one form of stereoisomers.

So nature is a great chemist.

Short but Beautiful Life

It is necessary that a long age is always for an eventful life. Sometimes a short life can be eventful and spread happiness within a short span. One such case is the flowers of Barringtonia tree. These trees bear red colored jellyfish like tiny flowers in bunches from the racemes. There are about ten trees near our home and in every morning a great spectacle unfolds.

These flowers have a very short lifespan. They are on the branches for 4-5 hours only. They bloom in the night. The buds bulbs swell in the evening and flowers come out. By the time it is midnight all the branches are loaded with flower bunches. There is a sweet scent in the warm air under these trees.

It is early morning. The Sun has not risen yet but the golden light is spreading from the East. The magic is about to unfold. The flowers from the branches start detaching first in ones or twos but soon the falling of the flowers turns into a rain. The flowers are showering and soon the whole area blow the tree is carpeted red. It seems that some lover has spread flowers to welcome his beloved.

The process of cascading down is not simultaneous and one tree begins after some time lapse with another. The whole process lasts for 3-4 hours. Not a single flowers remains hanging on trees. Only empty racemes hang like threads. The Sun is blazing now and its harsh rays are turning the heat on. Soon it becomes like a oven. The delicate flowers are roasted and not a trace is left on the ground.

But the process for next day begins again around afternoon when the buds again swell and are ready to burst into flowers. During this short span these trees give the beholders an immense sense of joy and awe.

I also tried to shoot a video but quality did not come good. This videos is available on youtube in my account.