NGC 4594 or the Sombrero Galaxy is a galaxy in the Virgo cluster around 28 million light years from us. It has around 700 billion stars and has a radius of 60,000 light years. If you look closely, you will realize that most of the other pin pricks of light in the image is yet another galaxy. Just think about these words and try to understand their meaning. “700 billion stars.” “28 million light years.” “60,000 light years.” The universe is too immense for our limited intelligence to comprehend its vastness!
Makemake is the god of fertility and creator of humanity in the mythology of the Rapa Nui people of the island of Rapa Nui in Polynesia. Actually, Rapa Nui forms one of the vertex of the triangle that defines Polynesia. Rapa Nui is in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest inhabited island almost 2000 km away with the nearest continental point almost 3500 km away.
The Dutch explorer. Jacob Roggeveen reached the Rapa Nui island on April 5th, 1722, Easter Sunday. It was named Easter Islands, the name with which we know the islands popularly now. The islands are known for its large stone statues called Moai. I bet you have seen images of these statues and wondered what they are.
Eris is the Greek Goddess of strife and discord. The story goes that due to her nature to cause discord, she was the only Goddess not invited for the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (Parents of Achilles. Remember Achilles as played by Brad Pitt in Troy?). She became angry and decided to crash the party. She brought with her an apple (Why does it always have to be an apple???) with “To the fairest one” written on it. This obviously caused trouble with all the other Goddess claiming they deserved it. The decision to adjudicate was put on Zeus who wisely delegated that to Paris, son of Priam (Paris – Remember Orlondo Bloom from Troy? The coward, useless guy??). Hera offered Paris ownership of all known world, Athena offered him wisdom and the abilities of the greatest warrior while Aphrodite offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. In his infinite stupidity, Paris chose Aphrodite. Aphrodite gives him the love of Helen who is already married to King Menelaus of Sparta thus sowing the roots of destruction of Troy in the Trojan war.
In the month of March of 2005, 31st March to be precise (4 days after Easter Sunday), the team of astronomers at the Palomar Observatory of Caltech led by Michael Brown discovered the object seen in the below image.
This was code-named Easterbunny and it has a diameter about 2/3 that of Pluto with an orbital period of 310 years. With the astronomical naming convention of naming classical Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) after mythological names associated with creation, Mike Brown and his team decided to name the object Makemake after the Easter Island God of creation. Its complete name is 136472 Makemake with the number being a sequential number.
In January of the same year, the same team of astronomers from Caltech also discovered what they called Xena or Planet X. The way these objects are discovered is by comparing successive images taken of the same region of space on successive days. Since the star move very slowly, they would appear stationary in these images while planets, dwarf planets and other objects that are closer would appear to move. Now the space is so huge, the objects so dim and the number of objects that are visible so large that this is a very difficult task. Sophisticated computer programs are written that compare these images and identify possible matches. These possible matches also number in thousands due to problem with telescope (eg, dust particle on mirrors), the imaging device (eq, photographic plates not properly handled, problem in digital cameras) etc that these matches would still have to be visually inspected by an astronomer to classify them as possible matches. Below is the image that shows Xena in three successive images.
Now the problem with Xena is that it is larger than Pluto (around 12 km in diameter) and 27% more massive than Pluto. When the discovery of Xena was announced along with the discovery of Makemake, it created a huge controversy. Is Xena a planet? It is larger than Pluto and if size is the criteria then it should be classified as a planet and be Planet X or the tenth planet. Can Makemake be also classified as Planet, it is just 2/3 the size of Pluto? Can Ceres, in the asteroid belt, also classified as a Planet? These discoveries led to much “discord and strife” in the international astronomical community finally forcing the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define planets as
(1) A “planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that: (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.
(3) All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as “Small Solar System Bodies”.
This resulted in Pluto relegated from the elite club of Planets to that of dwarf planets along with Xena, Sedna and Makemake. Due to the effect that Xena had, its discoverer Michael Brown appropriately named it Eris (136199 Eris).
Fun Facts: Makemake has an orbital period of 310 years meaning it takes 310 years to complete one orbit around the Sun. Eris has an orbital period of 560 years (Aphelion around 97 AU) and at its most distance from the Sun, is almost twice as far away as Pluto is and believe me Pluto is far far away (Aphelion around 48 AU). New Horizons space probe, currently travelling at 14.8 km/s was launched in 2006 and will reach Pluto only by 2015. At its current speed, it can fly around earth in less than an hour. That should give you a perspective on how far away these objects are. Now the same Caltech team of Michael Brown also discovered 90377 Sedna. Now if you think Eris is very distant then Sedna is far, far, far, far away. Its aphelion is 937 AU, almost ten times as distant as Eris is and its orbital period is 11400 years! The last time Sedna was in the same position as today, humanity still had more than a thousand year to domesticate sheep and start agriculture (8000 BCE).
[Edited to add image of a WDS6 shunting engine]
Last week while travelling through the gorgeous Konkan Railways, I had the chance to see multiple types of locomotives which made me think on the different locomotives in the Indian Railways.
American Locomotives Company (Alco) was a dominant locomotive manufacturer in the USA that became defunct in 1969. Prior to going under, Alco exported WDM-2 to the Indian Railways in 1962. The Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi has been building these locomotives since 1964. If you are an Indian and if you are asked to picture a train engine, it is more than likely that you would picture one of these beasts. These engines are the most numerous engines in the inventory of Indian Railways.
But what does WDM2 stands for? The naming scheme of the Indian Railway engines, at a higher level, is as below
First Letter – Denotes the gauge of the engine, W stands for Wide (Broad) gauge, Y for meter gauge and Z for narrow gauge
Second Letter – Denotes the motive power, D stands for diesel, C for DC electricity and A for AC electricity
Third Letter – Denotes the type of carriage that the engine pulls, M stands for Mixed, P for passenger and G for Goods
Fourth Number – Chronological model number, post 2002 it denotes the HP in combination with the fifth letter.
Thus WDM2 stands for Wide Gauge, Diesel Engine used for both passenger as well as freight train whose model number is 2. The five digit engine numbers are also grouped basis the engine type. For example the high speed, high power electric engine WAP-4 used to haul the faster and longer Shatabdi and Rajdhani Express are numbered from 22201 onwards.
The engines pull in either the Long Hood or Short Hood mode. In the long hood mode, the driver cab is at the back of the engine as shown for WDM-2 below
While in the short hood mode, the driver cab is at the front of the engine.
The Mumbai Suburban railways do not use a separate engine but instead work on Electric Multiple Unit or EMU that has electric traction units on one or more of the carriages. The electric traction units are situated below the antenna like thing that connects to the overhead wires.
Fun facts :
The two smaller lights at the lower half of the engine are called the Ditch Light. They are generally placed at the same width as the rail tracks thus providing reflection of the tracks. These were used to view obstructions on the track on curves or ditches in mountainous regions. These lights flash alternately when horn is sounded to make the train more visible.
The two rounded “Things” that connect the engines to coaches or between rakes are buffers to reduce the shocks. I used to think in my childhood (some adult must have told me) that those things are magnets and that is how the rakes are attached to each other. I used to wonder how is that the magnets do not affect the iron rails or why are the magnets not covered with nuts and bolts and other sundry iron items that gets attracted to them. Instead it is the coupling that connects the rakes.
The Indian Railway Fan Club website (http://www.irfca.org/) is a good place to know more about the Indian Railways
All 135 shuttle launches. Turn up those puny little speakers of ye ol’ laptops I say!