Thursday, April 14, 2011

A starchild and the stuff of stars

This week has been notable for two reasons, one for what it reminds us of that's past, the other for what it might bring in the future. It's fifty years since Yuri Gagarin blasted off into space in Vostok 1, on April 12, 1961, opening up a new era in exploration and human endeavour. He spent an hour and forty-eight minutes in flight and completed one orbit round the world before re-entry, ejected from his capsule and landed by parachute. The world goggled at this smiling, handsome superman (only five foot two, by the way, an inspiration to shorties) who stole the thunder from Alan Shepard who blasted off into space just about three weeks later. This is also a good place to remember the brave dog Laika, who was sent up in space four years earlier, with no expectation of her ever coming back. There are those who will argue that the thing to remember is the Sputnik programme, which launched the space era, the Cold war, and on the plus side, a whole generation of Sputnik kids into science.

This ushers in the second half of today's post. A recent analysis of the data collected at the Tevatron, the accelerator at Fermilab, shows what might be signature of a new particle, not predicted by the Standard Model (the established and accepted model for all elementary particles observed so far). The physicists are cautious, as the data is still not of the confidence level that declares a new particle and new physics. However, the buzz is around, and phenomenologists (the model builders) are licking their lips. More on this, if the bump in the distribution survives further data.

Tailpiece: A new song on Yuri Gagarin, tentatively called starchild, is being recorded by someone who is more than qualified to record a song like this. This is Brian May, who left incomplete a Ph.D. in astrophysics to become a guitarist for the rock group Queen. Incidentally, he finished his Ph.D., with a bona-fide thesis, on, as it happens, stardust, thirty years later.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ud gaya hans akela

With deep regret, we announce the sad and untimely demise of Rahul Basu, the writer of this blog, on 5th March 2011. He came down with a serious respiratory infection in December, but was recovering well. However, a sudden relapse took him away from us, his sorrowing friends and family.
His non-blogging persona was that of a particle physicist. Many aspects of his professional and public persona have been described by his friends and colleagues on the beautiful memorial page put up by his institute, the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. He was quite different with his close friends and family. He was playful and affectionate, and enfolded those he loved in his tender care. Now he is gone, and we are bereft. However, we plan to continue this blog in his loving memory, with help from all his friends, and members of his family.
We hope you will read your blog, Rahul.

Ud jaayega hans akela
 jag darshan ka mela
 jaise paat gire taruvar se
milna bahut duhela
na jaane kidhar girega
lageya pawan ka rela
jab howe umar puurii
 jab chhuutegi hukum hujuurii
Yama ke doot bade mazboot
 Yama se pada jhamela
 Daas Kabir Hari ke guna gaawe
woh Hari ko paaran pawe
 Guru ki karni guru jayega
 chele ki karni chela
Ud jaayega hans akela
jag darshan ka mela...

(Kabir Bani-Sant Kabir.)

The swan will fly away all alone
the world will merely be a spectacle like a fair
As the leaf that falls from the tree
is difficult to find
 who knows where it will fall
 once it is struck with a gust of wind
 when the span of life is complete
then obeying orders, following others, will be over
The messengers of Yama are very strong
the tangling had to be with Yama
the servant Kabir praises the attributes of the Lord
he finds the Lord soon
the Guru will go according to his doings
the disciple according to his
 The swan will fly away all alone ........

(Thanks, Jogesh, for the Kabir bhajan and the Kumar Gandharva reference.)

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.