Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Book Review: The Cosmic Detective - Exploring the mysteries of our universe


The Cosmic Detective – Exploring the mysteries of our universe
Author: Dr Mani Bhaumik
Published by Penguin Group
Pages: 92
Price: Rs 199


The universe is a mystery, an enigma. The more one tries to explore this mystery the more one gets confounded. It’s a never-ending mystery woven in stellar glaze, the brightest and biggest shining objects and the darkest unknown realms of the so-called black or white holes. The universe is expanding by the second and so is its mystery.

This mystery needs to be solved. After all, we are part of this universe. And who will solve this mystery? Of course, we ourselves. But we need a band of young, trained Cosmic Detectives to take up this challenging task, the unfinished task of our grandfathers and great grandfathers.

International best-selling author and world-renowned scientist Dr Mani Bhaumik makes a beginning in this direction. To train our Cosmic Detectives to unravel the mystery,
rather mysteries of our immediate universe, if not all that lies in the vast expanse
called Space.

In his book, “The Cosmic Detective”, Dr Mani Bhaumik takes young readers on a whirlwind tour into space. Addressing his readers as cosmic detectives, he actively enlists his young sleuths in finding solutions to questions that have puzzled space scientists and the common people for ages.

The author poses a number of questions, rather challenges before the cosmic detectives and he himself provides the answer, of course, leaving the great mystery to cosmic detectives themselves to unravel.

In layman’s language he explains answers to these and many other questions. How and when did the universe begin? What are stars made of? How far away are the most distant galaxies? What is a quasar? Explore these fundamental cosmic riddles and more in this fascinating journey of discovery and wonder.

He tells you about nebulae and black holes, navigates you through the galaxies and the enormous expanses beyond, takes you into the heart of neutron stars and provides an insight on distant planets as you join him in investigating the most bizarre aspects of the cosmos.

As Dr Bhaumik reveals “when we explore the cosmos, we also explore ourselves.”
Discussing how important light is to know the stars, he says, if there were no light we would not have known the stars. “Light travels through space at a speed which is the same everywhere in the universe. The speed is 1,86,282.4 miles per second. When we look out at distant objects in space, we are also looking back in time. We see them not as they are, but as they were when their light began its journey to us.”

For example, it takes approximately 1.3 seconds for the light of the moon to make its way to earth, which means that when we look up at the moon, we see it as
it was 1.3 seconds ago. The sun's light takes nearly 8.34 minutes to reach us, so we see the sun 8.34 minutes ago. Things get very strange, however, when we consider objects that are much further away. The light we observe today from the little star cluster known as the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) left 440 years ago, so we see the Pleiades as they were in the mid sixteenth century, Dr Bhaumik says.

Describing in a lucid manner how the stars originated, he says, “you might think of stars as solid objects, like the earth, but this not really the case. Our star, the sun, began its life about 4.6 billion years ago as a huge, swirling cloud of gas and dust, made mostly of the element of hydrogen.”

Our galaxy has produced at least two hundred billion stars this way, and it is still
making them. As we shall see, it has also made planets like our earth.

Dr Bhaumik teaches Comic Detectives on how to continue their investigation of the cosmos and uncover clue after clue about its origin. “We will begin to see that we are made of “fairy dust” spun out by the stars, Stardust. In the truest sense, we are all princes and princesses because we are the sons and daughters of the stars.”

Concluding the cosmic search, Dr Bhaumik says, “if we do indeed come from the same source that brought the universe into being, how do we describe this source? What is it made of? Where is it come from? Investigating these questions is your ultimate assignment, and I expect it will keep you on the trail for some time. It is hard work, but I can assure you that once you take this case, you will never give up.”

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