Monday May 21, 2018

Aryabhata: The man from Bihar who gave world the concept of modern day Mathematics

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By Prachi Mishra

Aryabhata was one of the first Indian mathematicians and astronomers belonging to the classical age. A pioneer in the field of mathematics, he went on to discover the digit 0.

He was born in 476 BC in Tarenaga, a town in Bihar, India. However, some sources mention that he belonged to Kerala.  He completed his education at the well-known ancient University of Nalanda, which is located near Kusumapura in the present Indian state of Bihar. Since the University had an observatory in its premises, it is conjectured that Aryabhata was the principal of the institute as well.

Work in the field of Mathematics

Aryabhata wrote the scholarly work Aryabhattiya at a young age of 23, which is a summary of mathematics of his time. The work is divided into four sections. In the first section, the method of denoting big decimal numbers by alphabets has been described. The second section comprises of questions from topics of modern day Mathematics, such as number theory, geometry, trigonometry and Beejganita (algebra). The remaining two sections are on astronomy.

The discovery of zero enabled him to find out the exact distance between the earth and the moon. It also exposed a new feature of negative numerals.

For the first time, he gave the approximate value of pi as 3.1416. He arrived at this value by calculating the approximate circumference of a circle having a diameter of 20,000 units, which came out to be 62,832. He also gave the correct formula for calculating the area of a triangle.

He was also the first mathematician to give what later came to be known as the tables of Sines. The birth of trigonometry was influenced by his definitions of sine (jya), cosine (kojya), versine (utkrama-jya), and inverse sine (otkram jya).

Contribution to Astronomy

The last two sections of Aryabhattiya deal with astronomy.

Much before Copernicus enlightened the West with the discovery that sun is at the centre of solar system and all the planets including earth revolve around it, Aryabhata made this discovery by adopting the heliocentric theory. He disregarded the popular belief that earth is stationary and stated the theory that earth is round and rotates on its own axis, which causes the occurrence of day and night.

Aryabhatta challenged various prevalent superstitious beliefs and gave scientific explanations for many natural phenomena. He correctly stated that the moon and other planets do not have light of their own and shine because of the reflection of the light of the sun.

There was a popular Hindu belief that solar and lunar eclipses occurred because Rahu and Ketu (demon’s head) gobbled the sun and the moon. Aryabhata demolished this myth by proposing the theory that eclipses occur due to the shadows casted by the earth and the moon.

Due to his immense contribution towards developing mathematical and astronomical studies, the first satellite sent into orbit by India has been named after Aryabhata.

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Decision on Giant Telescope Delayed by Hawaii Board

The decision regarding the giant telescope of Hawaii has been delayed again

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The giant telescope
FILE - This 2011 artist rendering shows the Thirty Meter Telescope. VOA

A key decision on whether to place a $1.4 billion telescope in Hawaii to further astronomy research has been delayed, leaving open the possibility the project may be moved to Spain, a panel said Friday.

The board of governors for the project dubbed the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory still wants to build the telescope on its preferred site of Mauna Kea, a mountain in Hawaii.

But an alternative location in Spain’s Canary Islands remains under consideration, the board said in a statement after meeting this week to discuss legal and regulatory challenges to the Hawaii telescope plan that could last years.

The giant telescope at Hawaii
The Giant telescope.

“We continue to assess the ongoing situation as we work toward a decision,” said Ed Stone, the executive director of the observatory.

He said no decision could be made on where to put the telescope “until we have a place to go, and we don’t decide when we have a place to go — that’s decided by the courts and agencies.”

Also Read: Telescope Group chooses Canary Islands as an alternative to Hawaii

Dormant volcano

The 30-meter (98 feet) diameter telescope would be placed on one side of Mauna Kea and is far more advanced than the world’s largest current telescopes that measure 10 meters (32 feet) in diameter. The new telescope could potentially allow scientists to make groundbreaking discoveries about black holes, exoplanets, celestial bodies, and even detect indications of life on other planets.

Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and Hawaii’s tallest mountain, was selected in July 2009 as the target location for the telescope after a five-year search.

Scientists called it the best site in the world for astronomy, given a stable, dry, and cold climate, which allows for sharp images. The atmosphere over the mountain also provides favorable conditions for astronomical measurements, according to the TMT website.

The island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, which already has an astronomical observatory, is considered a viable alternative. But scientists have said the telescope’s design would have to be altered for more adaptive optics given the mountain site’s lower altitude and different climate. That means it would take scientists more time to achieve the same discoveries they could make at Mauna Kea, Stone said.

Decision for location of the giant telescope delayed again.
Hawaii Board delays decision on location for the Giant telescope.

Years of debate

The Hawaii site has been subject to years of public debate and legal challenges. Researchers say it will help usher in scientific and economic developments, while opponents maintain it will hurt the environment and desecrate land considered sacred by some Native Hawaiians. Mauna Kea already houses a number of high-powered telescopes at its summit.

“Thirty years of astronomy development has resulted in adverse significant impact to the natural and cultural resources of Mauna Kea,” said Kealoha Pisciotta, president of Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, an indigenous, Native Hawaiian group that works on environmental issues. “Trying to build more would have added to the cumulative impact.”

On Thursday, the Hawaii Senate approved a bill to ban new construction atop Mauna Kea, and included a series of audits and other requirements before the ban could be lifted. But House leaders said they don’t have plans to advance the bill. Democratic House Speaker Scott Saiki told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the “bill is dead on arrival in the House.”

Also Read: NASA delays launch of next-gen space telescope until 2020
There are also two appeals before the Hawaii Supreme Court. One challenges the sublease and land use permit issued by the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources. The other has been brought by a Native Hawaiian man who says use of the land interferes with his right to exercise cultural practices and is thus entitled to a case hearing.

The telescope project is a collaboration among universities in the U.S. and California, including the University of Hawaii and national science and research institutes of Japan, China, and India.

“It’s a privilege to practice astronomy on Mauna Kea and we’re not satisfied with where we’re at right now,” Dan Meisenzahl, a spokesperson for the University of Hawaii, said in a statement. “We will continue to push ourselves to improve our stewardship of the mountain.”  VOA