2020, a space odyssey

Pale blue dot: Astrology enthusiasts with no formal education in the field are invited for the workshop

Pale blue dot: Astrology enthusiasts with no formal education in the field are invited for the workshop  

A workshop conducted by NASA instructors, will bring the wonders of the universe alive this weekend

When late theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, wrote A Brief History of Time in 1988, he was urging lay people to question the workings of our solar system that went beyond blind faith. “There are children who want to know what a black hole looks like; what is the smallest piece of matter; why we remember the past and not the future; and why there is a universe,” writes cosmologist, Carl Sagan in his forward as part of Hawking’s book. As we existentially ponder upon human existence and its place in an infinite abyss, a gifted few are unpacking the scientific threads that bind us together. Now, in a two-day workshop titled, ‘Space for Everyone’, astrology enthusiasts with no formal education in the field, are invited to engage with astronauts, and scientists from NASA, the Mars Society Australia, Amity University, and Open University to do just that.

Back to school

“We intend to discuss concepts of time and space – the formation of the solar system, planets, and origin of life on Earth,” shares head of the Amity Space Centre, and project coordinator of the NASA Spaceward Bound Program, Siddharth Pandey. The discussions will be astrobiological, and allow participants to touch and feel fossils, meteorite samples, and old rocks from Kutch, and Central India, that are teeming with well-preserved life forms.

The team of instructors includes Dr. Jennifer Blank, from NASA Ames Research Centre, Dr. Jonathan Clarke, president of the Mars Society Australia, senior astronaut and Director of the International Space Station’s National Laboratory (USA), Steve Smith, along with Pandey himself. While Blank works with the team that operates the Curiosity Rover on Mars, Smith has been to space four times, and performed seven spacewalks, including five to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. “In a Skype session with the astronaut, participants will learn about his experiences on board the International Space Station, and prospects for humans to venture beyond the Moon and Mars,” elaborates Pandey.

Looking for alternatives

As Earthlings continue to brew thoughts of possibly shifting home base to the Red Planet, participants will be given pointers on how to search for already existing life there. Amity University, in partnership with Theodon Technologies has developed a virtual reality-based space exploration challenge, where the user enters the Mars surface and has to complete a set of tasks within a limited time period. In a more real-life version of Star Wars, participants will ape ‘mission control’ (home base for the rovers and rockets), and embark on a journey to identify key targets, and attempt to answer scientific questions. The simulated environment will also better help understand analogue sites on Earth, that are used as groundwork to study planets, and moons, sporting similar compositions.

Another world

In February last year, this writer accompanied Pandey, and a team from NASA Ames, and Mars Society Australia to a 5,00,000-year-old analogue site (caused by a meteor crash) four hours away from Aurangabad. Christened the Lonar Crater, after the demon Lonasura, the site is filled with an alkaline and saline lake in its midst, and holds distinctive similarities with the Jezaro Crater on Mars. Observations made at Lonar, along with experiments from past expeditions in Kutch, and Ladakh will also be discussed at the workshop.

From my visit to Lonar, I remember how still the air felt. It was almost as if an other-worldly power was making its presence felt. It brought to mind a quote by Sagan from his book The Pale Blue Dot, “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.” The workshop is just that, a chance for space junkies to explore the universe.

Space for Everyone will take place on February 29-March 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at The Amity University Campus, Kurla. To register, log onto www.amity.edu/Mumbai/S4E/ or insider.com, (For ages 15 and above).

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 3:28:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/2020-a-space-odyssey/article30923732.ece

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