Advanced science, Astrophysics, Life as it is, Technical

From Newton’s Gravitational Law to Einstein’s Gravitational waves

Visualisation of Newton’s gravitational attraction

Summer 1666, a young Cambridge University physics student by the name Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree in his mother’s garden at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, England. An apple fell from the tree on the ground and that triggered him to think: why did the apple come down straight to earth, not go sideways or upwards? That question led him to delve deeper into the mystery of attraction between two bodies and to come up with the law of gravity. He published his research work in “The Principia Mathematica” in 1687, where he described, among other things, this seminal work on the law of universal gravitation.  

This law of gravitation tells us that two bodies attract each other with a force which is proportional to the product of the masses of the bodies and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. This simple empirical formula was astonishingly successful in calculating the force of attraction between two bodies on earth. This law was also applied to calculate the attractive force between the earth and the moon and to the orbital motion of the moon round the earth. The law was quite accurate in defining the orbits of many other celestial bodies, although in few cases the law was somewhat inaccurate.

This law was and still is the centre piece of what is now known as the ‘classical physics’ or ‘Newtonian Physics’. We all studied this law, Newton’s laws of motion, properties of matter, electricity and magnetism, heat and thermodynamics, optics etc in our schools and they gave the grounding for advanced physics.

For nearly 300 years this law was supreme and explained how the force of gravity controls the motions of all celestial bodies. However, the law did not say anything about the nature of this force or how the force is propagated through space; it just stated that the force diffuses through space without leaving any trace. As the predictions of the law were right in most of the cases, nobody bothered too much about these minor details or even ignored some minor discrepancies.    

At the turn of the 20th century, a patent clerk by the name Albert Einstein was working on patent submissions of electrical devices in Bern, Switzerland as a ‘Technical Expert, Third Class’ and in his spare time he was working on gravitational problems. The Patent Office work took up 48 hours of his time per week over six days. Einstein described his work load subsequently as, it left him with ‘eight hours for fooling around each day and then there is also Sunday!’.

In 1905 he published a technical paper outlining the Special Theory of Relativity giving revolutionary scientific ideas and concepts. In this paper, he introduced two fundamental concepts: the principle of relativity and the constancy of speed of light. The speed of light was stated to be independent of the speed of the observer. In other words, whether the observer moves in the direction of light or opposite to it, he would see the speed of light always remaining constant (c= 3*108 m/s). (It may be mentioned that in 1905, Albert Einstein produced three more monumental papers of enormous significance: (i) the mass-energy equivalence (E=mc2), (ii) Brownian motion of small particles, and (iii) photoelectric effects. For his work on photoelectric effects showing the particulate nature of light, which laid the foundation for quantum mechanics, he was awarded Nobel prize in 1921. As mentioned above, the year 1905 was extremely productive for Albert Einstein.

Visualisation of Einstein’s spacetime construct

Einstein developed his relativity concept even further and produced the General Theory of Relativity in 1915. In this General Theory of Relativity, he advanced the principle of spacetime, not space and time. He stipulated that the three dimensions of space (such as X, Y and Z dimensions of cartesian coordinates) and one dimension of time are not independent of each other, but intricately linked to form a single four-dimensional spacetime continuum.

This concept of spacetime continuum was revolutionary at that time and even now they make human beings baffled. The relativistic consideration has produced what is now called the time dilation. The passage of time is relative and so it depends on the motion of an observer relative to a stationary observer. Also, the passage of time depends on the location in a gravitational field. For example, a clock attached to an observer in a spaceship will tick slower than that of a clock attached to an observer in a stationary position. Also, a clock in a higher gravitational field, such as at the surface of earth, will tick slower than that of a clock in lower gravitational field such as the top of a mountain.

Let’s take an example. There were three men in the UK, all of them exactly of the same age, say, 25 years. They decided to offer themselves as guinea pigs for a research on gravity. One was asked to stay in Lincolnshire, England (not too far from Newton’s famous apple tree), the other was told to go and live high up in the Himalayan mountains and the third, most adventurer of the lot, got the opportunity to have a space travel in a superfast spaceship. The spaceship travelled fast and so his clock was ticking slowly. Let’s say his spaceship was so fast that one year in the spaceship clock was equal to five earth years and the mountain man clocked 10 minutes more than the Lincolnshire man in five years. When after five years they met on earth, they found that the mountain man was 10 minutes older than 30 years, Lincolnshire man was 30 years of earth age and the spaceship man was whopping four years younger than 30 years! To the spaceship man, it would look like he had come back four years in the future!     

Einstein stipulated that the gravitational field creates space and the bodies with masses bend and warp space; more like massive bodies create curvature in a trampoline. All less massive bodies fall into the curvature in the trampoline created by the massive bodies. When there are a large number of bodies warping the space, the space becomes jagged and celestial bodies move around in tortuous paths. There is no force of gravity pulling objects towards each other; just the bodies move around the jagged curved space along the path of least resistance.

Space, like any other force field, is discreet, quantised and granular. The quantum of space is dubbed as graviton, similar to the term photon in electromagnetic field, and it is so small that we cannot feel its discreteness, as we cannot feel the discreteness of photons of light or discreteness of atoms in a solid body.

Exactly hundred years after Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, experimental evidence of gravitational field and gravitational wave have been produced by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) experiment and shown that space is modulated by the gravitational field. A monochromatic laser beam of light was split and sent at right angles to each other along two arms, each of 4 km long. These beams were reflected back along the same path and allowed to interfere back at source. If there is no distortion or modulation of the path lengths, the two beams would interfere in anti-phases and there would be no interference patterns.

When two super massive black holes some 1.3 billion light years away merged and produced a gigantic massive black hole, an enormous amount of energy, equal to three solar masses, was produced and sent out as gravitational energy. It rippled through the whole universe in the form of gravitational wave at the speed of light and deformed the spacetime fabric. That deformation in spacetime was detected by the LIGO experiment in the form of interference pattern and that proves that gravitational waves modulates the space. 

The implication of Einstein’s spacetime is that at the very beginning when even the ‘Big Bang’ did not take place, there was no spacetime. Spacetime came into existence following that ‘Big Bang’, when gravity came into play along with other forces such as electrical force, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. If at the end, as Physics predicts, the whole universe starts to collapse, there would be what is called the ‘Big Crunch’ and the spacetime would collapse too and disappear. There will be nothing, no material, no space and no time. These are the predictions of scientific theories as exist today.

In 1930 when Einstein came to London as the guest of honour at a fundraising dinner to help the East European Jews, George Bernard Shaw, the chief guest, said humourously, “Ptolemy made a universe which lasted for 1400 years. Newton made a universe which lasted for 300 years. Einstein has made a universe, and I can’t tell you how long that will last.” The audience laughed loudly, but none louder than Einstein.

  • Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist


Advanced science, Astrophysics, Life as it is, Technical

Quantum Conundrum

The quantum concept that came into existence precisely in the year 1900 was both revolutionary in outlook and spectacular in outcome. This very concept which was put forward by Max Planck in 1900 when he tried to explain black body radiation was subsequently taken up by a luminary like Albert Einstein (as yet unknown to the world) in 1905 and gave a rational explanation to the hitherto difficult scientific problem.

The classical physics (also known as Newtonian physics) was ruling the day until about 1900 when all day-to-day physical problems could be explained by this discipline. But gradually it was running out of steam as new technically challenging phenomena came up due to invention of new instruments and reliable measurements were made.

The intractable physical processes like the black body radiation, interactions of light with particles, the puzzling behaviour of light and many more physical processes could not be explained by traditional classical mechanics. So, a new method, a new mode of thinking, a new science had to be invented that would explain all these inexplicable things.

Although Max Planck was first to venture outside the conventional concept of light being wave in nature to explain ‘black body radiation’ in 1900, it was Albert Einstein who gave scientific explanation by proposing in 1905 the ‘quantisation’ of light – a phenomenon where light was assumed to consist of discreet packets of energy – which he called quantum of light or photon. This quantum of light was advanced in order to explain the hitherto inexplicable photoelectric process, where light was allowed to fall on the surface of a metal and electrons were detected to have emitted. No matter how long or how intense one type of light was, electrons would not be emitted. Only when light of higher frequencies was allowed, electrons were emitted. Einstein showed that photons (quantum of energy in a bundle) of higher frequencies have higher energies and those higher energy photons could emit electrons. (It was like, no matter how long or how heavy the rain is, the roof would not be dented. Only when hailstorm of sufficient big sizes falls on the roof, does the roof cave in). For this quantisation theory, Einstein was awarded Nobel prize in 1921.

Thus, light came to be viewed as both wave and particle, depending on experimental circumstances, and hence the nomenclature ‘wave-particle duality’ came into common vocabulary. If hitherto electromagnetic light can be viewed both as wave and particle, can particles (like electrons) behave like waves? Indeed, so. If electrons are allowed to go through two slits, they interfere and produce alternate bright and dark spectral lines on a screen, exactly like light waves do. The microscopic world does not distinguish between waves and particles, they are blurred into indistinguishable entities. That is the nature that quantum mechanics has produced. 

Although Einstein was the pioneer of quantisation of light, he was not at ease with the way this new concept had been taken up by ‘new lions’ under the stewardship of physicists like Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger, Max Born and many more in the early part of the last century. They collectively produced the full-blown quantum mechanics, which Einstein had difficulty in recognising.  

In quantum theory, particles like electrons revolving round the nucleus of an atom do not exist as particles. They are like strata of waves smeared round the nucleus. However, they exist, behaving like particles, when some energy is imparted to the atom or some energy is taken away from the atom resulting in those electrons moving up or down in energy levels. In other words, electrons exist only when there is an interaction or transition. Without such transitions, electrons just do not show up. However, electrons (with negative charge) are there around the nucleus, but there is no way of telling where the electrons are – only probability of their presence (wave function) can be described! No wonder, Einstein was not happy with such description, which he called incomplete.

Heisenberg produced what came to be known as ‘Heisenberg uncertainty principle’. The elementary particle like an electron cannot be measured with absolute accuracy both its position and momentum at the same time. The act of measuring the position of an electron disturbs the complementary parameter like velocity and so certain amount of uncertainty in momentum creeps in – that is the uncertainty principle. Similar uncertainty exists when measuring time and energy of the particle at the same time.

Niels Bohr, the high priest of quantum mechanics, produced from his Advanced Institute of Physics in Copenhagen, what came to be known as ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ of quantum mechanics. This interpretation advanced the idea that elementary particles like electrons do not exist in stable or stationary conditions; they only exist in transitions and in interactions.

The ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’ further emphasised that a quantum particle can only be said to exist when it is observed, if it is not observed it does not exist. This was a revolutionary concept. Einstein could not reconcile with that idea. He retorted, “When the Moon is there in the sky, it is real; whether one observes it or not”. Thus, the great intellectual battle on the nature of reality ensued between Einstein and Bohr. Einstein firmly believed that the quantum mechanics as it existed in his life time was inconsistent and incomplete (although he withdrew the ‘inconsistent’ branding, as quantum mechanics kept explaining modern technical processes with consistency). To prove that ‘incompleteness’, he produced various ‘thought experiments’ at various times to challenge Bohr’s ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’. Bohr countered those challenges with technical explanations, but Einstein was not fully convinced.   

Einstein did not like the abstract nature of quantum mechanics. He always demanded that theory must correspond to the reality, if not, it becomes a ‘voodoo’ science.  

For his criticism, he was not very popular with the advocates of ‘Copenhagen Interpretation’. They even lamented that ‘how is it possible that Einstein who was the pioneer of quantum theory and who revolutionised gravitational concept by saying that space is warped by gravity and the gravitational field is indeed the space, now he is reluctant to accept ideas of quantum mechanics’?   

Quantum mechanics had solved many intractable problems and predicted many physical aspects which subsequently came to be true. But at the same time, it is incomprehensible, extremely abstract and devoid of ‘elements of reality’. Anybody hoping to see theory mirroring reality would be totally disappointed. Even Richard Feynman, American Nobel laureate, who contributed significantly to the development of quantum physics once retorted, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”! Nonetheless, quantum mechanics is the most advanced scientific discipline of today.

– Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist.

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Environmental, Technical

How global warming is impacting on Earth’s spin

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions might be affecting more than just the climate. For the first time, scientists at NASA presented evidence that the orientation of the Earth’s spin axis is changing because of global warming.

global_warming_1[1]The Earth spins from west to east about an axis once every 24 hours, creating the continuous cycle of day and night. The north-south spin axis runs through the North and South Poles and is tilted by 23.5 degrees from the vertical. The axial tilt causes almost all the seasonal changes.

But the tilt is far from constant. It varies between 21.6 and 24.5 degrees in a 41,000-year cycle. This variation together with small fluctuations in the Sun and Moon’s gravitational pull, oblate shape and elliptical orbit of the Earth, irregular surface, non-uniform distribution of mass and movement of the tectonic plates cause the spin axis, and hence the Poles, to wobble either east or west along its general direction of drift.

Until 2005, Earth’s spin axis has been drifting steadily in the southwest direction around ten centimetres each year towards the Hudson Bay in Canada. However, in 2005, the axis took an abrupt turn and started to drift east towards England at an annual rate of about 17 centimetres, according to data obtained by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites. It is still heading east.

After analysing the satellite data, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California attribute the sudden change in direction of the axis mainly to melting of Greenland’s ice sheets due to global warming. The reason: Melting of ice sheets and the resulting rise of the sea level are changing the distribution of mass on Earth, thereby causing the drift of the spin to change direction and become more oblique. The axis is particularly sensitive to changes in mass distribution occurring north and south of 45 degrees latitude. This phenomenon is similar to the shift in the axis of rotation of a spinning toy if we put more mass on one side of the top or the other.

Since 2002, ice sheets of Greenland have been melting at an annual rate of roughly 270 million tonnes. Additionally, some climate models indicate that a two-to-three degrees Celsius rise in temperature would result in a complete melting of Greenland’s ice sheets. If that happens, it could release the equivalent of as much as 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, enhancing global warming even further. It would also raise the sea level by about 7.5 meters. By then, the wobbling of the Poles would also be completely out of whack.

The ice in the Arctic Ocean has also decreased dramatically since the 1960s. For every tonne of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, about three square meters of Arctic’s ice were lost in the last 50 years. This reflects a disquieting long-term trend of around ten percent loss of ice per decade. Furthermore, Antarctica is losing more ice than is being replaced by snowfall. The influx of water from the melting of ice of the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica together with the melting of glaciers and the subsequent redistribution of water across the Earth is also causing our planet to pitch over.

What does this mean for us? Although something as small as we humans shook up something as massive as the Earth, it won’t turn upside down as long as the Moon, which acts as a stabiliser of the Earth’s spinning motion, stays in the sky as our nearest neighbour. However, if the shift of the spin axis maintains its present rate and direction, then by the end of this century, the axis would shift by nearly 14 meters. Such a large shift will have devastating consequences for climate change and our planet.

The orientation of the Earth’s spin axis determines the seasonal distribution of radiation at higher latitudes. If the axial tilt is smaller, the Sun does not travel as far north in the sky during summer, producing cooler summers. A larger tilt, as could be in the future, would mean summer days that would be much hotter than the present summer days. In addition, it would impact the accuracy of GPS and other satellite-dependent devices.

Since global warming is causing the Earth’s mass to be redistributed towards the Poles, it would cause the planet to spin faster, just as an ice skater spins faster when she pulls her arms towards her body. Consequently, the length of a day would become shorter.

Our biological clock that regulates sleeping, walking, eating, and other cyclic activities is based on a 24-hour day. Faced with a shorter day, these circadian rhythms would be hopelessly out of sync with the natural world. Moreover, a rapidly spinning Earth will be unstable to the extent that the Poles would wobble faster. This would create enormous stress on the Earth’s geology leading to large-scale natural disasters that will most likely be disastrous for life on Earth.

We may not witness the effects of a rapidly spinning Earth by the end of this century or the next. Nevertheless, the effects will be perceivable a few centuries from now if the global temperature keeps on rising and the ice sheets keep on melting in tandem.

The shift in the Earth’s spin axis due to climate change highlights how real and profoundly large impact humans are having on the planet. The dire consequences of the shift in the axial tilt towards a larger obliquity, as noted above, is not a wake-up call, but an alarm bell. There is still time for our leaders to listen to the scientists and formulate a long-term approach to tackle the problem of climate change instead of a short-term Band-Aid approach, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which will see us through only to the end of this century. Therefore, our foremost goal before the death knell should be to reverse global warming, or at the least, to stop further warming instead of limiting it to 1.5-degree in the next 75 years or so.

The author, Quamrul Haider, is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

 

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Bangladesh, Economic, International, Technical

Orbit of Bangabandhu-1 and other satellites

May 12, 2018 is a red-letter day in the history of Bangladesh. On this day, “Bangladesh started a glorious chapter in the history with the launching of Bangabandhu-1 satellite,” President Abdul Hamid said in a message to the nation. Indeed, Bangabandhu-1 added a new milestone to the path of continued advancement of the country. Proudly displaying the flag of Bangladesh on its solar panels, the satellite is orbiting the Earth in a geostationary orbit located at 119.1 degrees east longitude.

The physics of a satellite’s orbit is remarkable. For our current knowledge of orbital motion, we owe tons of gratitude to Johannes Kepler who, in the early 17th century, relentlessly pursued the planetary orbits by putting the Sun at the centre of ‘his’ Universe. In this pursuit, he gave us three laws of planetary motion that endure to this day. Of particular interest to the motion of satellites is his third law, which states that the square of a planet’s orbital period (in years) is equal to the cube of the planet’s average distance (in astronomical unit) from the Sun. One astronomical unit is the average distance of Earth from the Sun, which is approximately 150 million km.

By working with his laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation, Isaac Newton found that Kepler’s third law is a special case of a more general law. He showed that in addition to the cube of the average distance of a planet from the Sun, square of the orbital period is also inversely proportional to the mass of the Sun. Moreover, according to Newton, the orbital speed of a small object orbiting a much more massive object depends only on its orbital radius, not on its mass. Accordingly, if satellites are closer to Earth, the pull of gravity gets stronger, and they move more quickly in their orbit.
The speed, however, depends on the mass of the massive object. That is why an astronaut does not need a tether to stay close to the International Space Station during a space walk. Even though the space station is much bigger than the astronaut, both are much smaller than Earth and thus stay together because they have the same orbital speed.

Satellites can be placed in different kinds of orbit – geosynchronous, geostationary, Sun-synchronous, semi-synchronous, orbit at Lagrange points.When a satellite is placed in a ‘sweet spot’ where, irrespective of its inclination, it orbits the Earth in the same amount of time the Earth rotates with respect to the stars, which is 23 hours 56 minutes and 4 seconds, it would appear stationary over a single longitude in the sky as seen from the Earth. This kind of orbit, where communication satellites are placed, is called geosynchronous orbit.

A special case of geosynchronous orbit is the geostationary orbit, which has a circular, geosynchronous orbit directly above the Earth’s equator. Besides communications, both orbits are also extremely useful for monitoring the weather because satellites in these orbits provide a constant view of the same surface. Using the rotational time and known mass of the Earth, we find that the orbital radius of a geostationary orbit is about 42,220 km from the centre of the Earth, which is about 35,850 km above the Earth’s surface.

Just as geosynchronous satellites have a sweet spot, satellites in a near polar orbit have a sweet spot too. If the orbits of these satellites are tilted by about eight degrees from the pole, a perturbing force produced by Earth’s oblateness would cause the orbit to precess 360 degrees during the course of the year. Satellites in such an orbit, known as Sun-synchronous or Helio-synchronous orbit, would pass over any given point on the Earth’s surface at the same local time each day. Additionally, they would be constantly illuminated by the Sun, which would allow their solar panels to work round the clock. Orbiting at an altitude between 700 and 800 km with an orbital period of roughly 100 minutes, satellites in a Sun-synchronous orbit are used for reconnaissance, mapping the Earth’s surface and as weather satellites, especially for measuring the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere and monitoring atmospheric temperature.

Many Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are in another sweet spot known as semi-synchronous orbit. While geosynchronous orbit matches Earth’s rotational period, satellites in semi-synchronous orbit, at an altitude of approximately 20,000 kilometres, are in a 12-hour near-circular orbit. With a smaller orbital radius, a satellite would have a larger coverage of ground area on the Earth’s surface.

Other orbital sweet spots are five points located on the Earth’s orbital plane. The combined gravitational force of the Earth and the Sun acting on a satellite placed at these points, known as Lagrange points, would ensure that its orbital period is equal to that of Earth’s. Hence, the satellite will maintain its position relative to the Earth and the Sun.
The two nearest Lagrange points, one between the Earth and the Sun and the other in the opposite direction of the Sun, each 1.5 million km away from the Earth, are home to many space-based observatories. Some of them are the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, the Deep Space Climate Observatory producing accurate forecasts and providing warning by monitoring dangerous space-weather conditions, and the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe measuring the cosmic background radiation left over from the Big Bang.
The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York.

Advanced science, Astrophysics, Cultural, Environmental, Life as it is, Religious, Technical

Ranking of Human Civilisation

Despite what the great ‘Divine Books’ such as Torah, Bible, Quran, Bhagavat Gita and so on and so forth say about the existence of life on earth, scientifically life on earth originated from single cells which then mutated to form multi-cellular organisms. The evolution of primates (comprising apes, chimpanzees, gorillas and eventually humans) can be traced back to over 65 million years. Primates are one of the oldest of all placental mammal groups, which withstood the vagaries of life.

There is now a consensus of opinions among the evolutionary scientists that evolution of Hominidae (apes) took place around 28 million years ago and then subsequently subfamilies – homininae (humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas), homo genus (humans, Neanderthals, homo erectus), homo sapiens (intelligent humans) and finally anatomical modern humans took place about 8 million years, 2.5 million years, 0.5 million years and 200,000 years ago respectively. This chronological development of evolutionary chain is what is accepted now as incontrovertible scientific fact.

The anatomically modern human beings who first appeared in South West Africa – near the coastal borders of Namibia and Angola – were intelligent animals with highly developed brains, and this intelligence led them to become savage animals in the rough and tough world to survive. Around 50,000 years ago, they started migrating to other continents (as permafrost offered them land migration routes) and colonised other areas. When they came across Neanderthals (a subspecies of homo genus) in Europe and other hominins in Asia, they were systematically eliminated. Neanderthals completely disappeared around 30,000 years ago. The victorious modern human beings were, nonetheless, hunter gathers competing for food with four legged animals like wolfs, hyenas, dogs etc. That was the time when one can call human civilisation at level 0.

Since that time, human brain rather than brawn evolved drastically, which is directly attributable to evolutionary mechanism. Although evolutionary process was in action for millions of years, it took a step change. Humans as a distinct species (two legged animals) coalesced together and started to fight jointly against other species. They developed cooperation, communication, collectivism etc, all of which gave them superior strength which no other animal species could muster. Human civilisation was gradually progressing, but still it was stuck at the primitive level 0.

A step change in civilisation came about at around 10,000 years ago, when ice in the Ice Age started to recede after hundreds of thousands of years of permafrost. As ice melted, soil started to surface and vegetation, plants, grasses etc appeared. The human beings with their ingenuity started to farm land, domesticated animals such as cows, horses, dogs etc., produced agricultural products, formed communities and tribes. The hunter gathers were no longer solely reliant on animals for food, they developed diversified food products and eating habits. Whereas previously they used animals for food, now they started to produce food with their own hands. The energy they expended per capita could be estimated as around quarter of a horse power (~200W). This development can be designated as level 1 of type 1 civilisation.

From that time on, human civilisation started to progress at accelerated pace. Humans started to appreciate, admire and even worship the powers of nature; wondered about the might of the sun, rain, storm, fire, earth and so forth and created in their minds and thought processes various deities, gods etc, who were perceived to be more powerful than mere mortal human beings. These fictitious constructs gradually got embedded in the minds as irrevocable entities and these formed the seed corns of numinous undertakings, which flourished eventually as religions.

About 5,000 years ago, Abraham in the land of Canaan (in the Middle East) merged all these disparate and conflicting gods and divine constructs into a single entity and created a unitary God. That was the beginning of monotheism which culminated into three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The unitary God was proclaimed to be all powerful, all knowledgeable, all pervasive, eternal creator of everything. Over the centuries, these three versions of the unitary God fought for supremacy and allegiance of human beings.

Whether the advent of religions, either monotheistic or polytheistic, is a progress in human civilisation or a sheer retrogressive step is open to question. This religious mindset, relegating human beings to moronic state totally reliant on the whims of abstract all-powerful non-existent God is delusional, to say the least. This transfer of human accountability to this God is so tempting and enduring that religions have taken over the thread of civilisation in a way that no other philosophical undertaking could possibly do. For centuries since Abrahamic time, through Jesus Christ and Mohammad, literature, art, culture, architecture, philosophy etc were dominated by religious ideas. Numerous sculptors, painters, poets, authors and so forth all eulogised the existence and powers of God.

Around 300 years ago, another civilizational step took place with the coming of industrial revolution. Steam engines started to drive machines and locomotives. No longer humans were dependent on their bare hands or on animals. Cars, trucks, trains etc were driven by steam engines or internal combustion engines. Electricity was produced by steam engines (turbo-generators) due to the motion of electromagnets. Industries of various sorts started to develop, human population increased, towns, cities started to develop. Population grew not only due to the availability of food but also due to the advancement of biological/medical sciences taming all diseases in general and diseases like cholera, TB etc, in particular, causing epidemic among population. Progress in science and technology steamed ahead and civilisation went up few notches.

Another enormous step change came during the past few decades. This time it was not the physical expansion of wealth generation and prosperity, but the increase in information technology. No longer humans were dependent on mode of communication by notes on papers, letters, telegrams or even fixed line telephony, but on electronic communication, where electrons danced through cables, fibre-optics etc. People now communicate live in various continents, send photos, documents etc instantaneously. A man in the UK can talk simultaneously to people in Japan, Australia, America and Argentina all at the same time. People can move from one place to another at enormous speeds.

Satellites in the sky can detect an object anywhere on the ground as small as few meters. Satellite navigation is a common mode of identifying location, particularly for transport vehicles, replacing age-old traditional maps. Letters, parcels etc can be delivered by drones, flying in air and descending at the back of gardens within a matter of hours. Although drone technology is available now, but it could not be put in practice until some safety provisions and regulatory requirements are enforced. This advanced state of civilisation can be placed as level 7.

There are yet many more technological advancements to be had in this world and we can gradually move towards civilisation levels 8, 9 and 10. At that stage, human beings would be looking beyond our planet into the outer skies.

Now the readers must be admired at this stage who had come this far without knowing what this ranking of civilisation is and what are these levels? Back in 1964, a Russian astrophysicist by the name Nikolai Kardashev was probing the outer skies – planets, stars, galaxies etc – for signs of civilisation. But then he was confronted with the very fundamental question of ‘what is civilisation’? Is civilisation just an abstract concept which cannot be quantified and ranked, only felt and sensed? If that is the case, are we not constrained in categorising a civilisation as to its level of achievement?

Kardashev realised that different professions would tend to define civilisations differently – an artist might define a civilisation by the creative flavour of paintings by its inhabitants; a poet might define it by the quality of poems, culture and the society; a philosopher might try on the basis of abstract theological ideas, its society, government and so on. A physicist might like to quantify on the basis energy it needs. And that is how the scientific ranking of the civilisation is portrayed here.

According to Kardashev if the civilisation of a planet or heavenly body is solely dependent on the energy or power it receives from its primary source – Sun in the case of Earth – then that civilisation is Type I. He then quantified that a ball point figure of 1017 watts as the limiting power for Type I civilisation. A Type II civilisation is one which harnesses stellar energies – energies beyond the constraints of the planet itself. A Type III civilisation is galactic, harnessing energies in the outer skies coming from millions and billions of stars and galaxies.

The human civilisation has not even reached the zenith of Type I civilisation. With all the advanced technologies, we may be hovering around level 6 or 7 and so we have three more levels to go before we could be harnessing around 1017 watts to reach the end of Type I civilisation. It might take a century or two before we reach that stage.

Two more articles will be presented here dealing with Type II and Type III civilisations. So, watch out readers for stellar and galactic civilisations!

 

A. Rahman is an author and a columnist.