Skip to content

about the Q&As [meta]


Whenever I have had the opportunity to talk with non-astronomers about astronomy and astrophysics, or science in general actually, I have always been amazed at the level of interest and curiosity among people at all levels and ages. They are always brimming with questions, and invariably highly intelligent and perceptive questions. In fact, I’ve found that the younger the audience, the faster the questioning gets to the point where I start admitting that I don’t know the answer. Which is fun for me as a scientist, because it is great to be shown the places that we are yet to traverse, but also the variety and profundity of the questions is a beautiful thing to behold. I still remember the vast astonishment I felt when a middle school student in Madikeri asked, is the solar system really like a dodecahedron? Where had this kid heard about Kepler’s Mysterium Cosmographicum?!

Last January, I attended an astronomy conference aimed at college students at Udupi. Dr. A.P.Bhat, who had organized it, had collected a number of questions from the students that the professional astronomers who were attending could answer. The enthusiasm of the students to ask all sorts of questions and to learn was absolutely incredible to behold. There would be crowds of them, many layers deep, surrounding and firing questions at the pros, who would be completely invisible behind the wall of students.

Unfortunately, we had time during the conference to answer only a small percentage of the questions they had come in with. I felt bad about that, because they had gone to the trouble to think about it and formulate the questions, and they deserved answers to the best of my knowledge and ability. So I figured I would use this forum to run through some of those questions. I have tried to keep the answers short and colloquial, and also tried to include some context so that interested people can follow up on their own. These are not designed to be spoon-fed answers, but simply starting points to learn more. All the questions and answers are collected under the category Q&A.

This kind of exercise also fits in with the charter of CREATE Gurukula. Our aim is to inspire students to look farther and to do better. We want them to be motivated to learn as much on their own as in a classroom, and if this series of posts does that, I would consider it a job well done.

A word of warning. I am not an expert in most of the subjects that are dealt with here, and don’t know much more than what a general astro graduate education equips me with. My specialization is in stellar coronal astrophysics, and not, for example, cosmology! So I apologize in advance for mistakes and imprecise language in the answers. I welcome corrections and updates from people who know whereof they speak.