A Bengali’s Brainchild Creating Waves In Space Research

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Spent his childhood years in the alleys of a Bengal’s Islampur village, the boy completed his higher education in the land of Tagore. Who knew that this village-bred  prodigy will make a mark in the world of astronomic sciences.

Massive extra solar planet with a mass 8000 times the mass of Earth was his recent discovery which earned him much recognition. Currently, the project head of ISRO, this discovery is expected to put ISRO ahead of NASA.

Speaking to Kolkata 24×7’s Tannishtha Bhandari, renowned astrophysicist Dr. Biswajit Paul draws a clear picture of the extra-solar planet discovery.

সাক্ষাৎকার: এই বাঙালির হাত ধরেই NASA-কে হারিয়ে দেবে ISRO

1. Will this discovery carve a pathway for a new façade in the field of space research?

This discovery is in stark contrast to similar other discoveries. The two stars revolve around their centre of mass in 7 hrs. And the planet similarly revolves around the stars in two years. Thus it can recognized as the most compact binary system known to have a planet.

It is the first planet to revolve around an X-ray binary stellar system, which states that one of the stars is a neutron star and the other being a black hole which emits X-ray. Among the discoveries which involves revolving around two stars or being a part of the binary system, this is claimed to be  the most massive among the circum-binary planets.

2. What novel methods were being implemented in this process of discovery?

This is the first planet found using X-ray observations. In space research terminology, is is known as “periodic delay in X-ray eclipses”. X-ray eclipses are found to appear earlier and later in a periodic manner, which indicates that it possesses an oscillatory motion, perhaps due to the motion of a third body around it. The hunt for the third body led to the discovery.

3. How is it distinctive from Earth?

The biggest contrast comes in terms of the visibility of the ‘sun’ . Two such stars will be visible from this planet. One having the appearance of a water droplet.  As the X-ray emitting star consumes gas from the other star, it takes the shape of a disk. So that form remains visible.

4. How many planets in the binary system has been discovered so far?

20 such planets have been traced, but the above mentioned one is known to be the oldest.

5. How long did it take for the discovery?

Me along with some of my fellow scientists commenced work 5 years ago. It remained stalled for a significant period though. The rest was completed in the past 4 months.

6. With which ISRO project are you currently associated with?

Mission Polix. It involves the invention of a specialized instrument which will be sent to the space through a satellite.

7. What is the project intended for?

This instrument will serve as a medium to get details about the structure of the magnetic field of neutron star. This telescope like instrument will delineate the features of Black Hole. This will eventually pave the way for new prospects in astronomical sciences. It will also explain how Black Hole will impact lives. Many theories have been fabricated based on beliefs. This instrument is expected to give a clear understanding.

8. How is ISRO extending its help in this project?

This project is conceived at Raman Research Institute. We are provided with every possible resource by ISRO since it will be launched into space through its satellite.

9. Is this instrument a first of its kind?

Very much. US is also working on a similar project which is expected to get launched by NASA in 2020. If situations favour, we can be a step ahead with a 2019 launch.

10. Where does India stand in the field of space science research?

Decades ago, US or Europe were the pioneers in this field. We used to follow their footsteps. But the scenario has changed over the years. Many countries are now dependent on ISRO’s satellite projects. Indians have been making a mark in this field and leading some top projects.

11. Any infrastructural loophole in Indian space research? What is your opinion?

Indian educational system provides for limited scope in experimental research compared to theoretical research. Universities in US, Europe have research opportunities at an early level.

12. How does Bengalis perceive this field?

Never pondered upon this. I had came across many Bengalis while working in this field. Kolkata has state-of-the-art institutes which pose as national centres of research. To name a few, S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics provides ample opportunities to pursue astrophysics. Presidency University also has similar courses.

13. Did Astronomy fascinate you since the beginning?

Initially, Astronomy did fascinate me but my interest grew in leaps and bounds while studying Physics.

14. Throw some light on your educational background.

I completed my schooling in North Bengal. Then graduated in Physics from Raiganj University and obtained a masters degree from Shantiniketan. I later shifted to Mumbai and started working. Then Bengaluru’s Raman Research Institute happened.

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