I have always been fascinated by cosmology.

I am guessing it started with the TV series COSMOS by Carl Sagan, one of the few western programmes deemed by the Desi bureaucrats to be worthy of being beamed to our homes in the 80’s. I know most of what Carl Sagan said went right over my head but I was fascinated by some of the things he said and showed.

I remember one the episodes had an explanation on the speed of light. He explained that if one of the two twins sitting on a bench on a beautiful day went on a ride in a motorcycle (or was it a scooter?) at the speed of light around the block, when he would arrive back, the rider’s age would stay the same, relatively speaking. However, the brother waiting for him would have aged and the camera pans to this old guy seating on the bench waiting for his brother to come back from the motorcycle ride.

Wow! That imagery is probably what sucked me in to cosmology. I had tried to understand, broadly, most of what has been going around in cosmology ever since. I read books by Roger Penrose, Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, John Wheeler, Brian Greene, Carl Sagan, Steven Weinberg etc. I would be the first one to confess that most of the ideas of Cosmology are beyond my understanding. But I persist because every now and then, a line or a paragraph or a page suddenly presents an understanding that is so astounding, so gratifying, so illuminating that the hours spent on reading and re-reading a book are totally worth it. Which is why news like the this one, is so exciting to me.

By watching the motions of 28 stars orbiting the Milky Way’s most central region with admirable patience and amazing precision, astronomers have been able to study the supermassive black hole lurking there. It is known as “Sagittarius A*” (pronounced “Sagittarius A star”). The new research marks the first time that the orbits of so many of these central stars have been calculated precisely and reveals information about the enigmatic formation of these stars — and about the black hole to which they are bound.

The interstellar dust that fills the Galaxy blocks our direct view of the Milky Way’s central region in visible light. So astronomers used infrared wavelengths that can penetrate the dust to probe the region. While this is a technological challenge, it is well worth the effort. “The Galactic Centre harbours the closest supermassive black hole known. Hence, it is the best place to study black holes in detail,” argues the study’s first author, Stefan Gillessen.

Wow!!! I think, this bit of news is now going to kick start the next round of reading on Cosmology.


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