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Let’s talk science and why we need it



Light travels at a finite speed of 280,000km per seconds – the speed of light. Because the speed is finite, every photon in every ray of light that reaches an eye or camera sensor left its source some time ago. If the object under observation is a few feet away, that time was a tiny fraction of a second ago. If the source is many trillions of kilometres away, the picture that is seen is quite literally of an object as it was billions of years ago. For that reason, it is said that telescopes are time machines.

Last week, the world got its first peek of images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), developed over a period of 10 years, launched in December of last year and currently parked more than a million kilometres beyond the orbit of the Moon. Telescopes are also differentiated by the wavelength of the photons of ‘light’ (electromagnetic radiation) they are capable of detecting. The JWST is able to capture visible light and, more critically, improves on the ability to capture infrared light of its older cousin, the Hubble Space Telescope.

Since the beginning of the universe around 13.8 billion years ago, space has been expanding. One effect of that is that the wavelength of light in the visible spectrum emitted by sources in the early universe has been gradually increasing. That light from the earliest of objects in the universe is now in the infrared spectrum, the same kind used by your TV’s remote control. Due to its wider range in the infrared spectrum, the JWST will be able to capture those early photons, which makes it a time machine that will allow us to peer back as much as just 100-250 million years after the Big Bang.

If you think this will give us the earliest picture of the universe yet you are mistaken. That distinction goes to the picture of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation released in 2012. It goes back to just 380,000 years after the Big Bang, a time when all matter in the universe was so densely packed together that stars, planets and galaxies could not form yet.

The price tag of the JWST has been $10 billion over 10 years, split between the lead partner of the project, NASA, and its European and Canadian counterparts, ESA and CSA.

As many economies around the globe are anticipating entering recessions, some people across the political spectrum are questioning the wisdom in spending this much money on space exploration. To put it in a local perspective, $10 billion over 10 years is comparable (but not equal) to Pakistan’s import bill of tea over the same period. The argument to postpone spending on science because there are more urgent needs at home is a weak one. Such a standard for spending on science and R&D would put all human exploration in the back seat permanently because there will always be competing priorities, and without exploration humans would still be living in caves.

Spending on science is a lot like spending on art. The Covid lockdowns in 2020 drastically curtailed options for activities, which meant that a lot more people were consuming artistic works (film, TV, music, books, games) and which hopefully made everyone appreciate the importance of the artist in society. Perhaps that is something science and art spending have in common – you only realize you need it when you do not have it.

I learnt most of this from following news coverage of the JWST since its launch late last year. In that period, not to my surprise, the contribution of local news sources to my education has been non-existent. Locally, hobbyist astronomer societies in major cities (Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi) organize meetups and viewings for the public around events on the astronomical calendar. Beyond that, however, in the broader media landscape of radio and television, there are few takers for in-depth coverage of this kind of news or science news in general outside the obligatory 30-second bulletin.

But the blame for this cannot be put on the supply side of information alone. For a look at the demand side (media consumers) consider the daily landscape of Pakistani/ Urdu social media which is a barren wasteland almost completely devoid of art, science, and exploration – anything that is not power politics or religion. Follow Pakistani Twitter for a few months and you could be forgiven for believing that the first thought on waking and last thought before sleeping of foreign leaders everywhere is Pakistan, that the world, nay the galaxy, revolves around us. Scroll your newsfeed back by six months, a year, even five years, and the only difference between the conversations you will see will be the cute nicknames the public and the media give political and corruption scandals of the day.

If you doubt that we have an inflated sense of self, may I remind you that just a few days ago our former prime minister declared that angels would hold voters that did not cast their ballot for the PTI accountable in their graves for not supporting him.

There are many good reasons to fund science and exploration and make it figure more prominently in everyday life. They include the economic argument of producing unforeseen yet commercially valuable inventions. Space exploration in particular has the ability to puncture our egos by showing us the relative insignificance of our size (and our problems) relative to the rest of the universe.

A population as science illiterate as ours becomes a target begging to be cheated by any charlatan that comes along. In 2012, Agha Waqar earned himself his own Wikipedia page as well as a spot on its page for “water-fuelled car” by claiming to have built a perpetual motion machine, something I wrote about in an article (‘Charlatans in a science illiterate society, Oct 2, 2016, The News on Sunday). Unable to figure out the impossibility of such a claim, the majority of people were willing to give Agha Waqar’s claims the benefit of the doubt. That was not surprising. However, what was shocking was that in the days to follow he was granted audiences with the country’s leading scientists and engineers, with the media in tow, and none was willing or able to call out the absurdity of his claim (save for one!).

On Oct 21, 2021 the New Yorker published an article titled ‘NASA’s New Telescope Will Show Us the Infancy of the Universe’. It retells an anecdote of Columbia University astronomer David Helfand from the ‘60s back when he was an undergraduate student. A professor asked him how he would justify spending on space exploration in front of Congress. He invoked the economic argument for his answer to which his professor replied it was the wrong answer. He said that the study of the universe is “like opera, or poetry” because exploration is “what distinguishes us as humans.” And so, while there are many valid reasons to explore the world we live in (economic, the ability to not be taken in by frauds), the best one is satisfying our human curiosity.

The writer (she/her) is a professional engineer and has a PhD in Education


Chinese space expert believes India’s Chandrayaan-3 did not land on lunar south pole




  • Chandrayaan-3’s location on earth would be within Antarctic Circle. 
  • ISRO awaits to establish contact with Chandrayaan-3 a week later.
  • US and China planning to send astronauts to the lunar south pole.

Tensions between India and China have spilled over into space exploration following the former’s recent achievement of a significant milestone with the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s southern pole, surpassing Beijing’s previous record.

However, a prominent Chinese scientist has disputed the landing site’s location, asserting that it is not actually situated in the southern pole region or anywhere near it.

The Chandrayaan-3 landing location, at 69 degrees south latitude, is far from the pole, which is defined as being between 88.5 and 90 degrees, Ouyang Ziyuan, who is credited with founding China’s lunar exploration programme told the Chinese publication Science Times.

On Earth, 69 degrees south would be within the Antarctic Circle, but the lunar version of the circle is much closer to the pole. The Chandrayaan-3 was 619 kilometres (385 miles) distant from the polar region, Ouyang said.

After the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3, Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based senior space expert, said that China had much better technology, Bloomberg reported.

“China’s space program has been capable of sending orbiters and landers directly into earth-moon transfer orbit since the launch of Chang’e-2 in 2010, a manoeuvre that India has yet to deliver given the limited capacity of its launch vehicles. The engine that China used is also far more advanced,” Zhihao said.

Still, India’s Chandrayaan-3 went much farther south than any other spacecraft, according to Mint.

The Indian space agency, ISRO, is now waiting to establish contact with the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover on Chandrayaan-3 after the rover went into sleep mode a week ago.

Till the next moon sunset, which is scheduled for October 6, the Indian space agency will keep trying to revive the Chandrayaan-3 lander and rover.

Chang’e 4, a Chinese spacecraft, made the first landing on the far side of the moon in 2019 at a latitude of 45 degrees south. In 1968, Surveyor 7, an unmanned Nasa spacecraft, landed on the moon in a position of roughly 41 degrees south.

Moreover, both the US and China are looking to the region in preparation for their forthcoming ambitions to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since Nasa’s Apollo programme came to an end 50 years ago.

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WATCH: Meta’s AI-fuelled chatbots bring celebrities to your private conversations




Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta Platforms, has just dropped a bombshell of tech innovations set to change the way we interact with AI. 

Among the highlights are smart glasses that redefine connectivity, AI-powered chatbots with celebrity personas, and an updated virtual reality headset.

Personality-infused chatbots

Meta is at the forefront of the chatbot revolution, introducing a series of intelligent virtual assistants. 

These chatbots are not your ordinary digital helpers. They come with distinct personalities and specialisations, offering more personalised and engaging interactions. 

From settling arguments to providing holiday tips and cooking advice, Meta’s chatbots are designed to connect with users on a deeper level.

Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses

Shipping from October 17th at £299, the new generation of Meta’s Ray-Ban smart glasses is set to redefine how we experience reality. 

These cutting-edge glasses incorporate a Meta AI assistant, enabling users to seamlessly stream their real-world experiences directly to Facebook and Instagram. 

Gone are the days of mere photo capturing. These glasses deliver real-time immersion.

Quest 3: The ultimate mixed-reality experience

Meta’s Quest 3 headset, slated to be available from October 10th, takes mixed reality to new heights. 

With a starting price of £500, it’s positioned as the best value in the VR industry, challenging Apple’s higher-priced Vision Pro headset. 

Wearers can enjoy virtual experiences while maintaining a connection to the real world, thanks to a live video feed.

Generative AI

Meta also introduced generative AI into its arsenal. This AI innovation can generate both text responses and lifelike images, adding an exciting element of creativity to user interactions.

Zuckerberg’s presentation at the Meta Connect conference, the company’s first in-person event since the pandemic, showcased Meta’s commitment to making cutting-edge technology accessible and affordable to everyone. 

By combining celebrity personas with AI chatbots and delivering immersive tech experiences, Meta is forging a path towards a more interactive and entertaining digital future.

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WATCH: Google search engine shows off creative doodle to celebrate 25th anniversary




Over 25 years ago, a unique concept for an internet search engine that would classify and rank web pages was developed by two Stanford University students during a brainstorming session in their dorm.

BackRub, initially a startup, transformed into Google, a globally influential company with products like Gmail and Search used by billions, while its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin ranked among the world’s richest people.

While Google Inc was incorporated on September 4, for more than a decade the company has celebrated its birthday on September 27 with unique doodles displayed on its search engine.

However, this year, Google Inc decided to take a “walk down memory lane” and showcased a series of creative different doodles, including doodles of previous logos, to mark this special occasion.

This year’s Google Doodle comes with a GIF that shows the term ‘Google’ going through a series of transformations before finally transforming to ‘G25gle’.

The tech giant said that it was using this day as a “time to reflect” while being oriented towards the future.

“Today’s Doodle celebrates Google’s 25th year. And while here at Google we’re oriented towards the future, birthdays can also be a time to reflect. Let’s take a walk down memory lane to learn how we were born 25 years ago,” Google wrote in its blog.

Google was founded by Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the late 90s, who met in Stanford University’s computer science program.

They shared a vision to make the World Wide Web more accessible, working tirelessly from their dorm rooms to develop a better search engine prototype.

“As they made meaningful progress on the project, they moved the operation to Google’s first office — a rented garage. On September 27, 1998, Google Inc was officially born,” according to the blog.

Furthermore, the company emphasised that much has changed since 1998, but also said that its mission has remained the same which is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Thanking users for “evolving with us over the past 25 years,” Google added, “We can’t wait to see where the future takes us, together”.

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, celebrated the company’s birthday by reflecting on its journey in a note last month.

He looked back on the company’s role in technology transformation, and its future path while thanking users, employees, and partners for their contributions to Google’s success.

He also praised the constant innovation challenge and commended the dedication of past and present Googlers.

In his note, Pichai also noted the importance of innovation and adaptation, acknowledging that the once extraordinary technology quickly became ordinary as the boundaries continued to be pushed, NDTV reported.

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