Authors of “Universe Beyond Imagination: Fate of the Earth” talk on their new book and its contemporary implications

It’s not the same as before. With the creation of new knowledge, the world is changing. The masters of the past no longer appeal to the current generation. There’s a great quest to unveil the mysteries of the unknown, to wander beyond the limits set by religion and classical philosophy. The young generation is a major component, if not the leader, of this crusading force.

UNIVERSE BEYOND IMAGINATION: Fate of Earth” is perhaps one of its stepping stones. Written by Debasish Talukdar (26) and Ankita Boruah (22), the book is a journey through many ideas that make up our world, as experienced by two fictional youngsters. The ideas contained within might not be their own discoveries, a point worth remembering is that this is not a scientific treatise, but the book accomplished what it wanted to do, to connect the key ideas of Physics and present them in a form understood by all.  It is an attempt to develop real interest in science, something that inspires people to follow it passionately instead of memorizing scientific equations. From Earth’s loss and gain of mass and Butterfly effect to discussions on Newtonian and Einstein gravity, it is a very interesting read that draws in people irrespective of their usual preferences.

We connected with the duo and had a discussion on the book, their passions and the possible implications of their new work. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation.

Demystifying the universe and its secrets seem like a grand undertaking. Is it something that you’ve both been very passionate about?

Debashish: Well, since my school days I believed in a saying of Carl Sagan that, “The mind is a very large place in a tiny space.” The very quote has pushed me in discovering the power of questioning the unknown. With lots of queries boggling up my head, I have always invested myself in search of a logical reason to support all explanations.  Watching Einstein, I fell in love with the idea that universe isn’t a mystical nether world that’s something beyond the grasp of human mind. Right from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy everything must have a definable answer and thus, I vowed to serve this cause.  Later, when I grew up, physics fascinated me, the cosmos allured me and I ended up in ISRO at an age of 22 years. But, still there was a void within me. When I was in Oxford, I was doing my research on dark energy and dark matter; and on the basis of my explanations I came up with my first book… Well, it carried the same title with that of the one we have now but never got published. You can say this book of mine to be a fruit of my unaccomplished desire. So, that book never got published as the Royal Society of Physics didn’t permit its publication stating the presence of contradictory statements.  But you know, that’s how universe works. Impossible is a relative term, so things resorted back, I continued to do my work dropping that idea of mine but yaa, that was always hitting me from inside. Then, I got a call from universe, maybe, so I hit upon this girl and the rest is what you see now – Our book.

Ankita: Passionate… Okay, let me be honest. Despite being a science student, I never found that spark to delve deep into the scientific realities beyond textual discourses. I just stuck to the mundane system but my encounter with Deb, pushed me to try hearing the unheard, try finding the forbidden answers. His inquisitive mind enabled me to enter into a loophole of exploring science. However, I always believed in the power of the pen and dedicate all my writings, I mean whatever I have written till date, big or small, to the one who can make you cry with the subtle play of words, who can draw a curve on your lips when life leaves you dissevered, the one who can compose a world of their own and make you dawdle like a lost wanderer in the cosmos of its balladry –the writer.

So, the two of us came together and thus, this book happened.

And the process? How did you two coordinate?

Debashish: I always wanted to share my ideas with the masses, always… As I have already mentioned, I did try once but unfortunately it got stuck. So, the idea of a book wasn’t new to me, it’s something that has always been within me but after getting into ISRO, I couldn’t give much into turning this dream of mine into reality. But, at times the best surprises comes unexpectedly and so I met Ankita, her hands bled my ideas into paper.

Ankita: I never thought I would be writing a book of this genre. But, after Deb pushed me into thinking, the questions started hovering in my head. I started reading journals and articles, I googled for every unknown term that confused me. I tried to relate the dots and compile everything in a single fabric. We discussed on our proceedings, searched for evidences to check if we were on the right track. Finally, when we successfully convinced ourselves that our approach wasn’t wrong, we decided that this conversation shouldn’t remain restricted between us. We thought of taking in to the people, so that people start developing interest in science. And for the same reason, we even added a pinch of fictional touch to our book, retelling the story of two strangers – Nidhi and Nibir whose paths crossed and now they are taking up a journey to solve some unsolved quests. Moreover, lockdown helped us to out this plan of ours into action… And yes, the book happened.

How would you describe your book? Can you tell us something more about it?

Debashish: All I can say is that this book is about a journey. The things discussed here have been there with us since our birth, the events have been taking place perpetually yet they have been always overlooked. The book is to question – Does small changes has no effect on a system in the long run? Did The Earth undergo change all at once?  If no, then obviously the present day earth is an aftermath of the series of events that took place for years, sooner or later, making way to present day Earth .The book is to explore these and uproot the traditional norms of sticking to memorize formulas and derivations, rather than peeping into the subject and developing a curious mind.

Ankita: Personally, after completing this, I felt that it helped me love science a bit more. The book is to encourage one to delve deep into the sea of impossibilities and search for a way out, to think and rethink over the established facts, to start investigating for a new approach to see the same old things… Here, we tried to make an analysis on the existing phenomenon with a new approach, a new way of thinking. The destination remained unperturbed, but the road chosen to reach the destination was of our choice.  We may receive positive as well as negative criticism but that would just help us grow, we won’t regret giving ourselves a try.

The idea of the gain and loss of mass is intriguing. Can you elaborate on it a bit and how it impacts the earth?

Debashish: This is often debated. Is earth gaining or losing mass? Actually, both…But, what matters is between the two which one is dominant?  I won’t go in details, I will just tell in brief.

Quantifiable amount of hydrogen and helium is escaping from the Earth’s atmosphere annually , hydrogen counts for 3kg /s so annually it will be somewhere around 95000 tones. Enormous amount of fuel is being extracted from earth’s surface daily; we have calculated the exact quantity of coal, oil, natural gas that is being extracted annually in our book .

This points that Earth is undergoing a loss in its mass. One may argue evidently here that what about the mass that is being added up to the Earth due to the incoming debris, meteors, comets or other celestial objects . Certainly, this is true and can’t be ignored. So there arises an incongruity between the two – Is Earth losing mass or gaining mass? But, if we try to calculate the two domains, we find that mass loss is predominant. We have shown how we can conclude this aptly in our book.  Now, when mass is undergoing some change, won’t it simply have an effect of some kind? Okay, the effect may not be instantaneous one, but what about the long run? When a system undergoes a change, surely there will be some change in its surroundings. Take it simple. If your mood is not well, suppose you are upset, you may at times, shout at your parents; which then will make them sad. Change in your mood is impacting your parents’ mood. That’s how everything works. So, surely we will be witnessing some change in our surroundings owing to mass loss, be it significant or insignificant.

Ankita: I think Deb has beautifully explained. I would just like to bring up the evergreen concept of ‘Butterfly Effect’. The butterfly effect, in one line, implies that small things may lead to greater impacts in the course of time. Obviously, the redistribution of mass would imply certain changes. What would be the factors that it will be affecting, that has been discussed in our book. Gravity is related to mass, so you can assume a certain impact on Earth’s gravitational pull, which will then…. No, I cannot reveal the twist now.  But, certainly, there will be consequences… Basically, there’s lot if we understand the correlation among different factors, I won’t elaborate now but, yes there’s a broad discussion over it. Not only discussions, we tried to compile all the impact that mass redistribution is causing, everything in one single conclusion, this introducing a new term. That’s a surprise I can’t reveal now, the book will do so.

Have you discussed your ideas with other experts of the field?

Debashish: Yes, the journey wouldn’t have been possible without some people. I think Ankita would love to tell on this. It was she continuously running for this work.

Ankita: Yes, as Deb said, we owe our gratitude to all those who helped us. I personally contacted my professors as well as my Chemistry teachers and my seniors who are doing their PhD work. Deb talked with some of his seniors working in ISRO. I must mention Rituraj Kalita Sir who helped me out with some basic ideas as well as Netra Sir from Salt Brook Academy who contributed in helping me out solve some basic calculations. What happens is when you are writing a fiction, you first one down and then go for reviewing but ours was different. Here, we first had to confirm if our approach was on the right track. One cannot state science without any clueless evidenced. So, the book is a combined effort of everyone.

How relevant do you think the book is going to be in the contemporary scenario?

Debashish:  What we are facing now, the outbreak of pandemic, the uncontrolled forest fires, the change of seasons; doesn’t everything seems bizarre? I could see the change around me, it’s not the same like we had when we were kids. I think you will also agree with me. Mass, gravity, temperature, atmospheric escape, burning of fossil fuels, outbreak if deadly viruses and bacteria … Everything is interrelated.  The world is crying now, but that’s just a trailer. We are already on our way heading towards destruction.  And deep down, we know this but we don’t discuss. The book is meant to gear up the urge to hold such discussions, only then we can at least try to find out some measures to lower the speed at which we are moving towards the end.

Ankita: I would like to say a thing here. Gravity… what is gravity, this has been taught to us back when we were in our school. We know the story of the apple well, but later when we enrolled into higher studies we were introduced to a different definition of gravity. A completely new one that differs from the classic one.  Now, we know Newtonian gravity and Einstein gravity. That is how it works. Something that is an accepted fact today may turn out to be outdated years later, likewise something that may sound impossible or bizarre today may be well accepted in the forthcoming days. In our book, we discussed the ever debated topics in a very simple manner citing examples from our daily activities so that it’s accessible for common people. Basically, that’s how science communication works. One needs to sound simple yet convey the scientific explanations. So, if you ask me how the book is relevant, all I can say that it’s just the reflection of everything we are witnessing around us, all the changes designed with the simple motive that it would help the young generation to maximize their potential in contributing their knowledge to the society efficiently, instead of mechanically muddling up theorems and formulas and definitions in their head without practically thinking of it.

True. But have you discussed the potential impact of your work in religion and philosophy?

Debashish: Universe encompasses every domain. Be it a sage or a sinner, everyone out here living in this pale blue dot is a fraction of the vast arena of cosmos regardless of the religion they follow or philosophy they practice. The prime motive of our work is to encourage scientific temper in real sense, it doesn’t mean going astray from one’s own principles and beliefs. That’s the beauty of science, it is not biased. It’s for everyone. I just hope the book encourages young talents to give their curious mind a blow towards the right direction.

Ankita: I refrain from speaking on religion, because I don’t find myself eligible enough to discuss on it. But, yes, if you ask me on philosophy, though I am not sure whether this could make sense or not, I would just like to quote something:

“The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next, and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow.”- Sir William Osler.

I hope our book works the same.  Also, I would love to mention something honestly, we wrote the book for the people, that’s our only aim. If it would help at least ten among the hundreds, then and there itself our writings will own its price.

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