Friday, 30 December 2011

Alang Madan Kulang - Trekkers' Paradise


The fort trio of Alang-Madan-Kulang is situated in Kalasubai range. This area is rich with few of the highest mountain peaks in Sahyadri. Nearby peaks recognized are Kalsubai (higest peak in Maharashtra) & Ratangad. Other nearby landmarks are Bhandardara backwaters and Igatpuri.

View Alang-Madan-Kulang Trek in a larger map

About Forts / Trek
The trek to Alang-Madan-Kulang is considered to be one of the toughest treks in Maharashtra. It tests your stamina, patience and mental toughness. Kids this is not your place to play your games. Overall trek includes rock climbing, rappelling, high steeps, long walks. To support all these you have very less amount of guidance available in any (printed, Internet) written material, and confusing ways to go. As a result this trek stays as just a dream for many trekkers or many even don’t know about it.
Due to their remote and difficult location the Forts have remained neglected by Gov. of India. According to what I heard, it seems there was no professional group arranging this trek until last decade. Some very passionate and experienced trekkers used to come here that time. Recently some groups from Pune and Mumbai have started planning this trek regularly.
Also to mention very less amount of historical information is available about these forts.

How to go?
Path 1: Igatpuri/Kasara
This path is preferred by trek groups from Mumbai. One can come to Igatpuri/Kasara then to Ambevadi via Igatpuri/Kasara-Ghoti-Pimpalnermor route. Bus facility from Ghoti to Ambevadi is also available. From Ambevadi, through the ridge between Alang & Madan one can start the trek.

Path 2: Ghatghar/Udadvade
This path is preferred by Trek groups from Pune. Go to Ghatghar/Udadvade via Goti-Bhandardara. It is a small walk upto base of Alang from both villages.

Difficulty: Very Tough

Best Time to visit
Rock climbing is best done during winter and early summers. DO NOT go there in summer or rain (if you are not planning a suicide).

Places to Watch
Beautiful scenery around, raw beauty of Sahyadris, view of backwaters of Bhandardara and many more natural sites from all three forts. It is a paradise for a photographer. But most important of all, please watch your steps. Keep them in right places.

Our story
I was in a bit of confused state initially to go for the trek. According to what I heard this was really a difficult trek. Besides I had no prior experience with Rock Climbing or Rappelling.
So obviously going there with professional trekkers was safest option for me. I came to know that the Explorers group was arranging one on 16th to 18th Dec '11. I asked a few trek-friends for company, but they were either too afraid or had some work.
Yes or No, Yes or No ...?!!
Nobody I knew was coming but, it was a great opportunity to know new people and I took the call as 'Yes'.

Day 1
We left Pune at midnight of 15th December from SP College and reached Bhandardara MTDC at about 5 o'clock in morning. We were a group of 20 people including 3 guides. After having heavy breakfast we traveled to Udadavade village. It was just the time after daybreak when we reached base.
Water tanks on Alang
We did some stretching, rounded our backpacks, tightened our shoes and stood ready for the mission. We were accompanied by 2 local folks who knew the path very well. The mission started at about 7.30 o'clock in morning.
Initial path to Alang was pretty easy - mixture of steeps and planes. We were warming up through this part. At about 9 o'clock we reached to the first plateau. After this was a plain walk of about 1 to 1.5 hr. While we were covering this path a funny / horrifying thing happened. While we were passing by a herd of about 10 Buffaloes, one of the group members made some weird noise to tease them. One of the Buffaloes wasn't big fan of that noise. And guess what??!!, next thing we knew was we were jumping out of the way as that Buffalo charged to hit her target. Fortunately we all were successful with dodge and nobody got hurt. God bless the Buffalo who went into those thorny bushes.
Alang Rock patch
After the plain walk there came the first rock patch of about 15 feet. We did enough to get past it. Then was a walk on edge of valley up-to the actual fort where all of us arrived at about 2.30 o clock. Then we had our packed lunch.
In evening we were going to cook the dinner. Some collected firewood, some water, while some helped with cooking. In evening we went to see around the place. The fort has good collection of drinking water in form of 11 water tanks on the top. Some ruins of historical buildings are still here in form of 'Sardar Kothi'.  After looking the sunset we came back to the cave where we were going to stay. As expected members not involving the actual cooking process were just hanging outside the cave, looking at stars, sharing their previous trek experiences, joking around (I was part of this group). At about 8 in evening dinner was ready. After dinner we played Antakshari and some other games before we packed ourselves to the bed at about 10.30.

Day 2
Alang Rappelling
This was a hectic day. First day we walked for about 7 hours. Second day we woke up early and gathered near the Shiva-Temple at about 5.30. After headcount and photo-sessions we left Alang. Beginning of the day was a 50 ft rappelling in chilly air. It was a nice experience.

Then we had our breakfast and headed towards Madangad. This path was highly dangerous. First part was a kilometer of valley edge then tall steps and then the best adventure of the trek – The 25 ft Rock climbing patch. This place was breathtaking. Below was a depth of 3000 ft and above stood a vertical rock of 25 ft. I was standing on small patch of less than1 ft. Although with all the safety instruments attached the heights just take all the air out of your lungs. You have to sum up your courage and set the foot up on the rock. It was great moment when I climbed up. Those 5 mins felt like an hour with only one thought in mind, 'How much more?'
After the patch we continued the climb to madan. Actual area of fort top is very small – a water tank, a room where 25 people might stay and some remains of fortifications. Still the view from here was awesome. You can see from here the fort trio, kalasubai, ratangad, harischndragad and along with all a huge area of land all around you.
After about an hour we climbed down Madan, stopped a while for lunch and then moved ahead for the last one at about 2.30 pm.
Madan Rock Patch
The path between Madan and Kulang is covered with dense bushes and forest trees. It is a long way to go. You have to come down to the plateau and then climb all the way up. It is very steep walk up while climbing Kulang, highly exhausting. It took 5 long hours to cover this path with very negligible amount of party breaks. The last part of climb to Kulang – where we have to go up with steps carved into the stone – we went up with torch in our hand. Finally we reached to the top at 7.30 in evening. Considering Lunch and Snacks break, the day was almost 11 hours of walk.
Then we executed same schedule of cooking dinner and eating. The day was exhausting and everybody fall asleep after that.

Day 3
Plan declared was to wake up late and move back after lunch. Some people chose to sleep up-to 8.30 and some woke up early at 6 o'clock. I woke up in between the two cases – about 6.30 it was. It was a beautiful scene that time. We started looking around the fort and take some snaps.
The fort has many water tanks but only one seemed to be clean enough to drink. There is an old dam like structure, but it is broken. View of Kalasubai-Alang-Madan at the time of early sun was amazing. After a lazy walks around half of fort we came back at the camp at about 10 o'clock. We then packed our bed and backpacks and then went to see remaining half of the fort.
This side of fort is having some residential structures. In same area we saw a gang of monkeys, maybe 20 of them. They just ran away as they saw us. On this end of fort there is pretty narrow cliff. When you stand at the end you feel like you are on top of the world, the feeling is just intoxicating.
We then came back by 11.30. The people who woke up late were still busy cleaning themselves and packing up for return.
Alang (Right), Madan (Middle), Kulang (Left)
We had our lunch, clicked some final group photos and started the return journey. It took about half an hour to come to the base of Kulang. We waited there for a while and started the return towards the Bus at 3.00. We divided ourselves into two groups. First still healthy - able to move at good speed and other slower due to some injuries. I was in the first group, and we almost ran towards bus. Path was really confusing but all followed the leader correctly. We completed the half circle around Kulang and waited near the river. Had some time for relaxation, photography once again and then continued the run covering back Madan and Alang on ground. We reached the bus at about 5.45 in evening.
Exhaustive, Enchanting and Enlightening – that’s how we can describe the last 3 days.
We changed into clean clothes, freshened up and rested till the second group arrived. We started our return journey at about 8 o'clock in evening. On way back we had dinner in Sangamner, danced Ganpati-style in bus and finally reached back to Pune at midnight.
Then it was – Good night, sleep tight.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Story of a penguin - The Birth

Year 1991, beginning of final decade of 20th century. In the field of computing a great future prevailed on horizon as powerful hardware emerged pushed the limits of the computers beyond what anyone expected. But in the field of software something was missing.
It was none other than heart of all software system of computers – operating system. Yeah, DOS was ruling the world of personal computers, but it was barely an operating system with very limited capabilities. It was just success of Bill Gates’ cleaver marketing strategies. Mac was giving good performance and feel but at the prices stated by Apple, common man couldn’t afford it.
Another camp was the world of UNIX, dedicated to computing with high performance and reliability, the source code of which was taught in universities. But in quest of money, vendors closed the publicity of source code and also priced it high enough so that small users stayed away. Similar went for other UNIX like systems e.g. BSD (Bell labs held them down with lawsuit for using unix code).
The MINIX operating system developed by Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum was good, source code was also available, but it still lacked in some basic capabilities like effective multithreading, efficient use of hardware specific features etc. because of which user wasn’t able to draw full functionality out of purchased hardware.
And on 5th October 1991 a post struck the MINIX newsgroup
From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: Free minix-like kernel sources for 386-AT
Message-ID: <1991Oct5.054106.4647@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
Date: 5 Oct 91 05:41:06 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers? Are you without a nice project and just dying to cut your teeth on a OS you can try to modify for your needs? Are you finding it frustrating when everything works on minix? No more all-nighters to get a nifty program working? Then this post might be just for you :-)
As I mentioned a month (?) ago, I'm working on a free version of a minix-lookalike for AT-386 computers. It has finally reached the stage where it's even usable (though may not be depending on what you want), and I am willing to put out the sources for wider distribution. It is just version 0.02 (+1 (very small) patch already), but I've successfully run bash/gcc/gnu-make/gnu-sed/compress etc under it. Sources for this pet project of mine can be found at ( in the directory pub/OS/Linux. The directory also contains some README-file and a couple of binaries to work under linux (bash, update and gcc, what more can you ask for :-). Full kernel source is provided, as no minix code has been used. Library sources are only partially free, so that cannot be distributed currently. The system is able to compile "as-is" and has been known to work. Heh. Sources to the binaries (bash and gcc) can be found at the same place in /pub/gnu.
Yes, it was the birth of baby Linux, world’s first free operating system kernel.

Flashback watched

Early computer systems didn’t have a communicator between their Hardware and User programs. i.e a program/application was written as hardware instructions specific for that hardware. As a result applications were costly and rigid. From these problems the concept of operating systems emerged into the world of computers - An intermediate r between user applications and underlying hardware of computer. Operating systems used to take instructions from user programs, and convey them appropriately to the hardware and convey back the results from hardware to user programs. Because of this writing programs became simpler as it decoupled the logic from machine instructions.
Through the time operating systems having varying characteristics were developed according to application need e.g. Multi-User / Single User OS, Multitasking/Single Tasking OS etc. Different OS had their own benefits and drawbacks and they were used in their specific area of application.

Evolution – UNIX

Ritchie And Thompson working at Bell labs
In need of doing batch processing jobs, Bell Labs created MULTICS (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) in joined forces with General Electric and MIT. Though it was having many innovations over previous operating systems, it had many problems.
Frustrated with size and complexity of Multics, Bell Labs slowly pulled out of the project. In spite of it few last researchers including Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson decided to continue their work on a smaller scale. As a result first version of UNICS (UNiplexed Information and Computing Service) came out in summer of 1969 (Later in same year our hero of story Linus Torvalds was born).
Later with newly developed programming language C was developed by Ritchie and Thompson. Now the UNICS was rewritten in this new language and was released in 1973. The features like muti-tasking and multi-user support were added. Shortly UNICS was renamed as its current popular name UNIX.
As UNIX was not written in assembly language but higher level C language it was forbidden to enter into computer business (under 1958 consent decree), hence AT & T decided to make the UNIX source codes available to universities and commercial firms.
As a result many different variants of UNIX OS were developed by different organizations prominent of which are BSD by CSRG, Xinix OS by Microsoft. This also promoted study of practical operating systems in university students.
Later in early 1980’s AT & T was relieved from 1958 consent decree, they decided to commercialize UNIX immediately.
UNIX sources were no more available for academic use.

Apple & Microsoft

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
While UNIX of Bell Labs gained its popularity in commercial and university world, two other major organizations just came into world of operating system as major players for personal computer operating systems. The two were none other but the Great Microsoft and Apple.
The Microsoft corp. was founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1975. Though initial development by the organization were mainly related to BASIC programming language and its implementation for various hardware platforms (including Apple II and IBM PC) later it came in market as major player in area of operating systems. Though First OS publically released by Microsoft was a variant of UNIX named as Xinix in 1980 (as mentioned earlier), DOS was the operating system that brought real success to Microsoft.  In 1981 IBM asked Microsoft to provide an OS similar to CP/M (one of the popular microcompurter OS). Instead of building it from level 0, Microsoft bought a CP/M clone called Q-DOS from Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products for less than 100,000 USD. IBM renamed the OS as PC-DOS. The OS became highly popular due to its simplicity and low cost. While IBM had their PC-DOS, Microsoft continued to develop their own DOS version – MS-DOS and ported it for various hardware platforms like Eagle and Compaq. Soon Microsoft grew from small player to major software vendor in home computers industry with help of aggressive marketing of MS-DOS to different PC manufacturers.

While Microsoft targeted market with simple and cost effective operating systems, Apple strived for high capability hardware and innovative user interface. They used latest design ideas to discover beautiful user interface, better display mechanisms and created a product as combination of both hardware and software. As the Operating system written here was targeting for a specific hardware, it was very effective in using the underlying hardware with minimal memory requirement. The computers of Apple series (Apple I, II, III) shown a great deal of design in all computational fields. Steve Wozniak who created these designs quickly gained reputation as a master designer. On the other hand Steve Jobs mainly worked on finance, marketing and user interface part of Apple Inc. and with great ideas of Jobs Apple soon became a multimillion-dollar company.
Later Developed ‘Lisa‘ Series & ‘Macintosh’ Series by Apple, ‘Windows’ Series by Microsoft and ‘OS/2‘ Series by IBM brought the computer user to world of GUI.

The GNU project

Richard Stallman – a physics graduate student at MIT ended his pursuit of a doctorate in physics to focus on his programming work at MIT AI Laboratory. He worked here on projects like TECO, Emacs, and the Lisp machine Operating System.
In late 1970s and early 1980s most manufacturers stopped distributing source code of their software to prevent their competitors from using it. They began to use copyright and restrictive software licenses to limit copy and redistribution. This was a great inconvenience to the software users because they cannot modify the product they have purchased to meet their needs. Stallman especially felt this while he was working at MIT. His argument was like this,
The modern copyright and licensing agreements that user has to sign while purchasing software are mostly non-disclosure agreements. In short this means that the first step in using computers was a promise not to help your neighbor. A cooperating community was forbidden. The rule made by the owners of proprietary software was,”if you share with your neighbor, you are a pirate. If you want any changes, beg us to make them.” The idea that the proprietary software social system - the system that says you are not allowed to share or change software is -  antisocial, that it is unethical, that it is simply wrong, what else could we say about a system based on dividing the public and keeping users helpless?
He started his fight with the corporate licensing system by announcing GNU project in 1983. In February 1984 he left MIT to work full-time on GNU project. His aim was to create a free operating system ‘GNU’, which would be compatible with UNIX.
He started his journey by writing GNU C compiler (GCC), an amazing feat for an individual programmer. With his legendary technical wizardry, he alone outclassed entire groups of programmers from commercial software vendors while creating GCC, considered as one of the most efficient and robust compilers ever created. After that he and the GNU group written many necessary tools like Emacs (text editor), gdb (debugger), gmake (build automaker) that form basic environment. Though most of the basic components of an operating system were ready by 1990 the core of all, the kernel of operating was not still ready. GNU was still working on the kernel of their new operating system Hurd.

Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum and MINIX

Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum

Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum is a professor of computer science at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. He is the author of famous books Computer Networks, Operating Systems: Design and principles etc.
While Stallman was working on his GNU project, Professor Tanenbaum created a UNIX-like operating system called MINIX. It was primarily developed for educational purpose and first released in 1987, with its complete source code available to universities for study in courses and research.
In 1988 Linus Torvalds enrolled in University of Helsinki for graduation in computer science. His educational career was interrupted after his first year of study as he joined the Finnish Army. In the army he holds the rank of second lieutenant, with role of ballistic calculation officer.
In 1990 he resumed his studies. He started to learn core computer science including programming languages and operating systems. During this period he came in contact with C programming and MINIX operating system.
In early 1991 he got his hands on his new IBM compatible personal computer with 33MHz Intel 386 processor and huge 4 MB of Memory. This processor greatly appealed to him because it represented a tremendous improvement over earlier Intel chips. As intrigued as he was with the hardware, however, Torvalds was disappointed with the MS-DOS operating system that came with it. That operating system had not advanced sufficiently to even begin to take advantage of the vastly improved capabilities of his computer, and he thus strongly preferred the much more powerful and stable UNIX operating system that he had become accustomed to using on the university's computers, but even a basic UNIX system was not available below 5,000 USD. As a result he started using MINIX on this new beast he got.
But as he started using MINIX he started to learn about its disadvantages also. Although much more powerful than MS-DOS and designed to run on Intel x86 processors, all of its source code was not available. It also lacked some features and performance of UNIX and had serious problems related to multithreaded processing. And not to mention it had a significant amount of license fee (very less as compared to other operating systems).

The Birth

Linus Torvalds
Torvalds decided to create a new operating system from scratch that was based on both MINIX and UNIX. It is unlikely that he was fully aware of the tremendous amount of work that would be necessary, and it is even far less likely that he could have envisioned the effects that his decision would have both on his life and on the rest of the world. Because university education in Finland is free and there was little pressure to graduate within four years, Torvalds decided to take a break and devote his full attention to his project.
On August 25, 1991, he announced his initial creation on the MINIX newsgroup comp.os.minix as follows:
From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Hello everybody out there using minix -
I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready.I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system(due to practical reasons) among other things). I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40),and
things seem to work. This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and I'd like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)
Linus (
PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(

On September 17 of the same year, after a period of self-imposed isolation and intense concentration, he completed a crude version (0.01) of his new operating system. Shortly thereafter, on October 5, he announced version 0.02, the first official version.
The baby penguin came to the world!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Torna (Prachandgad)

Torna (Prachandagad)

View Torna Fortin a larger map


Torna is about 40-50 km southwest of Pune in the Sahyadri mountain range. It comes in Velhe taluka. This area of district receives heavy rainfall. Most of it is covered with forest. Sag, Teak, Oak, Mango, are the trees found in the forest.

About Fort

Because of lots of 'Toran trees' found on it, the people started calling the fort as 'Torna' and it was renamed as 'Prachandagad' by Shivaji Maharaj because of its wide area. It is the highest fort in Pune district (1405 m). James Douglas says about Torna, "It was Shivaji Maharaj's first conquest, the nucleus around which all the others clustered, making it virtually the cradle of the Maratha Empire, which shocked the throne of the great Moguls. It has been the scene of many bloody battles. If Sinhagad is Lion's cave then Torna is Eagle's nest".

This fort is believed to be constructed by the Shaiva Panth, followers of Hindu god Shiva, in 13th century. During 1470 to 1486 A.D., Malik Ahmed, a Bahmani ruler, captured this fort. Later Nizamshah ruled it. In the 1646, Shivaji Maharaj brought this fort under his control and named it Prachandagad. He was the one who built some new monuments here. After his daring escape from Agra, he came here & renovated the fort. Moguls took over the fort after Sambhaji Maharaj’s assassination. But Marathas regained control over the fort due to the efforts of Shankaraji Narayan Sachiv. In 1704 A.D. Aurangzeb captured the fort. He named it as Futulgaib or The Divine Victory. However, within 4 years Sarnobat Nagoji Kokate was able to re-establish Maratha control here. The fort was in Maratha Empire till end of Peshwai.

How to go?

Path 1: Velhe - Torna

To get to the Torna, one has to first reach the base village - Velhe. From Swargate bus station in Pune, take a state transport bus with route 'Swargate - Velhe - Ghisar'. This bus will drop you at Velhe in around 1hr 45 minutes. It will be good to start in early morning for the fort. 6.30am bus will be very good option to reach early to the fort.
Difficulty: Medium

Path 2: Rajgad – Torna

This is a rather longer – tougher trek. It is part of duel fort trek of Rajgad and Torna. For this path one can take 'Swargate – Velhe' bus as told to Margasani village. Then via Sakhargaon you can reach Gunjavane village. From here, it is about 3 hours trek to Padmavati Machee of Rajgad. From Sanjivani Machee of Rajgad, there is direct route to Budhala Machee of Torna, which is about 5-6 hrs walk.
Difficulty: Medium to Difficult

Best Time to visit

Rock climbing is best done during winter and early summers. Avoid the journey during monsoons when the path becomes dangerous due to mud and slippery rocks (Though for some crazies, it might be more exciting).

Places to Watch

  • Konkan Darwaja
  • Zunjar Machee
  • Mengai Goddess temple
  • Kothi Darwaja
  • Sadar
  • Budhla Machee – my favourate place on fort
  • Toranjai Goddess temple

Our Story

It was long time since the last 'real' trek (Koraigad, Rajmachi on bike can't exactly be stated as 'trek'). Also we needed a break from daily boring routine of office. So it was decided on Wednesday to go for a trek to Torna on Saturday 5th November 2011.
We were total 5 people. One of us has already been there for a couple of times, so there was no need to worry about roads and directions.
We all met at Swargate on Saturday morning 7.15 o'clock, Kicked off the bikes and went on the air towards Satara. A few pit stops for food and fuel, and we reached Nasrapur at about 8 o'clock.
It was still 30 km of journey till the fort and the places around were pure beauty – typical Indian villages, cattle and dogs, little kids running around and scenic mountain peaks of sahyadri. On top of all, the view of two of the highest peaks – Rajgad and Torna was just intoxicating.
We reached to the base village of the fort – Velhe – at about 08.45 o'clock. After parking bikes and some time-pass we started the actual ascend.


The first half of the path to the fort was mostly through meadows. It was a pleasant walk with light talks. It took around 50 minutes to climb this initial part. It was very easy till this point. But Remaining half part had steep rock patches with steps carved in stone. It was medium difficult through this part of ascend, real fun for trekkers. It felt like ascend is never ending in this part. It took an hour more to reach the core of the fort.

Looking Around

Going towards Budhla Machee
We bought some lime water / Butter milk from local kids. Our ”guide” was too bored so he stayed at Mengai Temple. Four of us were looking around fort. Two of which dropped out after Konkan Darwaja because of both hunger and tiredness and went back to join our leader. Rest of us went to see Budhla Machee and path towards Rajgad. This part of trek was amazing. Narrow rock patches, valley on both side and intense sunlight (it was almost 1230 hrs) – this was the real deal. You really come to know, why this fort is called as Prachandagad on this path.
We came back to Mengai Temple at about 1.45. Everybody was pretty hungry. We took out our supplies, had a light lunch – fruits, chikkis, chips etc, while talking about Gaddafi and Hitler (ha-ha!).
After about an hour of lunch and relaxation, we decided to start descend.


Descend is pretty easy path. It was 3 o'clock when we started. we almost came down running (Though not advised). The rocky patch in between was a speed-breaker, but most exciting part of descend.
We reached to the base village at 4.15 o'clock, cleaned up our faces with water. Had some snacks at local hotel. At about 5 o'clock we started our journey back to Pune. One stop at Nasrapur, and we were at home 7 o'clock sharp.
Not so tired but sure got a noticeable tan (with some calling it sunburn). Once again, dirty cloths, smelly socks, and enlightenment of exertion. All-n-all, it was a nice experience for a weekend after a long time.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Faster Than Light

Faster Than Light

A friend of mine at work told me something really interesting yesterday over the coffee.
They discovered some particle that travels faster than light”

I was like - “WHAT? How is that possible? That means they have proved Einstein wrong!” I thought he misread it or something, so I searched over the Internet and yes, it was a news (due to Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie death, it just didn't came up to my ears till the date).

The news was like this,
An international team of scientists said on Thursday they had recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than light -- a finding that could overturn one of Einstein's long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe.

What does Einstein say about speed of particles?

Einstein's theory of relativity is based on two fundamental postulates
1. First postulate (principle of relativity)
The laws by which the states of physical systems undergo change are not affected, whether these changes of state are referred to the one or the other of two systems of coordinates in uniform translatory motion.
2. Second postulate (invariance of c)
As measured in any inertial frame of reference, light is always propagated in empty space with a definite velocity c that is independent of the state of motion of the emitting body. (Except in the Star Wars universe, where it can cross a galaxy in only a few hours)
And as we all know (I hope!) - This theory became the most fundamental theory of modern physics. From Rocket Ships to nuclear weapons, from cosmology to GPS, wide verities of applications are running accurately based on this theory. Einstein became the scientist who bent the sky.
The thing is that when the news of discovery of particles moving faster than light arrived, it gave a huge blow to the results of the theory of relativity.
According to theory of relativity, a particle (that has mass) with subluminal (u < c) velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to speed of light.
Now the scientists working with CERN found out a particle (by the way these particles are none other but neutrinos – the ghostly particles :)) that travelled faster than light!! Now the people who have just barely know the theory of relativity and its conclusions (maybe read in text books or Wikipedia) must be really amused with this news (I am one of the group) thinking,
So they really disproved Einstein, huh?

So, what was this experiment?

The experiment titled as OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus), situated 1,400 metres underground in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy gave this amazing result. There, scientists timed muon neutrinos arriving from CERN, Europe's particle-physics facility near Geneva, Switzerland, some 731 kilometres away. The trip would take a beam of light 2.4 milliseconds to complete, but after running the experiment for three years and timing the arrival of 15,000 neutrinos, the scientists discovered that the particles arrived at Gran Sasso sixty nanoseconds earlier, with an error margin of plus or minus 10 nanoseconds and thus breaking what physicists had thought was an immutable cosmic speed limit.(Time measurements done using clocks at each location that were synchronized using GPS - Global Positioning System – signals from same satellite)
The measurement amounts to the neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light by a fraction of 20 parts per million. Since the speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per second, the neutrinos were evidently travelling at 299,798,454 metres per second.


Not so easy to prove me wrong!
According to the paper published by theorist Carlo Contaldi of Imperial College, London, the group's calculations do not take into account one aspect of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity: that slight differences in the force of gravity at the two sites would cause the clocks to tick at different rates.
Because of its location relative to the centre of Earth, the CERN site feels a slightly stronger gravitational pull than Gran Sasso. Consequently, a clock at the beginning of the neutrinos' journey would actually run at a slower rate than a clock at the end.
One more thing - thought the clocks were synchronized using GPS, it will still have difference due to time dilation effect, which could be tens of nanoseconds.
That will surely decrease significance of the result.

What else is possible?

What else might be wrong? Here are some points
Einstein's theory says that speed of light is maximum attainable speed for any particle. But the main crook is that he never mentioned the actual value of speed of light in vacuum (c0). It was experimentally measured later. However, the vacuum is not only possible vacuum which can exist. The vacuum has energy associated with it, called vacuum energy. When vacuum energy is lowered, light itself has been predicted to go faster than the standard value 'c' and vice versa. So, do we really know what value should we take for c0 in Einstein's equations?
Some bright minds also state possibility of wormholes. In physics a wormhole is a hypothetical topological feature of space-time that would be, fundamentally, a "shortcut" through space-time. It’s like having a connector between two different places in space-time. Although there is no observational evidence for wormholes, on a theoretical level there are valid proofs for them from theory of relativity. So the neutrinos in questions might just have taken this shortcut and got early to the party...
There are some other theories also which could be found with help of our dear friend “Google
[Some are saying that Rajnikant or Chuck Norris might have something to do with this :D]


After the breaking news scientist around the world are trying to accurately verify the results of the experiment. Better time correction it yet to be implemented for next measurement.
As for the records, this is not first time when an experiment has found out that neutrinos are travelling faster than light.
Ten years before OPERA experiment, measurements about a FTL(Faster Than Light) neutrino were found in china by Guang-Jiong Ni. Similar results were found in MINOS(Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) at Chicago.
Following OPERA and CERN's request for confirmation, both Fermilab and the T2K experiment have announced they intend to test the OPERA result in coming months.

But what if..?

All the scrutinizing aside, just imagine what if the results are true? What if the neutrinos can travel faster than light somehow? Does it actually disprove the theory of relativity? And most important of all – so does that mean time travel is possible? Many questions...
First of all, let’s see if the theory of relativity allows having particles with superluminal speed.


Although theory of relativity forbids us from accelerating a particle (with mass) from subluminal speed to luminal/superluminal speed, it doesn't tell us about existing particles having superluminal speed. Relativity approves theoretical existence of particles with superluminal speeds, and so it is accepted by most of the physicists. Such particles with superluminal speeds are called as Tachyons. The existence of Tachyons is base of some of theories in modern physics e.g. bosonic string theory.
Also to tell about, Tachyons appear in many science fictions. It has been used as a standby mechanism upon which many science fiction authors rely to establish faster than light communication, with or without use of causality issues.


What if these neutrinos were actually were travelling greater than light? One for sure, it will provide a practical proof for theoretical existence of tachyon. Scientists who based their theories on existence of Tachyons would be greatly relieved. But most important of all, practical existence of such particle will violate principle of causality.


Causality describes the relationship between causes and effects. It is considered to be fundamental to all natural science, especially physics. It can be described as, if you see an event is happening, you can find out the cause for event to occur. i.e. “If you do this, you will see this happening” and “If you don't do this, you won't see this happening”. e.g. “If you put a jar of water on gas burner, given sufficient flame temperature and atmospheric pressure, you will see water boiling after some time” and “If you don’t put the jar on gas burner (or any such flame), and air pressure is still same, you won't see water boiling”.
Now let us consider, we can prepare neutrino particles that can travel faster than light and they can be transmitted in space as means of carrying some information. Let there be a space ship travelling with speed comparable to light. The observer in space ship is looking at this transmitter on earth and also getting the information out of the neutrino signal using “neutrino detector”. Now ‘according to the observer’ in this space ship, the signal received through neutrinos is not seen to be transmitted yet i.e. effect is seen prior to the cause. So the principle of causality is violated in his/her point of view.
Now what to do? Just give up the principle of causality?

Keep all principles aside, what is interesting here?

Keeping all this theoretical garbage aside, what if this experiment passes through all that, what would that mean?
Let’s see a short story of a crazy scientist “Dr. Emmit Brown” who wants to travel to the future. He has studied all principles of relativity and related modern physics theories. He knows the principle, “as speed of an object increases, time slows down”, i.e. Wrist watch of a man travelling at a speed comparable to light will tick much slower as compared to those who are stationary(or at less speed).
So what Dr. Brown did was, He designed a space ship which can travel about 90% of speed of light (88 mph won't do it!). He launched at 9 o'clock in morning, Travelled with it till 10 o'clock in space with full throttle and then came back to earth. And what a wonder, it was 2.30 in afternoon on everybody else's watch. Dr. Brown came 4.5 hours in future. Great!!!
But now He wants to go in past. Can he do that? First assume that he had modified his space ship to travel at speeds greater than light also. Now let’s see what happens. Dr. Brown is accelerating slowly. He already has some instrument that tells him about time of stationary world and his own time. As he speeds up, he can see world time going slower and slower as compared to his own. Eventually when you hit speed of light, the outside world is so slow that it stops for you (You can imagine this, can't you? If not, imagine being Flash). So what’s next? If we continued with the numbers, it’s like outside world's time has got a kind of deceleration. So after big zero, speed of time will go negative, or you can say you went into the past! “Ta da”!
So if the OPERA experiment holds the results that are presented, it will mean that the neutrinos can travel back into the timeline. So you can send some messages to “Past You”. And going further, if the experiment develops into some technology that actually breaks the barrier which forbids material objects to go superluminal (faster than light), then “You” can travel in past. Time machine will be possible.[Just we don’t have enough money to build it, right now]
Still, keeping fingers crossed!