“Jayant Narlikar’s contribution to astronomy written by Sayli Sawant”
India has given birth to many profound geniuses, especially in astronomy and mathematics fields. Narlikar was one of those blessings that India received.
Jayant Narlikar was born to Sumati Narlikar who was a Sanskrit scholar and Vishnu Vasudev Narlikar who was a Mathematics professor at Banaras Hindu University. Narlikar took his early education where his father was a professor and later ended up in Cambridge where he laid the foundations for his research work along with his mentor Fred Hoyle.
JVN had contributions to fundamental physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. Many of his ideas were rather too radical when they were put forward but subsequently have been proved right. Here are his few contributions highlighting his amazing works in his career.
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Hoyle-Narlikar Conformal gravity theory
One of his contributions was Mach’s principle which has as many versions of it as the number of people pecking on it. To put it more simply, it can be said that a particle exists because of the existence of other particles in the Universe. It can be envisioned as that the mutual interaction between particles is the cause for their collective existence; in other words, a single particle cannot exist alone. It is so appealing that even Einstein was greatly influenced by it and wanted to include it in his theory of gravitation – general relativity (GR). But he was disappointed that he couldn’t include it as his theory could accept the situation where a single particle could roam under the influence of gravity. In the early 1960s, driven by the same inspiration as that of Einstein, both Fred Hoyle and Narlikar (HN) wanted to construct a theory of gravitation that included Mach’s principle and hence was born a new theory of gravitation which reduces to GR the limit of many particles. Even further, Narlikar introduced the concept of scalar field which says that there exists negative energy and stress on the continuous creation of matter in the Universe. This concept of the creation field was also applied to the matter created in the centres of galaxies producing supermassive black holes of about a billion solar masses. In 1966, JVN was the first to envision the presence of supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies, which was soon proposed by Donald Lynden-Bell and Martin Rees.
The explanation for observed Radio sources in the Universe
Another pioneering work JVN did while he was a graduate student in 1961 includes his work on a model on which he worked by producing superclusters and voids in the Universe and explained the observed distribution of radio sources which was observed by the Cambridge radio astronomers. Besides the analytical calculation, JVN had done numerical calculations by using IBM 7090 computer. It was the first attempt ever made of performing the calculations on a computer-generated Universe.
Exact Calculation of probability about the beginning of the Universe
JVN was among the first persons to apply quantum mechanics for the understanding of cosmology and had shown in 1977 that big bang singularity (the point at which the universe collapses) could be avoided by using the quantum mechanical approach. He was even able to compute exactly the probability of the Universe having a singular or non-singular beginning. These calculations were perhaps the only calculations in quantum gravity( The grand unified theory of physics) which is exact without any approximation.
Hoyle-Narlikar generalisation of WF theory
By far the most intellectual contribution given by JVN is HN’s generalisation of the famous Wheeler-Feynman (WF) absorber theory of radiation which was proposed in 1945. Maxwell’s theory is time-symmetric and hence accepts both advanced and retarded solutions. But we always observe retarded effects and never advanced effects or in simpler words had a concern towards the arrow of time. To answer it, they needed a gravitational theory accommodated with Mach’s principle. This is when HN entered into the picture and they argued that expanding the Universe in cosmology provided a more natural arrow of time.
Experimental space research
Another groundbreaking space research of Narlikar includes his hypothesis that the Earth may be bombarded by microorganisms from space. He even suggested an experiment to verify under the collaboration of several laboratories. The study carried out by CCMB, Hyderabad, and NCCS, Pune showed that several bacterial species could survive in UV, including three new species. Further studies are being carried out to verify whether they are from earth or space. These studies are sponsored by ISRO which is purely an Indian experiment.