Friday, May 29, 2009

So that's why they couldn't find Bin Laden?

I will start by reproducing verbatim a short report that appears in today's Hindustan Times (29 May, Mumbai edition) on page 11, first column. Titled "Into a very far, very big black hole", the report says in its entirety:

"Astronomers have used new data from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton spaceborne observatory, to probe closer than ever to a supermassive black hole deep inside the core of a distant active galaxy. The galaxy - 1H0707-495 - was observed during four 48-hr-long orbits of XMM-Newton around Earth, starting in January 2008. The scientists are confident their work will one day make it possible to help police track down international criminals."

You read it right -- international criminals could be hiding "deep inside the core of a distant active galaxy". No wonder poor George W., a man of limited imagination, couldn't find Osama Bin Laden using his stupid terrestrial searches!

Now most of us have a hard time just getting to the moon. It's a mere 250,000 km away and the last time I tried going there, I got stuck in a traffic jam near Andheri. Getting to the centre of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, would require traversing 8 kiloparsecs, or in more common language, 250000000000000000 km. My poor Maruti Alto simply isn't up to it. And even it were, the centre of our galaxy is NOT where these dastardly "international criminals" are hiding! As per the above article they are in a "distant active galaxy". I don't know the distance involved offhand, but, to use a technical term borrowed from astronomers, it's "really really far".

The only way Osama Bin Laden could possibly have got there is by sitting inside a rocket ship travelling at very close to the speed of light. Of course even then he would currently be on his way there, scheduled to arrive in a million years or so -- always assuming the airport at 1H0707-495 does not, like Mumbai's Santacruz, suffer from phenomena like "traffic congestion" or the more currently fashionable "dog on the runway". What's scary, though, is that after another million years on a return flight he could arrive just as (relatively) youthful and sprightly as when he left, thanks to Special Relativity. So people who are worried about a repeat of 9/11 should watch their step on or around September 11, 2,002,001.

As with so many other mysteries, the one associated to the above article is easily dispelled. The Hindustan Times copy editor was not hallucinating on the latest designer drug. He or she simply forgot a basic rule of word processing: "after you cut, and before you paste, don't lose concentration". For, the article that follows this one is titled "Hair samples could help nab terrorists" and contains the useful information that a new laser tool can "read off", from a sample of hair, just what you've been eating and where you've been travelling. If you move the last sentence above to the end of that article, where it presumably originated, things start to make sense again.

So today, my falling hair probably reveals traces of mango chicken, while strands from Mr O.B. Laden's beard reveal... what? I have no idea, but whatever it is, I doubt it will be the variety of "Peshawari Naan" served at dhabas all over

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