Moon River Revisited

… and fiction rules!

Published: 27th April 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th April 2014 10:51 AM   |  A+A-

Want to know how to get rid of some part of an article quickly? Gaze aghast at this demo: If you’re flying in an aeroplane at night and happen to see the reflection of the full moon in a large river like the Ganges below, you’ll find the reflection’s so big that it no longer fits into the width of the river. Why?

Anyway I want to share a darker secret with you now. I once used to do English movie reviews for a well known women’s magazine. I figured it was a good idea except that Hollywood makes about 600 movies a year of which only five -- max -- are watchable and this DVD company used to send me only the other 595. Within two months I began hallucinating I was Stanley Kubrick and knocking back daytime martinis to forget the anguish of having to sit through three of these freaky films per week. I even made up false endings. It’s despicable. But that was me.

But guess what I did finally one week when I found nothing even pukily watchable anymore? I made up a film called The Janice Drive (nice sci-fi title, no?) with an ideal cast and crew and reviewed it in letters of solid gold. Only problem was some people who were as desperate for a good film as me started calling me or emailing to find out where it was available. I told them nowhere because it had only been made to help people play dumb charades. I think half the people were happy and the other half will deeply distrust me for the rest of their lives.


The question was: “Where else can one go 50 kms south, 50 kms east and again 50 kms north and reach your point of origin besides at the North Pole?”

Draw a circle of 50 kms with the South Pole as the centre. Take any one point A in that circle and mark a point 50 kms away towards the North as B. Anyone travelling from point B for 50 kms south will reach point A. If the person travels east from point A he will complete the circle and reach the same point A. Another 50 kms towards north the person will reach point B from where he started. The same process can be achieved with a different circle with circumference of 25 kms. Only thing is the person has to make two rounds. Likewise for a 12.5 kms circle, etc -- Dr P Gnanaseharan,

The other problem was: “The twinkling of stars is attributed to the passage of starlight though the layers of atmosphere at differing densities. Why then does the light reflected from planets not have the same effect?”

The stars appear to twinkle due to atmospheric refraction and the fact that they are far away, so we see them as tiny spots in the sky and perceive the continual atmospheric refraction of light as twinkling. But planets are very near to us; besides we see them a lot bigger than the stars, making us see multiple observed points of light traversing the atmosphere making us perceive less variation in light coming from them. --John Mathew,

Since stars are quite far they are point sources of light. So they twinkle owing to atmospheric refraction. On the other hand, taking the planet as a large collection of point sources, we find that the total variation in the amount of light entering our eyes averages out to zero and the twinkling effect is nullified. Pretty simple! -- Alexander Kern,

The twinkling of stars is due to the random refraction of light from the stars passing through different layers of atmosphere of varying densities. For a view on Earth the star appears to be  oscillating star and hence the affect of “twinkling”. In the case of planets, they are very near to Earth compared to a star. Their image is therefore much larger and hence random refraction of light does not appear much noticeably different for a viewer on Earth and hence no “twinkling”. – Parnjay G,

(Yes Ria E Ranju, and Shashi Shekher Thakur,  you were right too but the lack of spacetime is killing me. – MS)


In the film Gandhi, the Mahatma sees a poor ill-clad woman sitting downriver. He takes off his chaadar, crumples it and throws it into the water. As it floats towards her the chaadar stretches out on the water. What makes it open out?

— Sharma is a scriptwriter and former editor of Science Today magazine.



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