Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Scientific processes will take time! Yes, they do!

Meanwhile, I am being bombarded with lots of Questions!

Ever since Malaysian flight MH370 disappeared people are anxiously waiting to know what happened to the aircraft with all its occupants. I can understand the agony of the relatives of those on board to know the fate of their loved ones.

And now after ten days of unrelenting search involving more than 25 countries when still nothing could be found with certainty, People are asking me questions like " In this age of Science and Technology, how is that people still can't find an aeroplane that is missing?"

Good question.

But before answering this Q I want people to consider these things :

In the initial stages when the plane disappeared from the radar screens, people would try to assume that it went down in the area of last contact because of a mishap. So they try to search in the location they think the plane or its wreckage could be found. The search and rescue operations start immediately then.

Let me also tell you people will be in a state of shock and agony. They try to imagine what might have happened based on the preliminary information and data available.

Remember, air traffic controllers lost contact with the jetliner at the junction of several international air traffic control regions—the kind of fringe location where radar coverage is known to be spotty.      Flying below the radar is one problem. It’s no secret that radar works line-of-sight, so if a plane flies low enough, it can put geographic obstacles between itself and a dish, rendering the aircraft undetectable.

Therefore, it took some days to realize that the plane might not have crashed at that very place when the search team could not find anything in the 'area of lost radar contact'. Then people will try to understand from alternate points of consideration. They try to come up with other theories that might be the reasons for the disappearance. They try to gather the relevant information. People have to check radar and satellite data from several countries. And it takes heck of a time to dig into the data and come up with the relevant ones. And it was found that a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, had continued to receive "pings" every hour from the aircraft engines for several hours even after losing contact with the radar and other communication systems on the jetliner were shut down. These "ping signals" were analysed  using Doppler Effect to help estimate the aircraft's path and location. Then it was found that the plane ended up in remote rough waters of Indian Ocean.

According to one theory ( also called as 'ghost plane theory' ) due to some catastrophy on the plane, the pilots might have turned the plane back but were incapacitated and could neither communicate with the ground nor land it safely and the plane which was in an autopilot mode must have traveled into the Indian Ocean till the fuel exhausted and then plunged into the waters and disappeared for ever. 

On the other hand when an intelligent and well learned person does interfere with the normal course of the plane with a well conceived plan (the first turn to the west that diverted the missing Malaysia Airlines plane from its planned flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was carried out through a computer system that was most likely programmed by someone in the plane’s cockpit who was knowledgeable about airplane systems, according to senior American officials reports new York Times - but this is just one theory) , he tries to cover up things. So anybody investigating will have to uncover a lot of truth and cover a lot of ground to find this needle in a haystack.

Imagine the amount of data to be studied. Imagine the amount of space to be covered (the vast search area is mind blowing). Imagine the amount of efforts to be put in. One has to consider human endurance and limitations, ocean dynamics, enormity of the ocean, depth of it, contours of the bottom of the ocean, limited data, weather conditions, poor visibility and remoteness of the area. Science has to fight all these impediments.

False claims ( like the one we got from Maldives that people have seen the plane in their air space! ) and alerts take their toll too! The scientific process proceeds as fast as human beings would allow it, capable of handling it. Ban on overflights and delays in sharing data (Thai military released data after 10 days! And Indonesia failed to permit overflights of search aircraft!) hamper search.

First you come up with theories. There are as many as fifteen theories doing the rounds now! Then you find out whether there is any data supporting them. If you find some clues, you try to match the data with the theory. Then proceed in that direction to find out if this stands. Experts even reenacted some of the things they think might have happened to see whether the data fits the theory! It takes a heck of time and not at all easy. Satellite and radar data have to be studied by experts in detail. Even if you find something that might look relevant,  there are very strong currents in the Indian Ocean where they would be located. The Antarctic circumpolar current runs at around one mile an hour, which may not sound a lot but in ocean terms is very fast. In just four days, the amount of time people are taking to coordiante and arrange things to search for them, the objects found would  travel 100 miles and out of sight by the time people reach there. This is under normal conditions. In bad weather conditions like we have now this would become doubly complex!

Large pieces of floating debris from a crashed plane  could also break up in heavy seas, experts note. Fragments could quickly spread over an area covering tens of square kilometres, with semi-submerged material travelling at a different rate than objects floating on the surface. Professor Alexander Babanin, director of the Centre for Ocean Engineering, Science and Technology at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said that if an object is suspended "it could be carried quite some distance, perhaps even more so than by waves, because ocean currents can be stronger than wave-induced currents".

Worse for the searchers than the flotsam fragmenting would be if  it simply sank. Would these objects still be afloat when people try to find them or reach them? What keeps something afloat, a wing or part of the fuselage, say, is air trapped inside it. Particularly in bad weather and sea conditions, the chances of that air escaping are really quite high.

Assuming the flotsam is eventually spotted and identified as belonging to flight MH370, it will be collected by a surface ship guided from the air. Planes searching for the plane parts are dropping GPSs (Global positioning systems) to help locate the area where they find the objects from the plane.  Then begins the task of locating the aircraft's remains on the ocean floor. Whatever is found on the surface will be a very long way from wherever the plane fell, experts  point out, which will be some distance from whatever's on the ocean floor. And any deep water rescue would need good weather, which means – if you're lucky – summer. Right now we're heading towards winter in that area of Southern Indian Ocean!

Once a piece of the debris is found – if it did impact on the water – then you've got to backtrack that debris to try to find the 'X marks the spot' where the plane actually hit the water, because that would be the center of the haystack. And in that haystack, you're trying to find bits of that needle – in fact, in the case of the flight data recorders, you're looking for a tiny little bit of that needle!

Once that "X" has been worked out – itself a process fraught with potential errors and miscalculations – accident investigators will send down autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) fitted with sonar to scan the sea floor or with high-resolution cameras to compile a detailed picture of the area. AUVs, also known as submersibles, which could take up to a month to be transported to the area, could be critical in locating the plane's tail section and the vital black box containing the digital flight data – particularly so because, while the box's data can still be recovered years after a crash, its electronic locator or pinger stops sending out signals after about a month.

People might say several things in the tragic  emotional state of mind but only the people involved know the enormity of the process. That is why science tells us to keep emotions at bay to think clearly and work efficiently. If you find scientists' response 'cold' to the tragedy don't worry they are not cold but appear to be cold while they are controlling their human feelings to move forward. Because only that works the best in these circumstances.

Experts from several fields have to co-ordinate their work. Information sharing is a complex process. These could become speed breakers. And the real problem is we're dealing with probabilities — estimates with regard to Inmarsat data. It's where they THINK the plane went down. Until we find a positive concrete shred of evidence — at least a piece of the aircraft or its possessions— everything else is just conjecture, and it could be totally wrong! The lack of physical evidence also weighs on the investigation into the crash. Just like on Day 1, every theory remains on the table, including electrical or mechanical failure, terrorism, hijacking and pilot murder-suicide.

The search also becomes complicated by geopolitics and rivalries among the participating nations. The instruments of the search - advanced radar and satellite arrays, banks of intelligence analysts, surveillance planes and ships - are also the tools of spycraft. And as they come together, the imperative among participating countries to cloak their technological capabilities and weaknesses will prove irresistible, at times hindering the search, military analysts say.

Some experts even say the ill-fated Malaysian Airline Flight MH370 might never be found after getting lost into a 'radar black hole' ( escape detection by flying into a part of the Indian Ocean that isn’t covered by radar). But don't lose hope. There are other ways to do the things!

Civil aviation experts in the US believe that the plane carrying 239 people on board could have vanished for ever if it was hit by fire, a bomb, hijack or catastrophic decompression and swallowed up in millions of square miles of ocean. There won't be much of oil slick to help find it if the fuel is completely exhausted on the plane.

There are several other possible theories and explanations you can access on the web. I am not giving the details of those again. People are working on them.

If two blurred objects photographed from space are confirmed after 13 days of agony and stress as debris from Flight MH370, scientists will still face a daunting task to find and recover the sensitive recorders containing clues to the Malaysian jet's disappearance. With so little known about why the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight changed course and disappeared after leaving Kuala Lumpur on March 8, finding the 'black boxes' is seen as the only real hope of understanding what happened to the plane and the 239 people on board. Objects 'possibly belonging to the plane' had been discovered in the Indian Ocean. The area is around 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, above a volcanic ridge in waters estimated to be 2,500 to 4,000 metres (8,200 to 13,120 feet) deep. It roughly corresponds to the far end of a southern track the aircraft could have taken after investigators suspect it was deliberately diverted.

The ocean can be incredibly rough and difficult. The weather can be very windy with strong currents. 

Flight MH370's disappearance has been compared to the 2009 Air France jet disaster, which puzzled investigators until a mission led by WHOI found the black boxes in 3,900 metres (12,800 feet) of water. And it took two years to find them with the help of underwater vehicles! It is that difficult! But whereas investigators knew roughly where Flight AF447 had hit the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy night in June 2009, search crews know much less about where the Malaysian jet ended up, including whether or where it ran out of fuel. A plane can still glide for some distance if the conditions are favourable even if the fuel is exhausted completely and end up in a place you can't even imagine it would be able to go!

Moreover, the speed of the plane has been miscalculated in the initial stages and people ended up in the wrong place to search. Later it was found that the plane traveled at higher speeds than they assumed and could have ended up in another area of the ocean and the mistake has been corrected and the search parties are covering a new area now.

If the object found by the satellites is confirmed as debris, then the first priority is to recover and record each piece and see how high or low it is sitting in the water. This may help indicate how it has been moved by currents and winds. The immediate problem will be to find the debris, which may have moved since the satellite images were taken on March 16. It could take several days to verify the satellite lead. Military aircraft from Australia, the United States and New Zealand have so far found nothing during a search hampered by strong winds and rain. If the objects - the biggest measures up to 24 metres (79 feet) - are from the Boeing 777, recovery teams will work as quickly as possible to locate the rest of the wreckage in the hope it leads them to the data and cockpit voice recorders.

To do this, scientists have developed computer models to effectively play waves and winds backwards, allowing rescue workers to retrace the movements of debris to the site of a crash. There are sophisticated models that allow you to work backwards from the current position of each piece of debris, after considering the currents and the winds and so on. That enables you to say X marks the spot on the surface. Investigators hope such recent developments in oceanography will help shed light on the baffling disappearance of Flight. But not all experts agree computer simulations will easily replace the gruelling routine of searching from the air and the sea. Although research has continued since the Air France jet ploughed into the Atlantic, a detailed annex to the report on that disaster, which was blamed mainly on pilot error, raised questions in 2012 over the consistency of such "retro-drift" calculations. For example, when the French Navy dropped special buoys at the same spot a year after the crash they scattered hundreds of miles apart, highlighting the turbulence of ocean currents. If the report of suspected debris is confirmed, naval vessels will also drag a sonar through the water to seek the black boxes through radio beacons, but time for this is running out.

The black boxes are designed to have a battery life of at least 30 days, leaving possibly only 17 days to locate them before the signals die. But for every knot, or nautical mile per hour, of current in the rough waters of the southern Indian Ocean, an object could theoretically float for 312 miles (500 km) in 13 days, the time the Malaysian plane has been missing till date. That could present investigators with a much larger potential search area than the 40-mile radius for AF447. In 2012, France's BEA air crash investigation agency recommended in its report on the Air France disaster that the battery life on locator beacons be increased to 90 days. Although this has been backed by global regulators, it will not become mandatory until towards the end of the decade. Other proposals that could potentially make it easier to find MH370 remain bogged down in talks between regulators and the aviation industry, with no timetable for putting them into effect, Reuters reported last week. These include adding a new frequency for the beacons so that their signals travel further and can more easily be heard by military ships lacking specialist air crash recovery equipment. Existing signals travel about 2,000 to 3,000 metres (6,560 to 9,840 feet) under water, according to the French sea search annex, whereas the area now being combed for debris is up to 4,000 metres deep. To close this gap, search teams would bring in boats capable of carrying several miles of cables to drag sonars at lower depths, but experts note moving them into place can take time. If by the end of 30 days nothing is found, the search could rely on remote underwater vehicles to scour the seabed. To find the Air France wreckage, WHOI used remote-operated REMUS underwater vehicles developed by the U.S. Navy. It was the biggest use of deep-ocean firepower in one spot.

As the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight intensifies, a new advanced radar system has been unveiled by scientists. The world's first photonic radar was tested at Pisa Airport in Italy and achieved "world-class" performance, according to an independent expert. It uses lasers to produce high fidelity signals that pinpoint planes precisely (ref 1).

I can see the beauty of the scientific process unfolding before my eyes. I know if anything could be found out about this plane, it could be possible only with the help of science and technology. People asking me several questions also tells me about the great expectations people have of science. It feels good to know this.

So, keep your trust in science and tech. But please consider all the above things at the same time. This is not easy and going to consume a lot of time. If the plane already sank to the bottom of an ocean 13 days time is too late to save people on board the plane now. All that we can do now is search for it till we exhaust all the data and theories to really know what had happened, solve the mystery and take measures that these things don't happen again.
On the other hand, if the plane was deliberately taken somewhere else than Beijing with ulterior motives, one has to find the plane, people in it, especially the ones who is responsible for this incident and bring them to justice.

The most vital clues are trapped inside the plane's black boxes, or are hoped to be.

And even if the black boxes were found and picked up from the bottom of the ocean, they might not solve the mystery. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder may not yield answers on the riddle of how and why the plane diverted an hour into the flight and embarked on a baffling journey to the southern Indian Ocean. The data recorder details the aircraft's path and other mechanical information for the flight's duration. Information from the flight data recorder will show what the jetliner was doing, but it may not explain why. But the cockpit voice recorder retains only the last two hours of conversation before the plane's demise. That means the crucial exchanges surrounding the initial diversion, which took place halfway between Malaysia and Vietnam will be lost. It remains to be seen whether the cockpit recorder  will contain anything pertinent about the plane's final two hours, when it is believed to have either ditched or run out of fuel! The cockpit voice recorder, which only records audio from the flight's final couple of hours, could simply be silent if the pilots were incapacitated before the plane went down.

Like a person who is equally well versed with human emotions during such times as well as  with the processes of scientific investigations, my sincere request to all the very concerned people around the world  is 'please wait, have patience, science is doing its job very sincerely and people of science are giving their all to unravel this mystery'! But the outcome depends on how human beings can overcome the enormous difficulties. If the data doesn't help us fully, there isn't much we could do. Try to understand this.

Easy to tell? Yes!

Difficult to follow? 'Yes', to you and 'No' to me as a person of science!

Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result - Oscar Wilde




Latest developments:

Day 18: (25 th March, 2014)

Malaysian PM confirms that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight whose fate was a mystery that consumed the world had crashed into a remote corner of the Indian Ocean. The news is based on fresh evidence gleaned from an unprecedented analysis of satellite data using a type of analysis never before used  (Doppler effect) in an investigation of this sort and had concluded that the plane's last position was "in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.

On 24th , an Australian navy support vessel, the Ocean Shield, headed toward the search zone and was expected to arrive in three or four days. The ship is equipped with acoustic detection equipment that can search for the black box.

The U.S. Pacific Command said it is also sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located, one that can be pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds and could hear the pinger down to a depth of about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters). The deployment is part of a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area.

27th Mar, 2014:

Aircraft and ships scouring the southern Indian Ocean for wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 were racing to beat bad weather on Thursday and reach an area where new satellite images showed what could be a debris field.

The international search team has been bolstered to 11 military and civilian aircraft and five ships that will criss-cross the remote search site with weather conditions forecast to deteriorate later in the day.

New satellite images have revealed more than 100 objects that could be debris from the Boeing 777, which is thought to have crashed on March 8 with the loss of all 239 people aboard after flying thousands of miles off course.

Six months after the mishap happened we still don't know anything about the plane! But...

 sonar, radar and satellite data from the weeks of work have helped scientists discovers parts of the remote ocean floor never before known.

“We’ve already found seamounts and volcanoes that were unknown and uncharted,” according to Dr. Stuart Minchin, with Geoscience Australia, the federal agency charged with analyzing and interpreting data from the search.

The deep-sea mountains, ridges, cliffs and fault lines found during the search could be helpful in predicting tsunamis, forecasting ocean currents, and better understanding how continents formed and the world evolved, according to Minchin.

The massive multi-national effort has now evolved into an unprecedented science mission.


Year long search didn't yield any results with regard to the plane.

However,  many discoveries were made in  search for Flight 370 during this time. Some of the important ones are:

NEW UNDERWATER MAPS of Indian Ocean were made.

BETTER TSUNAMI PREDICTION with the help  of these maps.

IMPROVED SEARCH AND RESCUE because of the now known areas in the sea.

BETTER PLANE TRACKING : a lesson learned and steps taken by the airline industry.

IMPROVED MULTINATIONAL SEARCHES : better co-ordination and  co-operation between various countries in the world because of the search.

POSSIBLE SATELLITE IMPROVEMENTS: this tragedy made countries improve the technical capabilities of their satellites.

OPENING A WINDOW INTO HISTORY: the underwater maps will help show scientists how Earth's crust stretched and pulled apart millions of years ago, a process that is continuing today and is slowly pushing Australia away from Antarctica.

Everybody involved in the search continues to hope the plane will be found.

If not, there is a silver lining. The data will be useful to science for many years to come.

Latest on this: 6th Aug., 2015...

It is plausible that a piece of aircraft debris - the 3-by-1-metre piece of wreckage, which beachgoers discovered on 29 July found on the shores of the French island of Réunion, in the western Indian Ocean,  could be from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Media reports say that the debris resembles an aeroplane wing flap—also called a flaperon—and is encrusted with shells, which suggests that it has been in the water for many months. Now Ocean Scientists are trying to track the path of possible MH370 Wing Flap.

Ocean currents could have carried the wing remnant to Réunion. The island is 5,000 kilometres west of the area that specialists deemed the most-probable location—a region off the coast of northwestern Australia—where the erratic aeroplane may have crashed 17 months ago. The debris could only have come from the ocean near northwestern Australia. And the location is consistent with drift analysis that scientists have provided to Malaysian investigators.

If the wreckage does turn out to be from MH370, a single piece will not be enough to help work out its origin.  Several simulations of the trajectory of debris dumped in the ocean west of Australia were attempted. In the models, the trajectory is highly sensitive to the variable state of ocean currents. We know these currents from satellite measurements, but that knowledge is not perfect, and we also need to take into account the effects of winds and waves. At best, simulations may show us what are the most likely areas of the crash—but these areas are still hundreds of kilometres wide (2).

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Replies to This Discussion

Best in science comes out veryyyyyyy slowly


Got a private message on this article:

"In-depth analysis, I have read few of them, this is the best...better than some of the senior pilot analysis.."

Agree with the person commented before me. Best I have ever read on the topic.

Hunt for Malaysian Airliner Bolstered by New Clue
A hydroacoustic signal caught by sensors in the Indian Ocean might be linked to the March crash of MH370

Flight MH370 search gets crowdsourced help from scientists

18 scientists and mathematicians collaborated on complex calculation of plane's likely location

Crowdsourcing is playing a central role in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished on March 8, 2014.

The Boeing 777, which disappeared while heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, had 239 people aboard. Despite an exhaustive search for the plane over the past year, no trace of it has been found.

In an attempt to solve the mystery, 18 scientists and mathematicians around the world put their collective expertise together and calculated the most likely place the plane crashed.

Based on those calculations, search efforts have been moved south from the original site where ships thought they'd detected pings from one of the plane's black boxes, to a spot further south and west of Australia.

Michael Exner is a satellite scientist in Colorado who helped build some the satellites being used in the hunt for MH370. He describes how satellite data and other information has been incorporated into the crowdsourced calculations of MH370's potential crash site.




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