The story of my four-decades-long struggle against gravity, or how I nearly died and then reborn, healthier and happier, having lost more than half of myself

The child’s diet

At birth, I weighed 9.5 lb (4.3 kg). My mother and my grandmother told me that story many times. I was the fattest and hungriest baby of the large brood of kids born on April 1964 in the “San Luca” clinic of Caserta, a small town in Southern Italy. According to the family account, I was crying desperately from hunger during that first night of my life. …


The Great Barred Spiral Galaxy

NGC 1365, classified with the morphological type SB(s)b, is one of the major galaxies of the Fornax cluster, a group of 58 galaxies located on the border between the homonymous constellation Fornax (the Furnace) and that of Eridanus.

Located at a distance of 18.6 megaparsecs, equal to about 60 million light-years, NGC 1365 is also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy due to its iconic double central bar, from whose ends the two main spiral arms project.

With a diameter of approximately 220,000 light-years, more than double that of the Milky Way, NCG 1365 is one of the largest…


An asymmetrically shaped spiral galaxy

Messier 96 (M96), also known as NGC 3368, is a spiral galaxy in the constellation Leo. Its distance from Earth, calculated by averaging more than fifty different measurements obtained with different methods, is about 35 ± 5.4 million of light-years. Spectroscopic studies reveal that it moves away from us at a speed of 897 ± 4 km/s. Its redshift is 0.002992 ± 0.000013.

M96 belongs to the morphological type SAB(rs)ab, according to the system of classification proposed by de Vaucouleurs. …


Given two integers 𝑎 and 𝑏, at least one of which is different from zero, the greatest common divisor of 𝑎 and 𝑏 is a positive integer 𝑑 such that both 𝑎 and 𝑏 are divisible by 𝑑 and no other divisor of 𝑎 and 𝑏 is larger than 𝑑

The division of integers is based on the Division Algorithm, with which almost everyone has, or should have, had to deal with since early school grades. Roughly speaking, the algorithm asserts that an integer 𝑎 can be divided by an integer 𝑏 greater than zero so that any remainder is always less than 𝑏.

The Division Algorithm

Expressed in the form of a theorem, the algorithm asserts that, given two integers 𝑎 and 𝑏, with 𝑏>0, there are only two integers 𝑞 and 𝑟 such that


The Whirlpool Galaxy owes its name to the iconic shape of its two large spiral arms, which branch off from the center and unwind in opposite directions, similar to the figure created by a fluid caught in a vortex

At a distance of 23 ± 4 million light-years from Earth, the Whirlpool Galaxy is one of the brightest galaxies in the sky, adorned with very bright clusters of young blue stars, scattered along the entire path of its spiral arms. Due to its relative proximity, this galaxy has a very large apparent size (its angular diameter is about 11.2 arc minutes). Its physical diameter is about 80,000 light-years. The stellar mass is calculated in 160 billion solar masses.

Also known as Messier 51 (M51) or NGC 5194, the Whirlpool Galaxy is a spiral classified with the morphological type SA(s)bc…


A prime number is any natural number divisible only by two numbers, 1 and itself. A composite number is any natural number that can be written as the product of two smaller natural numbers

We can represent any natural number 𝑛 greater than 1 as an array of dots, corresponding to a product 𝑛=𝑎⋅𝑏, with 𝑎 representing the number of rows in the array and 𝑏 the number of columns. For example, 6 can be represented as an array of 2 ⋅ 3 or 3 ⋅ 2 dots, the order being unimportant, or a single string of 6 dots (1 ⋅ 6).


A galaxy with a star-quilted tail in the constellation Virgo

Some years ago, the Galaxy Evolution Explorer space telescope, or GALEX for short, discovered a galaxy adorned with a glittering tail made of bright “pearls” containing new stars. The galaxy is called IC 3418. According to the astronomers who studied it, its tail was formed by the gas snatched from the galaxy as it plunged into the Virgo cluster. IC 3418’s unusual tail offered scientists new elements for a deeper understanding of star formation mechanisms.

Janice Hester of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the lead author of a study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, described the origin…


Induction is a system of proof that extends the validity of a rule to the generality of cases based on the principle that what holds for a number and the next must also hold for the next of the next, and so on

Natural numbers can be arranged in infinite series, each one based on a different rule. Perhaps, the simplest is the sum created by the ordered series of natural number, starting from 1 up to any number 𝑛:


This small spiral in the constellation Dragon is located about 45 million light-years from Earth

NGC 5949 is the galaxy dominating this splendid image produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. Discovered in 1801 by William Herschel, NGC 5949 is located in the northern constellation Draco (the Dragon), at an estimated distance of just under 45 million light-years (13.8 megaparsecs).

It is considered a relatively close galaxy because such a distance is a trifle compared to the size of the observable universe. For example, many clusters of galaxies are located at distances of 5, 6, or more billion light-years from us, over a thousand times farther than NGC 5949.

But in human terms, also 45 million…


One of our galactic neighbors displays its majestic beauty in an image produced by the Spitzer Space Telescope

M33, also known as the Triangle galaxy, is one of the Local Group members. This group, which includes the Milky Way and Andromeda (M31), comprises gravitationally bound galaxies. As evidence of the bond created by the mutual gravitational attraction, M33 is one of the few galaxies moving towards the Milky Way, with a radial velocity of 180 km/s. Most galaxies, instead, are continually and inexorably receding from us due to the expansion of the universe.

Observed by Spitzer’s infrared eye, this elegant spiral galaxy glows with color and detail. The stars appear as sparkling blue gems (actually, many of them…

Michele Diodati

Science writer with a lifelong passion for astronomy and comparisons between different scales of magnitude.

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