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Astromomy on a resurgent path in India

At a time when universities abroad are expanding their astronomy departments,India still lags behind,with no undergraduate courses to offer in the subject.

Written by V Shoba |
December 11, 2011 2:48:39 am

The science of astronomy is witnessing a resurgence in India,with the Indian Government pushing for participation in several international projects,said Shrinivas Kulkarni,professor of astronomy and planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology,US.

Speaking on the sidelines of a lecture at Infosys,Bangalore,Kulkarni—a part of the jury for the Infosys Science Prizes which were announced last month,said that India,which last year pledged to participate in the Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT) megaproject in Hawaii,will have a major role to play in the effort,which involves universities and observatories from the US,Canada,Japan and China.

Expected to be ready by 2020. TMT,which will be the largest and the most advanced telescope in the world,could host mirror segments,mechanical actuation and software developed in India,which has sought a 10 per cent stake in the $1 billion project,the eminent scientist said. “India actively participated in the Large Hadron Collider project at CERN,but in TMT,it will have an even bigger involvement to begin with,” he added. Kulkarni is also spearheading a small satellite project at Caltech named LIMSAT. “It stands for ‘less is more’,” he said,in which he is trying to involve Indian universities and government. “We are trying to make the satellite at a cost of less than $20 million. Israel has agreed to sponsor half of it. We will approach the Indian government with a proposal,” he told The Sunday Express . The 100 kg satellite,which could be ready for launch in four years,will have on board a large-field ultraviolet camera. “Given India’s expertise in UV detectors and its track record in satellite launching,we are hoping for a successful partnership,” he said.

At a time when universities abroad are expanding their astronomy departments,India still lags behind,with no undergraduate courses to offer in the subject. “Things are changing for astronomy in India. From a sleepy science,it is now witnessing a huge push—be it in the form of ASTROSAT (India’s first astronomy satellite scheduled for launch on board the PSLV in 2012),or the proposed Indian Initiative in Gravitational-wave Observations (called IndIGO). There is talk of next-generation radio telescopes at government meetings now,” Kulkarni said. In another collaborative effort,Kulkarni’s team,along with the Pune-based Inter University Centre For Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA),developed low-cost adaptive optics that can replace the expensive sodium laser beacons that astronomers fire into the atmosphere for a clear,distortion-free picture. The Rayleigh Laser Guide Star AO system,recently demonstrated at IUCAA,is now being commissioned on the robotic P60 telescope at Palomar Observatory in California. “We are also hoping to work with the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope team in Pune to update their processing ability. A world-class facility like this should be made use of and popularised to increase interest in astronomy among youngsters,” Kulkarni said.

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