India needs more astronomers, astronomy education at all level

India needs more astronomers, astronomy education at all level
A stargazer waits for the Perseid meteor shower to begin near Bobcaygeon, Ontario . (Reuters File Photo)


Dinesh C Sharma

India Science Wire


New discoveries in astronomy in recent years have generated a lot of excitement globally, and Indian scientists have contributed to them in large measure. However, the country is lacking when it comes to promoting astronomy education at different levels and the number of professional astronomers it needs.


Just a handful of 700-odd universities teach astronomy and astrophysics at post graduate and research levels. The number of undergraduate colleges with courses in astronomy and astrophysics is miniscule and at the school level, astronomy does not figure in curriculum. This was stated by Prof S K Pandey, President of the Astronomical Society of India which is holding its 36th annual meeting at the Osmania University on February 6.


India needs to boost astronomy education at all levels as astronomy acts as proxy for promoting scientific temper, besides addressing fundamental questions about human existence and place in the universe. Its promotion could drive innovation as some of the most cutting edge technologies find their application in astronomy, Prof Pandey said.


“The need to promote astronomy education and public outreach is even more important when there is growing influence of astrology in the society,” Prof Pandey, who is a leading astronomer and vice chancellor of Raipur-based Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, said while talking to India Science Wire after delivering the presidential address.


One of the objectives of the society is “striving to include astronomical courses in the school, college and university curricula.” But astronomy education has been slow to pick up despite efforts being made organisations like the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). The IUCAA Node for Astronomy and Astrophysics Development (INAAD) provides technical knowledge, resource people, coordination, financial support and some basic resources.


Astronomy and astrophysics courses are taught at the post graduate level, but they are too dense with too many topics covered. Given the way the discipline of astronomy and astrophysics have developed, Prof Pandey said there was a need emphasise on laboratory courses that focus on analysis of data, in addition to observational exercises using telescopes. Online courses on different subjects could be developed for those interested in participating in astronomy projects. For instance, engineers trained in data analysis, instrumentation and image processing could be suitably be trained for astronomy projects.


“There is going to be huge data pouring from mega science projects in astronomy and we need an army of professional astronomers to handle it,” he added. “We need a conveyer belt of astronomers – who start with smaller projects then move on to bigger ones.”


For teaching and research at undergraduate level, the ASI president suggested use of small telescopes whose capacity could be enhanced significantly by using low cost back-end instrumentation like stellar photometer, CCD camera and stellar spectrograph.


Small telescopes could be acquired for up to Rs 15 lakh, for which funding is available for agencies like the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the University Grants Commission (UGC). Besides training and research, small telescopes could also be deployed for public awareness by organising events like night sky reading.


This article was originally published by India Science Wire and has been republished here with permission.