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Star kalakaar

education Updated: Aug 27, 2013 17:42 IST

The lowdown

Imagine a career in which you get to witness the birth of the ­universe, or the death of a star! An astronomer is a scientist who studies celestial bodies such as moons, planets, stars, ­nebulae, and galaxies; the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects; and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of earth (such as supernova explosions, gamma ray bursts, and ­cosmic background radiation). With the advent of the ­latest ­technology, the classical image of an ­astronomer ­peering through a telescope with an eye-piece has changed. Today, astronomers sit in the control room, operate a ­telescope with the help of a remote and study the object on the screen. There are two sides to astronomy — one deals with the ­theoretical aspects ­(observational astronomy) and the other with its ­practical aspects. Observational ­astronomers focus on direct study of stars, planets, galaxies, and ­sophisticated ­instruments attached to modern telescopes. Theoretical astronomers or astrophysicists analyse how these systems may have formed and evolved. There is a great scope for qualified astronomers in various institutions/observatories, universities and different centers like Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), space physics laboratories etc

Astronomers normally spend four to five nights a month at the telescope sights studying the skies. Here is an average day (actually night) of an astronomer at work:
5pm: Leave for observatory
6pm: Start setting up the ­instruments and telescope, ­calibrate the instruments according to the brightness of the sky
7pm: As soon as it gets dark, point telescope to specific constellations etc in the sky, start recording ­observations with advanced ­cameras and instruments. This goes on till morning, depending on the weather conditions. We take small breaks for tea or coffee
6am: Take close observations. Whenever it is done, take ­breakfast/lunch and go to bed
3pm: Check the data from the ­previous night, prepare for the night ahead

The ­payoff
An astronomer involved in research work or teaching as an assistant ­professor at a reputed college or ­university can earn R50,000 per month at the entry level. The ­remuneration can further increase with experience and seniority

* Advanced knowledge of physics and applied mathematics
* Ability to handle large sets of data with the help of computer/­computer programming is required
* Knowledge of computer ­simulation/image processing for analysing data

Getting there
Take physics, chemistry and maths as main subjects in Class 12. Depending on one’s choice of field, one can either opt for observational astronomy or theoretical astronomy. Do a postgraduation course in ­physics/astronomy/astrophysics. After this, you will be eligible to do a PhD, which is a basic requirement for doing research work. Those who are interested in theoretical ­astronomy need to pursue a career in science stream after Class 12. One can go for an honours degree in physics with mathematics as a ­subsidiary subject. Thereafter, one can get a postgraduate degree in physics or astronomy, followed by a specialisation in astronomy

Institutes and URLs
* Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune
* Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
* National Centre for Radio Astrophysics - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Pune
* Raman Research Institute, Bangalore
* Department of Physics & Astrophysics, University of Delhi
* Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad:
* Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational-Sciences (ARIES), Nainital:
* SN Bose National Centre for Basic Science, Kolkata:
* Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Trivandrum:
* University of Mumbai:
* Osmania University, Hyderabad:

Pros and cons
* You get to visit exotic locations
* One has to be like an owl as most of the observations are usually taken at night
* A chance to discover unknown facts about space and resolve mysteries of the outer space which can give a unique ­perspective of life

India participating in major international mega projects like the Thirty Metre Telescope will open doors to a wide array of oppportunities for the youth to show their skills ---- BC Bhatt, scientist-in-charge, Centre for Research and ­Education in Science and Technology, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore