Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) launched by the Indian Space Research organisation (ISRO) passed a crucial test early this week and enters the Martian orbit today. This milestone is also testimony to India’s burgeoning interest in space research and technology. Besides, missions such as these have sparked the enthusiasm of young star-gazers who are now keen to play a part in unravelling the mysteries of the universe. However, there is a dearth of institutes that offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses related to space science in India.
A senior faculty from the astronomy department at the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Thiruvananthapuram, points out, “There are few universities which have full-fledged postgraduate courses in astronomy and astrophysics. Apart from IIST, Osmania and Pondicherry Universities offer master’s programmes in these subjects. IIST is the only institute where astronomy and astrophysics form an appreciable part of the curriculum of the science stream at the undergraduate level. Compared to some Western countries, India does lag behind as far as facilities like large telescopes are concerned. But that is changing with India’s participation in large global projects like the TMT (Thirty Metre Telescope) and SALT (South African Large Telescope).”
IIST offers a core course on introduction to astronomy and astrophysics is also offered to BTech (physical sciences) students. Entry to the bachelor’s course is through JEE (joint entrance exam) scores; for the MS programme (astronomy and astrophysics), students must clear the GATE (graduate aptitude test in engineering) or JEST (joint entrance screening test).
Osmania University in Hyderabad has a department of astronomy that offers master’s programmes in astronomy and astrophysics. Besides, Pondicherry University also has a department of astrophysics that offers an MSc in astrophysics. As far as career prospects go, “Pursuing a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics throws open a lot of opportunities, especially with upcoming facilities like TMT where India is a stakeholder. There are dedicated research institutes like Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Raman Research Institute, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, to name a few, that offer jobs in a range of fields,” says the IIST faculty.