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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014
Star struck
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, April 09, 2013
First Published: 17:01 IST(9/4/2013)
Last Updated: 17:15 IST(9/4/2013)
Out of this world: Astronomers get to explore space with all its mysteries

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). This profession is basically divided into two parts — 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 public and private organisations such as the Indian Space Research Organisation, space physics laboratories etc. They also get employed at research institutions or universities

Clockwork
Astronomers normally spend 4-5 nights a month at the telescope sights taking observations. Here is an an average day (actually night) of an astronomer at work:
5pm: Leave for observatory
6pm: Start setting up the instruments and telescope
7pm: Start recording observations with advanced cameras and instruments
6am: Take data backup, done for the day
7am: Take breakfast and go to bed
2pm: Wake up and have lunch
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 R45,000 per month at the entry level. The remuneration can further increase with experience and seniority

Skills/TRAITS
n Advanced knowledge of physics and applied mathematics
n Ability to handle large sets of data with the help of computer/computer programming is required
n Knowledge of statistics 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 experimental astronomy or theoretical astronomy. For pursuing a career in experimental astronomy, one can do BE/BTech in electrical/ electronics/electrical communications or any other related branch before doing PhD in a relevant field which is the basic requirement for doing research work. For theoretical astronomy one has 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, taking a postgraduate degree in physics or astronomy, followed by a specialisation in astronomy

Institutes and URLs
* Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune  www.iucaa.ernet.in
* Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore               www.iiap.res.in
* National Centre for Radio Astrophysics - Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Pune ncra.tifr.res.in
* Raman Research Institute, Bangalore                  www.rri.res.in
* Department of Physics & Astrophysics, University of Delhi www.du.ac.in

Pros and cons
* You get to visit exotic locations around the globe
* 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 that surround the outer space which may bring about a dramatic change to our lives

India is participating in major international mega projects like the Thirty Metre Telescope. Thus, requirement for human resource in astronomy will be enormous --- Harinder P Singh, professor, department of physics & astrophysics, University of Delhi and vice president of Astronomical Society of India


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