|Learning the Basics:
But I learned the basics of the night sky from Prof. K. Sakthivel, who is a physics teacher in the PSG Collge of Technology in Coimbatore. A humble but lazy man Prof. Sakthivel is a genius who would go out of his way to help students learn astronomy.
Due to his single-minded dedication he did wonders at the college club. On most weekends we used to travel to distant mountain tops to observe on his trusted two-weehler. Those were some of the best days of my life as an amateur astronomer.
The club had a great library. Thanks to our oldest and the most active member, Dr Ananthasubramanium. Dr A worked at the Kodailkanal Observatory under Sir C.V. Raman druing the last days of the British Raj and later with the Indian Met department. Living with a pacemaker, at 93, Dr A was the "youngest" of my friends. (Dr A passed away in 2003.)
|About Myself.....Some History|
|The SLV-3 launch pad west of house in Shriharikota. Most of India's early rockets were launched from this site. (Credit: ISRO)|
As a school kid I was very fascinated by rockets. though my dad never worked for the Indian space programme -he is a medical doctor-a sizeable chunk of his friends worked in the feldgling ISRO. I never missed a single launch which were clearly visible from the rooftop as the launch pad at Sriharikota was just 20 miles east of my home in Sullurpeta, Andhra Pradesh, India.
As a kid I was good at art too. Every Sunday I would Sit in the hot sun outside our little home with my asphalt slate (In those days pens were unheard of in my school. I got use my first pencil and note book in 1984.) and make line drawings of all the rockets I could imagine. My parents were very encouraging and got me all that I wanted.
My first stint with astronomy came some time in the mid-Eighties when my town faced power cuts every summer. Though this made life hell for most people, I was very happy as I got to see thoudsands of stars that dotted the night sky.
|Prof. Devdas with his 14-inch f/8 Newtonian telescope. I learned basics of lunar and planetary observing through this telescope.
(Credit: Prof. Devdas)
|The mighty PSLV-C3 lifts off from the launch pad at Shriharikota on its sixth flight. In this mission, PSLV-C3 launched three satellites. (Credit: Uma Shankar)|
|My eldest sister Bindu-who was also a doctor like the four others in my family and now lives in the US- used to point out the bright constellations in the sky. She and my second sister, Deepu, studied in a convent school in Madras where they learned good English and Science. I went to a small missonary school in my village which had little to offer apart from a pot of water for each class.
Every eveining during summers, our family would spend time in the front yard of the house enjoying the cool sea breeze duirng power cuts. I would lie on my sisters lap and she would tell, "Vishnu, if you have a telescope you can see all these stars and planets big and bright. You can discover many new things."
For years to come before my dad got me my first telescope my sisters words were my only inspiration. I was only a kid then and had little knowledge as to how a telescope looks like, leave alone making one myself.
|My First Telescope:
Years later when I was in a boarding school I shared this passion for astronomy with a classmat who gave me the address of a telescope supplier in India. I drafted a letter that very evening to M/S Gorandas Desai, official agesnts of Carl Zeisis Telescope, Germany, in India. After a month of waiting, the glossy colour catalogue with the price list arrived which made my heart stop. The prices were beyond what my father could afford and I didnt want to ask him either.
Later, I found out about a local telescope maker, Devdas Telescoptics. I was too scared to call him and ask about the telescopes he was selling so I begged my sister Bindu who was more than happy to help me. The prices were Indian and I convinced my dad to buy a 5-inch f/10 Newtonian on a German Equtorial mount.
In the next few months, before my telescope arrived, I tried to read all astronomy books I could get hold of. The Space Centre library was a treasure house and I spent days sitting there ogling at images in glossy astronomy magazines. It was here I read my first Sky and Telescope and Astronomy issues.
When my scope arrived I had learned enough about astronomy to write a small book. From then on there was no stopping. Prof. Devdas from whom I purchased my first telescope becam a trusted friend and teacher. I learned to grind telescope mirrors and made a 4-inch f/10 scope with his help.
|After my graduation, I shifted to New Delhi an joined The Asian Age newspaper as a journalist. Here I came in touch with the members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Delhi. Over the years I developed a habit of meeting people intersted in astronomy where ever I went and was happy to see a active group in Delhi.
Unlike most clubs in India AAAD was very different in many ways. Our club members are people from all walks of life. Most of them are masters in their own field and contributed a lot to the development of the club. We regularly organise telescope making, astrophotography workshops in association with the Nehru Planetrium, New Delhi, where our working office is also located.
Astronomy is like alcohol once you get addicted there are no rehabilitation centres to cure you. When I started first I wanted to study the moon and planets because my tiny 5-inch scop could show details on those subjects. My skills at drawing were also of immense help in sketching the objects I observed through the eyepiece. As I got to make bigger telescopes my ambitions also changed. In 2000, I met Prof. Tom Gehrels of University of Arizona at the Planetarium in Delhi. Porf. Gehrels is an expert on near-earth asteroid research. I went to interview him for an article for my newspaper. But what came out of the interview was more than just a front-page article. It changed the course of my life.