Tuesday, February 11, 2014


                        I have always been drawn to the night sky, or to the sky in general. I grew up in a small town in Maharashtra, and it was a novelty for us kids to have any man-made thing flying overhead! So whenever a 'detouring' jumbojet or a helicopter flew over our town, we used all our efforts to get in the open and have look at it until it disappeared. This curiosity got carried over to the nigh sky as well, which had its own peculer sights; a satellite streaking across, across many stationary stars, seeming as if one of the stars had just decided that it was about time to make a move! We often had electricity cuts and that was the time when the night sky was witnessed in its entire grandeur! The Milky Way which was not often discernible was a beautiful swatch of tiny stars, and we often got to witness a dozen falling stars. I wanted to know more, delve deeper and see deeper into the night.  After enough persuasion, I got my first (and till date the only) telescope! It was a 90 mm reflector (90 mm refers to the diameter of the main mirror, which gathers the light), a modest scope with a tube made up of of PVC plastic! But it did its job - The first sight was of-course the Moon, and was it a marvelous sight! It was as if I was hovering over it, several thousand kilometer! The planets were crisp, especially Jupiter with its extended family (read satellites!) . But the real treat for me was the Sun, thanks to the solar filter which got affixed to the telescope. The Sun was a pale yellow globe, with the sunspots sprinked randomely over its surface - it was magical!
                       My affair with the skies lasted for most of my school years. However, once I started college, this real and enthralling education was taken over by the more mundane and 'theory' oriented one. Astronomy was left far behind. And long after,  I left home for my graduate studies. I ended up with an engineering degree and an MBA - I often wonder why I chose these degrees/education - I am yet to figure that out, and I will need to dedicate a separate blogpost or two for that discussion!
                       But Astronomy has remained in my mind. I have not forgotten that feeling of amazing calm and bewilderment when I used to focus my scope on a farwaay object, like the Orion nebula or even a random piece of sky, and feel connected with something bigger and grander that we can ever imagine! That, plus the cold air of a November night, and the music out of my dad's stereo (often Jagjit Singh with one his beautiful but haunting gazhals) would transform me out of the place.
                        I have continued to read as much as I can on the desperate array of topics that Astronomy covers - my favorite being galaxy formation and evaluation. Its through the detection and study of the earliest galaxies that we are trying to understand what we have termed as the Big Bang. The fact that galaxies are not merely spread out, that they form the so called super structures (google 'Sloan Great Wall' !) which give the known Universe its some what definite shape, is critical to our understating of the observable Universe. I have read through so much stuff, in books and on the net - however, I must admit that this reading has been more on a recreational level, to satiate my hunger for knowing whatever I can - and its not in the strictest sense a study or an academic endeavor, which I would want it to be.
                         If I get a chance, I would like to study Astronomy at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester, UK. It comes under the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester. The main reason for this choice is their reputation and established research in radio astronomy. Some of the topics researched here include early universe formation, galactic evaluation ,star formation, pulsars as well as gravitational lensing, AGNs (Active Galactic Nucleus galaxies)/quasars. And, the world famous Lovell radio telescope, among others, is situated here! This was for a long time the largest single dish steerable radio telescope in the world! A chance to pursue a post graduate degree or research fellowship here would be a once in the lifetime opportunity to go on a journey of attaining knowledge in one of my favorite areas, get to work and learn with state of the art equipment and the brightest people in this domain and more importantly, self discovery - getting closer to the questions that's been nagging me more or more recently - what is it that I want to make of this life? and Career? May be I'll find the answers while peeking  deep within a molecular cloud, or in the vicinity of a central massive blackhole!