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Career in Astrophysics
The study of the atmosphere and sphere and space is one of the oldest sciences. Space science in India has been growing with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) focusing on moon research and India launching the AstroSat, a multi – wavelength astronomy satellite, next year.
The making of satellites for communication, mapping and education are all part of India’s space research program. ISRO has also made plans for the lunar explorer, Chandrayaan.
The IT revolution has also played a role in augmenting the progress in space science. Space science deals with the human advances towards exploration of outer space and related technology.
It is an amalgamation of various disciplines like, physics, mechanical engineering, materials science, chemistry, biology, medicine, psychology, computer science, and other fields of scientific knowledge.
A sub – field of physics, it is further divided into several branches, which together help unravel the mysteries of the universe. While some take ‘astronomy’ as the umbrella term, some think that ‘Astrophysics’ is the holistic term that encompasses all the related fields.
However, Professor Jayant Murthy, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, clarifies, “Although astronomy and astrophysics were, at one time, considered different from each other, they are now used interchangeably.”
Different Branches in Astrophysics Careers
Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects, such as stars, planets, comets, and galaxies, and the phenomena that exist beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
Through the use of physics, astronomy explains the evolution of the universe and through sound mathematical simulations it forecasts its development.
Astrophysics deals with the physical properties of celestial bodies and with the interaction between matter and radiation in the interior of celestial bodies and in interstellar space. It can be broken down into observational and theoretical astrophysics. Cosmology is the combination of astrophysics and particle physics.
It is the study of the structure, origin and evolution of the universe. Cosmologists seek to understand how the universe came into being, why it is the way it is and what the future has in store.
Astrochemistry is the combination of astronomy and chemistry, dealing with the chemical composition and evolution of the universe and its parts. It is the study of the chemical elements found in outer space and their interactions.
Astrogeology is the science dealing with the structure and composition of all solid bodies in the solar system, including planets, stars, satellites, asteroids, comets and meteorites.
Astromestrology is the study of the theoretical effects of astronomical bodies and forces on the earth’s atmosphere.
Astrometry is the branch of astronomy that deals with the precise measurement of the positions and motions of the celestial bodies. The information obtained by astrometric measurements is very important in contemporary research of the solar system and our galaxy, the Milky way.
Astrobiology is the study of life beyond the earth’s atmosphere on other planets. It combines aspects of astronomy, geology and biology.
Optical Astronomy is the study of optical band is called optical astronomy. Radio Astronomy the study of the radio band is called Radio astronomy.
The romanticism of space flights and exploration is still alive, but an academic or research oriented career in Astrophysics is yet to attract many.
Youngsters usually connect space research with becoming an astronaut or going to National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) rather than going into space research.
So, besides the love for celestial wonders, one has to have a scientific temperament to do research. Currently, science is facing a shortage of talented youngsters as they are opting for better paying Astrophysics jobs.
However, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will require science and engineering talents, for mission completion and future of these facilities.
Eligibility for Astrophysics Courses
Astrophysics is one field where aptitude is important, as, or perhaps more than academic prowess. The primary requirement is to have a scientific bent of mind and the desire to explore.
If you have curiosity and are interested, half the battle is won-you are already eligible. Other technical necessities include taking up physics and mathematics at the plus two level, as well as during graduation.
For a career in space science, students need to have enough knowledge of physics, maths and engineering techniques in general. Students generally require a BE or B.Sc degree in physics / electronics, etc.
To pursue a career in theoretical astronomy, one can pursue a Bachelor’s in Science in physics and / or mathematics, while in order to pursue a career in experimental astronomy, one can pursue a Bachelor’s in Engineering in electrical / electronics / electrical communication, after ten plus two.
Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST), usually held around February or March, is the screening test for those who want to pursue a PhD in physics, including theoretical and observational astronomy, astrophysics, atmospheric and space science / mathematics / theoretical computer science.
Student with a postgraduate degree in physics or Master’s in Technology in engineering or a Bachelor’s in Engineering, are eligible to appear for JEST. The patterns consist of multiple – choice objective questions, covering general areas in the field of physics. The exam checks for analytical skills.
Knowledge of the subject and ability to tackle the problem. The maximum number of allotted marks is 150, evenly divided among 50 questions with negative marking for wrong answers. The time allotted for exam is 3 hours.
On the basis of JEST Results, institutes call a limited number of candidates receive a Research Fellowship from the respective institutions.
If you are the mechanical engineer, you are the most eligible candidate for making bright future in Astrophysics field. For instance, the study of stellar objects thus require instruments. Building of such instruments require an Engineering background.
One can use a spectrograph to study the spectral lines in the incoming light which will give information about the material. Similarly, the polarization of the stellar light can be measured using a polarimeter. Building of such instruments involves the combined efforts of Mechanical Engineering.
India has many good institutes related to astronomy. It could excel in the international space research field if these institutes had a steady input of quality students. The students should try to enter these as they offer world class facilities for research, which will definitely be useful to all mankind.
The University of Pune, offer M.Sc courses in space science, some of which are sponsored by ISRO.
A new institute has just been started by ISRO in Thiruvananthapuram, which is essentially open to students from IITs. This is aimed not at science, but to train engineers for ISRO’s needs.
There are also several Astrophysics courses, at the end of which, students are awarded with certificates in astronomy. St. Joseph’S and the Birla Institute of Fundamental Research in Banglore only have certificate courses in Astrophysics.
There may be others in other cities and the best place to find out would be the local planetarium. Bangalore University, amongst others, offers an MSc. in Astronomy as does Calicut University.
These also offer, in general, Ph.D programs. Specialized institutes like Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Inter – University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Aries, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, S.N. Bose, as well as Indian Institute of science and a few of the IITs take students for PhD program. IIA takes students with an M.Sc or a BE / BTech.
Though there are many institutions offering postgraduate courses in Astrophysics and facilitating research, there are very few offering undergraduate courses in Astrophysics.
Some of them are DR. Babasahab Ambsedar Marathward University, Aurangabad, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, University of Lucknow, and University of Chennai.
Astrophysics Career Prospects
After having done a course in astronomy, one can be a research scientist with several research institute and government organizations. During the research work, one can receive a monthly stipend ranging from 8000 – 9000/-, besides other grants and facilities.
After completing research, employment opportunities with different institutes increase. Various government bodies also employ astronomers as scientists, who are given high salaries with other perks and allowances.