Do you like to look at the stars? Would you like to grab a telescope and find the Orion nebula? Does the word cosmos bring goosebumps to you? And does the word Universe bring curiosity to your mind?
If the answer for each of these questions is yes, then you have landed on the very right page. If you are passionate about physics, it’s a plus point for you and if you are not, still you can make yourself ready to be an Astrophysicist.
In this article, I am going to tell you how to become an Astrophysicist in India. To become an astrophysicist, you need to follow a few steps which are mentioned in the article below. I am going to discuss with you the scope of astrophysics in India and the top colleges in India for astrophysics. This article is going to give you enough information to get a kick start for your career in astrophysics.
What is the difference between Astrophysics, Astronomy, and Cosmology?
Let’s first understand the meaning of the term Astrophysics. Many a time astrophysics, astronomy, and cosmology are being mixed up in people’s heads. Although they are interconnected and basically meant to study the space indeed. But all three are the branches of science that study the universe from different perspectives.
Let us try to understand the difference between them, to get your concept clear about astrophysics.
What is Astronomy?
Astronomy is the science that applies laws of physics and chemistry to explain the origin and evolution of the celestial object. Mostly the subjects of interest are planets, satellites, nebulas, etc.
What is Cosmology?
Cosmology is the study of the universe from its birth that is the Big Bang, till the present. The subject of interest in cosmology is the universe as a whole. The study does not focus on any individual object, but the whole universe and its evolution.
What is Astrophysics?
Astrophysics is the branch of science that deals with the life of any object in the universe. The objects may include stars, nebulas, galaxies, planets, etc. In astrophysics, you use physics and chemistry to explain the journey of any object in the universe from its birth till death.
What does an Astrophysicist do?
An astrophysicist develops theories based on the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the life of any celestial object in the universe. To become an astrophysicist, the first thing you need to do is, to understand the basic concepts of chemistry and physics. You also need to have very good observation skills, as the theories can be developed based on only observations. Also, it is obvious that the life span of any celestial object is longer than the lifespan of any human, hence an astrophysicist needs to predict the complete life of that celestial body from life to death. The theories which are developed serve as proof of predictions. So basically an astrophysicist observes celestial objects. The object can be observed under any spectra, which is an optical spectra or spectrum of other radiations. Most of the time, radio spectra is used for deep sky objects. Based on data received from this spectrum, the astrophysicist tells us the elements present in the object, the age, the birth, and how that object will die.
For example, it has been predicted that our sun has helium as the major element in it, solar flares which occur on the surface of the sun, continuous combustions and fissions are occurring in the sun, and yes, the death of the sun has been predicted. The sun is going to die as a white dwarf.
This is a very short example that I gave you, the work of an astrophysicist is more complicated than this, but these are the results expected from an astrophysicist.
What do you need to learn to become an Astrophysicist?
Now that we know what the job of an astrophysicist is, let’s find out what you need to learn to become an astrophysicist. Obviously when we know that an astrophysicist needs to develop theories of its own. Developing theories needs to have very good knowledge and clarity of subjects such as physics and chemistry. As it is always said that math is the tool for the theories of physics, you should also be very clear about the concept of mathematics.
Sometimes you also need some knowledge of programming, but very basic skills. This is because sometimes you need to develop your own algorithms to solve your problems and evaluate your graphs and equations. If you remember the first image of the black hole, it was developed on algorithms, the data which was received from the radio spectrum, and then converted into an optical image.
The first step towards becoming an astrophysicist is that you need to take your graduation in physics, complete it with good grades so that you can take admission for MSc astrophysics. Of course, just securing a degree does not mean that you are all set to be an astrophysicist. Getting admission in Msc astrophysics is a difficult task. Not everyone gets admission in the course. Very few people are able to specialize in astrophysics. The most important thing is to get a master’s in physics. Then you can give various exams to get into astrophysics.
You can also keep an eye out for any summer internships in institutes such as TIFR, BARC, etc. MSc physics has two years, which is a total of four semesters. You have to submit some project work in the last two semesters. You can apply as a visiting student in the institutes mentioned above. Or else every project needs to have a guide, you can search the faculty list of the institutions and send them a personal mail. But let me remind you of one important thing, that when you apply for such internships or guidance, you have to be very regular with them, and the schedule is always very tedious.
But once you get the certificate of the internship or from your guide, a lot of weightage is going to be added to your resume.
What are the various exams you need to clear for becoming an astrophysicist?
There are various exams which you can appear in. But it is not necessary to clear all of those to become an astrophysicist. You need to clear any one of them. The main exams which are held nationwide are JEST, GATE, NET. JEST is a Joint Entrance Screening Test, GATE is the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering and NET National Entrance Test. These are some of the important exams you have to keep an eye on. Very frankly all of them are tough to crack. But the hard work always pays off. These exams are multiple-choice questions based. These exams are based on the concepts. The GATE exam is based on the engineering concepts, the subject for JEST varies according to the program you select, and NET is based on the subject you select. To appear for the GATE exam you need to be a graduate or higher in any discipline of science and engineering. The NET exam is also the entrance for becoming a professor for teaching at a higher level. NET and JEST is equivalent to PhD. hence while applying for NET you need to select the subject. JEST entrance exam opens your gates for PhD programs, Msc-integrated PhD programs. The choice of your programs decides the eligibility you need. For MSc-integrated programs, you need to have the BSc degree, in the same subject in which you do the MSc-integrated PhD program. And for PhD, you need to have the MSC of the same program. You are eligible to apply for the exams in the last semester of the MSc program.
Top astronomy and astrophysics institutes in India
Now that we know what we need to learn, and what exams are important for becoming an astrophysicist. Lets now understand where we can get the best education in the subjects of astronomy and astrophysics.
Following is the list of the top 7 colleges for astrophysics and astronomy in India
- Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
- Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
- Raman Research Institute, Bangalore
- Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics – Pune
- National Centre for Radio Astronomy – Tata Fundamental Research Institute – Pune
- Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences, Nainital
- Harish-Chandra Research Institute (HRI), Allahabad.
Subjects that are taught in the astrophysics program
Now once you know what to learn, and which exams to crack and which colleges should be on your top list. You need to get an idea of what you will learn under the program of astrophysics. Here is the list of basic subjects of the astrophysics program. This will be helpful for you, you can start getting some basic idea of exactly you need to understand.
- Theoretical and Observational Astronomy
- Plasma Physics and Technology
- Atmospheric and Space Science
- Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science
India is home to many space research organizations. The most important one is the ISRO, Indian Space Research Organisation located at Bengaluru. ISRO is world-famous, for obvious reasons, one of which is the Mangalyaan, or MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission). The mangalyaan is the only orbiter reached till mars. Another very famous mission of ISRO was Chandrayaan 2, which consists of Vikram lander and the Pragyan lunar rover, which were to land on the south pole of the moon, but perhaps the mission failed. ISRO is an extremely successful organization and is giving a very tough fight to NASA.
For getting a job in ISRO you need to attempt the entrance test organized by the ISRO itself. Here while applying they ask you the score of your NET/JEST/ GATE exams. The marks of which exam they may ask for depends on the designation and the department you are applying to.
India is not only home to ISRO, but many organizations which are putting efforts in the field of science. But yes ISRO is the only one whole and solely aimed for space research. You also have TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research) and also BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre) and many more. In TIFR and BARC you have visiting students internships and jobs as well. To select the right candidate, these two organizations also conduct exams, and the GATE/JEST/ NET score is also important.
Advice for young Astrophysicists
If you need to develop your interest in the field of astrophysics, that is if you need to have more inspiration then do read books like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and Cosmos by Carl Sagan and watch movies like Interstellar, The Martian, Mission Mangal, etc. Research and self-study are very important in this field. Be aware that many movies about space are scientifically inaccurate, so be sure to research that aspect after enjoying the film.
You can also explore the radiography that is used in astrophysics. The deep sky objects which are not in the visible range are observed in the radio spectrum. You can do your own research on the radio spectra. You also need to understand the sky first. You can join the small space groups, to explore yourself to the people who are actually working in the field and learn from their experience. It is good to connect with the people actually working in the field. It can help you in the future.
Study astronomy texts and books to learn all that you can about planets, the solar system, stars, the galaxies, and the universe. Also study plenty of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. This all you need to be a good astrophysicist.