Astronomy is not merely a ticket to a trip to space but it is a cavernous room full of imagination, creativity, perplexing facts, and all sorts of factors assuring the excitement!
When you think of an astronaut, what first comes to your mind? Is it the picture of Neil Armstrong dressed in his spacesuit? Or, a person floating in the gravity-less space, basically having fun? Does this feeling of an astronaut make you awed? It does, to me! And, these over 100,000 applicants from different countries traveling to the widely-publicized SpaceXRocket reveals that there are a lot of those who are thrilled even with the feeling of traveling to space! It is pretty normal to have such thoughts but is astronomy an aspect only to take you to space? Is this discipline full of pretty pictures of Saturn with its rings like planets? Will an academic degree in astronomy take you to NASA?
When I started possessing astronomy, I myself had created my own version of the future trapped inside the vicinity of attractive images of solar bodies, twinkling stars, aliens, etc. along with me inside a spacesuit -- in that publicly embraced genre. Now that I have graduated with a degree in physics, I realized the essence of the subject matter like beauty in the hidden significances of lengthy derivations, consideration of hypotheses leading to astonishing facts, and the most important one - the power of imagination. Although attractive images are the partial truth none can deny the beauty of other intrigued factors of the universe. However, these other sides are the least-hyped ones and need a spotlight.
Every astrophile must have once seen “Big Bang” animations somewhere. The big bang theory discovered first by Georges Lemaître, is one of the famous inbuilt theories accepted by scientists that says everything started with a compact matter known as the singularity - a location with infinite density and temperature. These are all imaginative and although there is no attractive pictorial evidence, it is drawn in a way that the viewer is towed into it. The imagination accompanying scientific evidence was transformed to an astonishing theory eventually leading to the animated videos that help watchers to unknot the tangled mysteries of the universe. Also, there are other hypotheses and theories stating a different approach to the beginning of the universe. Studying them lets a reader have discrepant preferences, helps a reader to imagine by considering the science behind them, and comes out with his belief. Well, bursting the bubble, this is something near to a wee representation of astronomy. Not every aspect of astronomy holds pretty images but it does hold the power of imagination. This is what should be expected, the transformation of hypotheses to theories and theories to the imagination.
The field of astronomy is widely dispersed and deeper. It has both theoretical and observational aspects. What we say or hear about “astronomical research” is basically playing with theoretical astronomy. For instance star evolution -- when you look at one star and it seems to be brighter than the other then it is probably the newer star -- the brightness fades away along with their age and this we now know because of theoretical astronomy. On the contrary, observational astronomy is solely related to the observation of the universe with the help of astronomical instruments like the telescope. But this does not only mean standing with a telescope and waiting for something to happen.
The field is very complex if we get out of this space suit bubble. Even the image of the black hole that resembles a doughnut has a story to tell. It was not taken by astronauts wandering in space but by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a huge virtual telescope made by networks of telescopes segregated around the globe. It gathered around 4.5 petabytes (about 4.5 million GB) of radio signal data in four days viz. enormous as you could store 4 million movies in 4.5 million GB storage. The media was recorded by networks of telescopes and stored in their respective devices. As they were huge it was impossible to transfer via the internet. Therefore, they were transported physically to NASA. It was then, the NASA scientists could take an image of the black hole that even eats the light making it restricted for many observations. Numerous scientists putting efforts into a picture was surely worthwhile and it is similar to what we were expecting a black hole to look like. Isn’t it cool?
Floating in no gravity is thrilling but staying on the ground and learning about the events happening in places light years away from us is not less of triumph. Nevertheless, in Nepal, it is hard for genuine astronomers to get the right attention and exposure they need. It is depressing that the organizations working in this field can be counted on fingers and that they have limited resources to nourish an aspiring astronomer. Hundreds of students graduate with a master’s degree in physics majoring in subjects like Cosmology and Astrophysics who have nowhere to go; they either end up as a teacher or go abroad to follow their passions. Without doubts, the field is not getting the right spotlight that is demotivating not only the graduates but also the aspirants who wish to study physics.
A discipline that has so much potential, both for science and the country, should be cherished by the government in a way that no student is demotivated due to the lack of career choices. It is high time to realize and praise the pathway of astronomy. There is much to anticipate from it if it gets ample attention from the government and wannabe astronomers.
And yes, astronomy is not merely a ticket to a trip to space but it is a cavernous room full of imagination, creativity, perplexing facts, and all sorts of factors assuring the excitement!