Vainu Bappu – The Pioneer of Astronomy In India

vainu bappu founder

In the early 1950’s a young man-born in India on 10, August, 1927-returned home from the United States. He had had a brilliant academic career at the Harvard School of Astronomy, where he discovered a comet from a routine photograph. He later joined the famous Palomar observatory and made an important discovery.

He could have stayed on in the U.S. but chose to return to India without a job but with a lofty ideal. He was able to persuade a Minister to set up the Uttar Pradesh State Observatory at Nainital. He is Manali Kallat Vainu Bappu, (1927-1982), often remembered by his admirers as the main architect of the revival of astronomical studies in India in recent years.

The comet he discovered was named after him and two others (Newkirk and Whipple). His other finding is now known as the Bappu-Wilson effect that indicates a relationship between luminosity and distance of certain stars.

In 1960, Bappu became the Director of the Kodaikanal observatory. He made the best use of the facility but was planning for an observatory, which would be free from the daily onset of clouds as was experienced in Kodaikanal. He eventually succeeded in finding a place in the forests of Javadu Hills and obtaining a long-term lease of the land from the Tamil Nadu government. His dedication knew no bounds. In the days when there was no geographical positioning system to determine the location, he himself surveyed the site by walking through the dense forest. His blueprint was meticulous and modern, on par with world standards. He wanted the mirror of the big telescope polished indigenously, as a shining example of what India can do in cosmology, given the opportunity.

  • In 1971, he became the founder-director of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIAP), an autonomous research Institute, financed by the Central Government.
  • In 1979, he was honoured as the president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
  • In 1985, the IAU named a newly discovered asteroid as #2596 Vainu Bappu’.

Unfortunately, Bappu did not live long to see the completion of his project. He passed away in 1982, just after he was 55. However, his dream project came through.

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