50 th Years of Radio Astronomy in India (1963-2013)


In 1963, the young branch of astronomy, called `Radio Astronomy' got a kick start in India with the establishment of the radio astronomy group at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. The group was set up under the leadership of Dr Govind Swarup at the invitation of Dr Homi Bhabha. Initially the group had just a few astronomers and engineers. Today, radio astronomy in India is a major research activity in the field of basic sciences, engaging more than a hundred astronomers and engineers.

The first Indian radio telescope was built by TIFR in 1964 at Kalyan (near Mumbai), mainly for solar studies at metre wavelengths. Soon,thereafter, in 1969 a big break came with the successful construction of a large cylindrical, steerable radio telescope of size 530 x 30 metre, on a 11 degree hill slope near Ooty in southern India. Due to its unique, indinenous design and construction, the Ooty Radio Telescope (ORT) continues to be the largest steerable single antenna in the world. It firmly put India on the world map of radio astronomy.


The next major leap was the indigenous design and construction of the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) at Khodad, 80 km northof Pune. GMRT went into operation in 1998. This Y-shaped array of 30 fully-steerable dish antennas of 45-metre diameter each, is presently the world's largest radio telescope operating at metre wavelengths. Both GMRT and ORT are operated by the National Centre for RadioAstrophysics (NCRA), an autonomous centre of TIFR, located within the Pune University Campus. GMRT is operated as an international facility and used intensively by astronomers from 30 countries. This makesGMRT India's premier research facility in basic sciences. At 50 years, radio astronomy has matured as an internationally competitive thrust area of Indian science. .


The programme consists of a grand Science Exhibition, where children from the schools and colleges exhibit their science projects, and prizes are given for the best entries in different age groups. In addition, there are exhibitions illustrating astronomical themes and concepts, exciting results obtained with the GMRT, various subsystems of GMRT and illustrative models. There are also exhibits and live demonstrations from various research institutes and science popularisation groups, as well as teaching institutions such as the University of Pune and various national laboratories. There are also programmes to interact with well-known scientists and engineers and film shows on astronomical topics of current interest.


Currently, ORT and particularly the GMRT are undergoing major technical up gradations, in order to retain their competitive edge.