Astronomy Courses in India: How to become an astrophysicist after 12th?

Do you remember those good old days of your childhood when you used to fancy the moon? Every time we went stubborn over something, our parents knew exactly how to handle the scene. They would promise us the moon, and suddenly we would be ready to do anything for it. I am pretty sure almost all of us can recall such an episode from our childhood. This love for moon and stars is essentially our first ever encounter with celestial objects and the mysteries that surround it.

Many of us would have taken this habit of sky gazing forward, and would have wondered how the universe worked. Well, if you still love to study the sky in detail and ask questions about it, then we have something in store for you. Let me introduce you to the wonderland of Astronomy or Astrophysics!

What is Astronomy or Astrophysics?

If you love the study of stars, moons, sun, comets and other non-earthly bodies, then Astronomy could be your thing. By definition Astronomy is a branch of physics which deals with the study of objects outside the earth’s atmosphere and their physical and chemical properties.

In depth understanding and interest in subjects such as Physics and Mathematics will make you an eligible candidate to choose Astronomy as your future. There are several branches in Astronomy which you select according to your interest such as Astrophysics, Astro meteorology, Astrobiology, Astrogeology and Astrometry.

However, the most sought-out branch of astronomy is indeed astrophysics, and an astrophysicist is a person who has mastered it.

Who can become an Astrophysicist?

While you are trying to decide whether or not to choose astronomy or astrophysics as a career path, you shall reflect upon several basic requirements that an astrophysicist should have. Are you that kind of a person who was excited to learn mathematics and physics during school days? If yes, astrophysics could be really your thing. 

The key skills required to become an astronaut or a teacher in astronomy is thorough understanding of mathematics and physics. You will have to deal with very high-level mathematics and physics both for the curriculum and for the job. Your numerical skills can take you to places if you wish to build a career in this field. 

The job is all about observation, analysis and finding out new information. The thirst for acquiring more and more knowledge is a key skill you should possess. Also, it requires teamwork and individual effort and hours of hard work. You should have the capacity to give your best by making a great effort.

Modern astronomy requires a good understanding in computers and modern technology. Hence, you should also possess the ability to use these modern scientific equipment and super computers without any problem.

Astronomy courses in India after 12th: What to do, how to succeed?

You have to start your preparations from school level. Since in-depth understanding in Mathematics and Physics are the pathways to Astronomy you need to be thorough in these subjects from your school level Education. Give proper attention to topics such as Algebra and Calculus.

You can join a physics or astronomy club in your school to get elementary ideas as well as practical sessions in which you can observe and understand the sky from a young age. Going through the websites such as NASA, Science Daily, Spacecom, etc will help you to understand the new innovations and information in the field.

After completing you 10+2 education in science stream you can opt to join for B.sc Astrophysics.  But unfortunately, there are no colleges in India which provides undergraduate course in Astrophysics. The only option is to study Physics or Engineering at the undergraduate level and select Astrophysics in Master’s as well as Doctor’s level. Most of the universities are private owned or funded by the central government. You will have to write an entrance examination and appear for their personal interview.

This level of education (Master’s) will be just enough to work as a research assistant or a teacher.

Typically, students interested in Astronomy will opt to do doctoral degree which will help them continue their independent research. To work with government agencies such as NASA, ISRO, etc. A doctoral degree and enough experience are mandatory. It’ll take 4 to 6 years for completion.

Branches in Astronomy

The field astronomy has different branches which you can select for your doctoral level research. We can divide astronomy into 4 main categories namely, Astrophysics, Astrometry, Astrogeology, Astrobiology. 

Astrophysics

means applying the laws of physics in no earthly bodies and studying them. Unlike geophysics which studies the physical properties of earthly objects, astrophysics analyses physical properties of stars, celestial properties and its surrounding space.

Cosmology, Spectroscopy, photometry, asteroseismology, helioseismology, solar physics, heliophysics are some of the sub-branches of Astrophysics.

Astrometry

is the branch that focuses on precise position and movement of celestial bodies. It also studies how many and where planets exist outside of solar system, this includes the study of potential new residence outside earth. Planetology, Exoplanetology are some sub-branches.

Astrogeology

is the branch that studies rocks, terrain and materials in space. It is very closely related to exogeology, they both focuses on how geology related to celestial bodies like moons, asteroids, meteorites and comets. Areology, selenography, exogeology and planetary geology are some of its sub-branches.

Astrobiology

involves the search for life outside earth. It also examines the origin and evolution of life in the universe. Astrochemistry, Astroecology and exobiology are some of its sub branches.

Where to study astronomy?

There are only a few institutes which provide courses in Astrophysics in India. 

  • Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore
  • Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
  • Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Pune
  • Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani
  • Institute of Fundamental Research, TamilNadu
  • Raman Research Institute, Bangalore
  • Inter Universities Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune
  • JNTU College of Engineering, Hyderabad
  • National Center for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), Pune

The above mentioned are the premier institutes in India which provide courses in Astronomy.  These institutes conduct annual entrance examination and interview for admitting candidates. The minimum eligibility criteria is bachelor’s degree in Physics/Engineering with 55% marks.

To get into one of these institutes for doctoral degree is not an easy task. You will have to score good marks in exams such as GATE, CSIR NET, JEST, IIAST etc.

For example, Indian Institute of Astrophysics only admits 4-5 students each year for Ph.D. To qualify for the interview, you have to attend any one of the above-mentioned exams. IIAST is an annual test conducted by IIA for admission while others are exams for different purposes but their score is valid in the admission procedure.

In an MSc Astrophysics course, which is opted the most under astronomy, you get to study many crucial subjects in detail. A Post graduate degree in Astrophysics comprises of in-depth courses in Applied Mathematics, Analog Electronics, Classical Mechanics, Digital Electronics, Quantum Mechanics and many more.

Astrophysics Jobs and Salary

Successful postgraduates of the course are hired by organizations and institutes involved in performing theoretical work, research or teaching in areas of astrophysics, both in India and abroad. They are also hired as Research Scientists with institutions involved in research. Top candidates will be hired by space research centres like NASA and ISRO. There are various opportunities in non-space research organizations like Bhabha atomic research centre, Forecasting and Assessment Council, etc.

Lecturer: If you love to work in curriculum development in the relevant discipline then you chose to be a lecturer in Astrophysics. A Master’s level degree along with successful completion of CSIR-NET is the minimum eligibility to become a lecturer in Astrophysics. A minimum monthly salary of 50,000/- can be expected if you choose to select this path.

Research Assistant: You can also choose to assist Astronomers by becoming a research assistant. This also require a Master’s level degree and CSIR-NET eligibility.

Astronomer: If your passion to astrophysics does not end at master level then this is the career for you. You will have to complete your doctor level degree before becoming a real Astronomer. Astrophysicists concentrate on the physics of the universe along with the interactions between various objects of outer space. Subjects like Electromagnetism, Statistical Mechanics, Molecular Physics, and Quantum Mechanics fall within the purview of modern astrophysical research.

Technicians: You can opt to work in other fields as well. Since the course is composed of hardcore mathematics and physics many technology-based companies such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle and Google hire astrophysicist as technicians.

National Observatory Agency Jobs: Astrophysicist with doctoral degree are typically hired by national observatory agencies such as NASA and ISRO. They are hired as technicians for satellite development, space programs, Exo-planet research and galactic-stellar observations.

Conclusion

I guess we now know that astronomy is not the same moon-gazing which we used to fancy earlier. Study of astronomy is indeed a serious and dedicated affair, which can benefit you in innumerous ways. Whether it is measured on the basis of job opportunities, career profile or salary income, a profession in this field has very few matches. 

Far beyond, there are many wonders of nature that are still hidden, waiting to be unlocked. Who knows what is in store?! If you know you are keen in learning mathematics and physics, and have an utmost interest in exploring celestial bodies, go for it. 

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