#24 – The Father of Indian Radio Astronomy – Govind Swarup

Govind Swarup, known as the ‘Father of Indian Radio Astronomy’ passed away on 7 September 2020 after a period of illness at the age of 91.

He was the person behind the launch of the Pune-based National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA) of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), and building two world-class radio telescopes — the Ooty Radio Telescope located in Ooty, and the Giant Meter wave Radio Telescope (GMRT) located in Pune.

Swarup was born on 23 March 1929, in the small town of Thakurdwara, Uttar Pradesh He received a BSc degree in 1948 and MSc in Physics in 1950 from the Allahabad University and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1961. His early work began in the area of paramagnetic resonance under the direction of physicist KS Krishnan. The duo began measuring the spin resonance of the electron which was considered a hot topic at the time.

Post Ph.D., he focussed on solar emissions at Harvard University, and later worked as an Assistant Professor at Stanford University till 1963. The same year he returned to India and started working at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research at the invitation of Dr. Homi J Bhabha.

The telescope is used widely by scientists from all over the world to study astronomical bodies. In August 2018, with the help of this telescope, scientists identified the most distant galaxy ever known located at a distance of 12 billion light-years. In February 2020, the GMRT helped to witness the biggest explosion in the history of the universe – The Ophiuchus Supercluster explosion.

The Ooty Radio Telescope

Built-in 1970 with a budget of Rs 60 lakh, this telescope is a 530m long and 30m tall cylindrical parabolic antenna. The ORT celebrated its 50th Anniversary in February 2020. During the celebration, retired professor Pramesh Rao, who was involved in setting up the telescope says, “The ORT was one of the first radio telescopes that were set up in the country, and the first observations of a lunar occultation event were made on February 18, 1970.”

The telescopes are arranged on a suitably-inclined hill in Southern India to make the rotation axis parallel to the Earth’s rotation axis, which means it can follow a source from the rise to set. It is one of the most sensitive radio telescopes in the world and takes full advantage of India’s proximity to the equator.

In his lifetime, Professor Swarup received several awards such as the Hershel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 2005, Padma Shri in 1973, the URSI Dellinger Medal in 1990, and the Grote Reber Medal of Australia in 2007.

Source: Govind Swarup, Radio Astronomy

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