Hyderabad: Osmania University, which will be celebrating its centenary in April, is the only university to have observatories. The Nizamia and Rangapur observatories have catalogued nearly three lakh stars, besides charting a large segment of sky. While the Nizamia observatory, which contributed to astronomical research for decades, is not in use now, the one at Rangapur is being used for outreach activities with negligible research work.
The research work that is being done is limited to collection of data obtained from a few observatories from research institutes in other states.
The Nizams had the foresight to establish an observatory for astronomy- related studies back in 1908 when it was considered a rarity. Its founder was the England-educated Nawab Zafar Yar Jung Bahadur, youngest son of Sir Khursheed Jah Bahadur, then the defence minister.
Until the end of the 19th Century, British India had only two observatories; one at what was Ootacamund and the other at Nainital. In 1908, Nawab Zafar Jung returned to Hyderabad along with two telescopes (a Grubb refracting 15-inch diameter telescope and an eight-inch Cooke astrographic camera) and pursued the Nizam government for the observatory, which initially was set up at Philasbanda but later moved to Begumpet.
In 1919, Nizamia Observ-atory’s control was given over to Osmania Univer-sity. In 1923, the equatorial telescope by G. Rubb was erected and a seismograph was installed for the study of earthquakes.
The observatory participated in an international program called the Carte-Du-Ciel or Astrographic Sky Survey. The aim of the programme was to map the entire sky photographically by assigning various Celestial Zones to 18 different observatories around the world. The zone covering from 17 to 23 degrees South and 36 to 39 degrees North was assigned to Nizamia Observatory.
Positions of stars were measured and published in 12 volumes of the Astrographic Catalogue. These measurements are being used by astronomers all over the world to estimate the proper movement of various types of stars. The Nizamia observatory also maintained records of earthquakes and rainfall in the Nizam’s state.
Astronomy department head at Osmania, Dr Shanti Priya said the Nizamia contributed a lot towards cataloguing of stars. “From 1909 to 1928, the observatory catalogued a total of 1,260 photograph plates and over 3 lakh stars. It also helped in preparing government calendars in both Urdu and English,” she said.
Meanwhile, Prof. Najam Hussain, who worked in the astronomy department at OU for nearly two decades before shifting to the Maulana Urdu University, said even Nasa took data from Nizamia for research activities.
With the expansion of Hyderabad and new colo-nies emerging, stargazing, which can be troubled by light pollution, had become difficult in Begu-mpet and that’s when Os-mania started scouting for new locations far away from the city. That is how the Japal-Rangapur Obser-vatory came up (10 km from Ibrahimpatnam and 50 km from the OU campus). Dr.K.D.Abhayankar, the then-Director of Nizamia Observatory, was credited with selection of the site. Although the project was proposed in the mid 1950s, it came into operation fully in 1968-69. A 48-inch telescope was installed at Rangapur and it was used for photo-electric observations of binary stars, peculiar stars, pulsating stars, star clusters and also for the spectroscopic study of binary stars and peculiar stars.
The telescope was used for obtaining scientific information on comets, planetary atmospheres and near-Earth Asteroids. The department obtained two 12-inch telescopes later.
In addition, a 10 feet radio telescope operating at 10GHZ was installed at Japal-Rangapur Observatory. Dr Shanti Priya said national and international collaborations would took place at JRO - including the successful monitoring of the Total Solar Eclipse on February 16, 1980; the International Comet Halley Watch between 1984 and ’86 and observing Comet Shoemaker-Levy’s impact in the July of 1994. Almost 122 research publications were released using JRO data alone, she said.
However, hardcore research work came to a grinding halt at the JRO from 2004 because it could upgrade its technology. Currently, only outreach activities are carried out. PG students from OU visit the JRO for practicals and sometimes, on holidays. High school, plus-two students and amateur astronomers too visit the observatory for some stargazing. These observatories are a shadow of their former selves and are keenly looking for government support to regain their lost glory....