Indian Institute of Astrophysics

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Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore
IIA Logo
Type Research Institution
Established 1786
Director Dr. P. Sreekumar[1]
Location Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Campus Urban

The Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), with its headquarters in Bangalore (Karnataka state), is a premier National Research Institute of India. IIA conducts research primarily in the areas of astronomy, astrophysics and related subjects. It is widely recognized as one of the best research institutes in the country.

The institute has a network of laboratories and observatories in India, including Kodaikanal (the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory), Kavalur (the Vainu Bappu Observatory), Gauribidanur, Hanle (the Indian Astronomical Observatory) and Hosakote.

It contributed heavily in Astrosat, India's first dedicated multi-wavelength space observatory.

Areas of Research[edit]

Researchers at IIA work on a diverse set of topics related to Astronomy and Astrophysics. However, the research can be broadly classified under the following areas:


The origin of Indian studies in astronomy can be traced to a private observatory established by William Petrie (died: 1816), an officer of the East India Company. He set up that private observatory in his residence located in Egmore, Chennai (formerly Madras), India. The main aim of the observatory, according to Petrie, was

"to provide navigational assistance to the company ships and help determine the longitudes by observing the eclipses of Moon and satellites of Jupiter".

In 1790, this private observatory was taken over by the East India Company, with Michael Topping (1747–96) as an astronomer. In 1792, the observatory was expanded and shifted to a complex in Nungambakkam area of Chennai. This was the first modern observatory outside Europe.

Presently, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics functions under the control of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

Beginnings of Madras Observatory[edit]

The Madras Observatory in 1880

The East India Company resolved to establish an observatory at Madras for promoting the knowledge of astronomy, geography and navigation in India. Sir Charles Oakeley, then president of the council had the building for the observatory completed by 1792. The Madras series of observations had commenced in 1787 (1786) through the efforts of a member of the Madras Government — William Petrie — who had two three-inch achromatic telescopes, two astronomical clocks with compound pendulums and an excellent transit instrument. This equipment formed the nucleus of instrumentation of the new observatory, which soon embarked on a series of observations of the stars, the moon, and eclipses of Jupiter's satellites, with the accurate determination of longitude, as its first concern. The pier that carried the original small transit instrument on a massive granite pillar has on it an inscription in Latin, Tamil, Telugu and Hindustani, so that "Posterity may be informed a thousand years hence of the period when the mathematical sciences were first planted by British Liberality in Asia".

This quotation from the first annual report of the observatory is at least a record of the fact that astronomical activity at the Madras Observatory was the first among British efforts at scientific studies in India.

Survey work[edit]

The longitude of the Madras Observatory has a most important role as fundamental meridian from which observations for longitude in the Indian survey are reckoned. The accuracy with which a map of India fits into a map of the world depends solely on the accuracy of the longitude determination of the transit instrument pier at the Madras Observatory. The work of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India commenced at Madras on April 10, 1802 when a baseline measurement, related to the Madras longitude, was made.

Astronomical observations[edit]

For over a century, the Madras Observatory continued to be the only astronomical observatory in India engaged in systematic measures of star position and brightness. John Goldingham, Thomas Glanville Taylor, William Stephen Jacob and N. R. Pogson were the government astronomers who dominated activity at Madras.

With a new five feet transit, Taylor completed in 1884 his catalogue of places of over 11,000 stars. Double star catalogues, measures of their separation and the determination of their orbits were Jacob's principal interest. The observatory received a new meridian circle during his tenure. With it, besides observations for the determination of star position and evaluation of proper motions, a series of observations of the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn began.

From 1861 until his death in 1891, Pogson, as government astronomer, in keeping with progress in the science, entered into newer areas of observations. While the transit instrument and the meridian circle were used for a star catalogue of 3000 stars that included standard stars, large proper motion stars, variable stars and the like, it is with the new 8-inch Cooke equatorial that he made discoveries of asteroids and variable stars. The asteroids Asia, Sappho, Sylvia, Camilla, Vera and the Variable stars Y Virginis, U Scorpii, T Sagittari, Z Virginis, X Capricorni and R Reticuli were first discovered visually at Madras with the transit instrument or by the equatorial instruments.

The discovery in 1867 of the light variation of R Reticuli by Chinthamani Ragoonatha Chary is perhaps the first astronomical discovery by an Indian in recent history. Pogson also undertook the preparation of a catalogue and atlas of variable stars, complete with his magnitude estimates of the comparison and the variable. These were edited by Turner after Pogson's death.

Solar eclipses[edit]

During this period, the Madras observatory participated in observations of the important total solar eclipses that were visible from India during the nineteenth century. These were the eclipses that established the foundations of astrophysics and especially of solar physics. In these observations the Madras observatory's contributions were most significant.

The first one of August 18, 1868 created the subject of solar physics, for at this eclipse the spectroscope was used for the first time to discover the gaseous nature of the prominences. The hydrogen emission lines seen in the prominence were so strong that the French astronomer Jansen reasoned they could be seen without the eclipse. The next day at the eclipse site the speculation was proved to be correct, making it possible for daily surveys of prominences thereafter, without the need of a total eclipse.

There were several eclipse teams scattered over the path of totality for this vital eclipse. The Madras Observatory had two teams, one at Wanarpati and the other Masulipatam. Clouds at Wanarpati interfered with the success of the expedition. At Masulipatam, Pogson detected the hydrogen lines in emission, as had all the teams that had a programme of observation with the spectroscope. They also saw a bright yellow line near the position of the D lines of sodium. The line originated from a hitherto unknown element later termed helium, after the source of its earliest detection.

On June 6, 1872 an annular eclipse was visible at Madras. Pogson, examining the region close to the moon's limb, found the bright chromospheric spectrum flash out for a short duration on the formation and again at the breaking up of the annulus. This is the first observation on record of viewing the flash spectrum at an annular eclipse.

Solar Observatory at Kodaikanal[edit]

An Indian Observatories Committee in England advised the Secretary of State on matters pertaining to the administration of the Madras Observatory. In many respects, with no adequate staff to help him, Pogson had taken on more programmes of work than he could bring to a successful termination. There were questions raised in London in 1867 whether the Madras Observatory need be continued at all, since the British had started some other observatories in their possessions in the Southern Hemisphere. It was even recommended that the Madras Observatory should concentrate more on publication of the observations already made than make new ones. The work of Pogson was commended on, and questions on the closure of the Madras observatory relegated to the time when Pogson would retire.

Meanwhile, in May 1882 Pogson had proposed the need for a 20-inch telescope, which could be at a hill station in South India, engaged in photography and spectrography of the sun and the stars. The proposal received active support in India and Britain. Authority was given for the search of a suitable location in the southern highlands or India. Michie Smith undertook the survey of Palni and Nilgiri hills in 1883 and 1885. His observations covered the requirements of transparency and steadiness of image during day and night. But in 1884, the Astronomer Royal recommended saddling Pogson, having accumulated large arrears in observations, with additional work connected with the new large equatorial would not be desirable.

"On Pogson's retirement, the question of establishing a branch observatory or removing the Madras Observatory to a more favourable station might be considered. I am disposed to prefer the latter alternative."

The idea of making solar observations under tropical skies soon gained ground and the search for a suitable site extended over the India subcontinent. In the north, Leh, Mussoorie and Dehra Dun were examined for their suitability. In the southern part, the study was confined to Kodaikanal, Kotagiri and Madras. In his recommendation to the Government of India, the Meteorological Reporter, on the basis of his two-year survey pointed out that the skies were seldom free of dust as to permit observations that called for high transparency. And so the new observatory had to be in the southern hills, with Kodaikanal becoming the obvious choice, on the basis of performance. At the Indian Observatories Committee meeting of July 20, 1893 (with Lord Kelvin in the Chair), the decision was taken to establish a solar physics observatory at Kodaikanal with Michie Smith as its superintendent — the decision on the permanent site of the astronomical observatory being deferred to a later date. The observatory was to be under the control of the Government of India instead of under the Government of Madras, as it had been for a century earlier.

The last five years of the nineteenth century witnessed a rapid transformation of work from the Madras Observatory to Kodaikanal. The first observations were commenced at Kodaikanal in 1901, and these conformed to patterns in the "new astronomy" that were planned for the observatory. While the two observatories functioned together under the control of a director at Kodaikanal, the astronomical observations at Madras were confined only to the measurement of time. The new observatory had a wide array of spectroscopic equipment specially acquired for solar studies. There were instruments to visually examine the prominences around the solar limb and the spectra of sunspots. Photographic studies included daily white light photography of the solar disc and monochromatic chromospheric pictures with the spectroheliograms in the light of ionized calcium and of hydrogen. This uninterrupted series of photographs, continue unto the present day, and form one of the most unusual collections of a record of solar activity available anywhere in the world. Only two other institutions, the observatory at Meudon in Paris and the Mount Wilson observatory have a collection that spans an equivalent time interval.

Evershed and solar physics[edit]

Perhaps the most important result of these early years was the discovery by Evershed at Kodaikanal in 1909, of radial motion in sunspots. In the next few years numerous studies of this phenomenon now known as the Evershed effect, were made both at Kodaikanal and at a temporary field station in Kashmir. These early studies have been so comprehensive that little has been added to our information on it in the subsequent half century. In 1922 Evershed also discovered under conditions of good seeing, innumerable small displacements of lines equivalent of velocities of the order of few tenths of a kilometer per second. Nearly fifty years later, with better spectrographic and image resolution, extension of this early discovery have added much information on wave phenomena in the solar photosphere and chromosphere.

For the thirty-eight years between 1922 and 1960, the directors were Royds, Narayan and Das. The activity in solar physics was maintained at the pace it has been and work progressed in the traditions of the early years.

Highlights of this era are the discovery of the oxygen lines in emission in the chromosphere without the aid of an eclipse, the centre-limb variations of the hydrogen lines and their use to study the solar atmosphere and the detailed study of the properties of the dark markings seen in H - alpha

Stellar physics at Kodaikanal[edit]

For studies of the physical properties of stars the observatory had limited instrumental resources. Nevertheless, some interesting results on comets and stellar spectra were obtained that substantiate the concept that at any such institution the men who use the instruments are more important than the instruments. Soon after his arrival in 1907, Evershed discovered the ultraviolet tail bands in Comet Daniel that are now described to CO+. Evershed made numerous studies of the planet Venus and of Nova Aquilae 1918. And his high dispersion spectra of Sirius have had the highest dispersion values employed in stellar spectroscopy until recently.

New resources for high spatial and spectroscopic resolution in solar research were commissioned during the last decade. These have enabled detailed study of small elements on the solar surface; the physical and temporal behaviour associated with kinematical and magnetic characteristics. In 1968 a new field observatory was started at Kavalur for stellar spectroscopy and photometry. The site, chosen after extensive tests for "seeing" that covered fifteen months, now has as its principal facility the recently acquired 102 cm reflector made by Carl Zeiss Jena and a 38 cm photometric light collector. Most of the observations for research on galaxies, stars and the solar system are now obtained from Kavalur. Expansion of activities and interests have led to the formation of the new optics, Electronics and data analysis centre at Bangalore and the setting up at Gauri Bidanur of a large low frequency array for studies of galactic and extragalactic structure.

In 1971, the former Astrophysical Observatory was converted to an autonomous research Institute wholly financed by the Government of India, and to be known henceforth as the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.[2]


The Institute awards three types of degrees.

  • Ph.D:

This is a full-time research program where in the students work towards their Ph.D. degree under the supervision of an IIA faculty. Students may join the program in either the first semester beginning in August or the second semester beginning in January. All students are required to undergo a course work normally for a period of one year before beginning the work towards their Ph.D. thesis. The one-year course work program starts with an orientation program for one week on Introduction to Astronomy & Astrophysics at IIA. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are initially offered a Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). On completion of two years as a Junior Research Fellow, a student is offered a Senior Research Fellowship (SRF) after an assessment. The total tenure of the fellowship may not ordinarily exceed five years, inclusive of the one-year course work. Once a student submits the thesis, an enhanced fellowship amount may be given for a further period of one year. The continuation of the fellowship beyond this period is not guaranteed.The stipend of a JRF is Rs. 16,000/- pm, and of a SRF is Rs. 18,000/- pm in addition to an annual book grant and medical facilities. Upon submission of the Ph.D. thesis the fellowship may be further increased. Hostel accommodation is normally provided to all students. If a student opts to stay in a private accommodation, a house rent allowance is paid as per the institute rules. Students are eligible to enroll in the contributory medical scheme of the institute. Subsidized canteen is available on-campus in Bangalore as well as at the field stations of the institute. During tours, students get travel and dearness allowances on par with staff members of the institute. They also receive support to participate in national and international scientific conferences.

  • Integrated M.Sc/Ph.D:

IIA has got Integrated M.Sc-Ph.D program in collaboration withIndira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. The program will admit bright, highly motivated students with bachelor's degree in Science/Engineering, selected on an all-India basis. Selected candidates will be offered a studentship of Rs.10,000/- pm, an annual book grant, accommodation, and medical facilities during the M.Sc course. The program will be conducted at IIA, Bangalore in the residential and face-to-face mode.Upon successful completion of two years in the program the candidates will be awarded a master's degree. The candidates with a minimum Grade Point would continue to work for their Ph.D. advancing the topic of their M.Sc. dissertation with the same guide or if necessary embark upon a new subject with another guide. They will be paid fellowship of Rs. 16,000/- pm beginning the third year, and Rs. 18,000/- pm beginning the fifth year of the program. The normal duration of the IPhD program will be 6 years, including the minimum 2 years for the master's degree. The candidates would satisfy all the administrative requirements of The University along the way and submit their Ph.D. thesis to The University not later than the end of the sixth year. This program was paused from 2011 due to some administrative reasons.

  • Integrated

IIA launched Integrated M.Tech- Ph.D (Tech.) program in Astronomical Instrumentation in collaboration with Department of Applied Optics and Photonics, University of Calcutta (CU) in 2008. The Degree will be awarded by the University of Calcutta. The duration of M.Tech course work will be of 2 years divided into 4 semesters. After successful completion of the M. Tech course a student can opt for registration for Ph.D (Tech.) prograe, subjected to a selection procedure and minimum cut-off grade.The Integrated M.Tech- Ph.D (Tech.) Program will admit bright, highly motivated students with a three years B.Tech. degree (Post BSc Hons) in Optics and Optoelectronics / Radio Physics and Electronics from CU or B.Tech / BE degree in Electrical/ Instrumentation/ Electronics and Communications /Computer Science and Engineering from an institution recognized by AICTE. A candidate with M.Sc degree in Physics / Electronic Science / Applied Mathematics /Applied Physics from a UGC recognized institution is also eligible to apply.

Selected students will be fully supported with a studentship of Rs. 16,000/- pm for the first two years. Students will be provided hostel accommodation, medical facilities; tuition fee will be student’s responsibility.

First two semester classes will be held at the Department of Applied Optics and Photonics, University of Calcutta. The third and fourth semester consist of internship at IIA laboratories and projects at field stations respectively. Upon successful completion of two years in the program the candidates will be awarded a M.Tech in Astronomical instrumentation. In the third year of the Program, students who qualify for continuation in the program leading to the Ph.D (Tech.) degree will begin research work at IIA. They will be paid fellowship of Rs. 18,000/-pm beginning the third year, and Rs. 20,000/-pm beginning the fifth year of the program. The normal duration of the program will be 6 years, including the minimum 2 years for the master's degree. The candidates would satisfy all the administrative requirements of the University and submit their Ph.D. thesis to the University of Calcutta. Students have to work mainly on Optics and related instrumentation part at CU. in Astronomical Instrumentation is mainly to do with designing instruments and to develop new techniques like Active optics, Adaptive optics, design of radio telescopes, Space telescopes, Balloon observations, Photon detectors, Stellar interferometers etc. IIA is doing Active research in these topics with maximum funding resources. Recently IIA has signed a mighty project in collaboration with Caltech (USA),Japan,china, Canada, India named Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) with Prof.B.Eswer Reddy, IIA as director of TMT, India. [3]

Lunar Telescope[edit]

There is an increasing awareness of the opportunities available for science tailored to CubeSats and similar missions with the possibility of accomplishing limited but important science goals. The Lunar Ultraviolet Cosmic Imager (LUCI) is an innovative all-spherical mirrors telescope designed to take advantage of these opportunities. No other UV payloads have been previously reported with an all-spherical optical design for imaging in the NUV domain and a weight below 2 kg; actual LUCI weight is ~1 kg. An electronics board which includes FPGA and Microcontroller is used for the data acquisition, processing, and CCD control.

The instrument will fly as part of the Team Indus entry to the Google X prize competition[4] and will be deployed as part of the lander on the lunar surface. LUCI will observe at a fixed elevation angle and will detect stars in the near-UV (200–320 nm) to a limiting magnitude of 12 and with a field of view of ~ 28' × 20'. The primary science goal is to search for transient sources and flag them for further study. The instrument undergone several stages of design as weight and volume restrictions were becoming more and more severe. This is reflected in the series of publications: Prospect for UV observations from the Moon;[5] An ultraviolet imager to study bright UV sources;[6] A generic FPGA-based detector readout and real-time image processing board[7] and Prospect for UV observations from the Moon. II. Instrumental design of an ultraviolet imager LUCI,[8] where LUCI is placed on the cover of Feb. 2017 issue of Astrophysics and Space Science journal.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Director's Page | Indian Institute of Astrophysics". 2007-06-25. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  2. ^ "History - Indian Institute of Astrophysics". 
  3. ^ Our Special Correspondent (2008-07-03). "The Telegraph - Calcutta (Kolkata) | Metro | CU course in astronomy". Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Safonova, M., Mathew, J., Mohan, R. et al. Astrophys. Space Sci. (2014) 353: 329
  6. ^ Joice Mathew, Ajin Prakash, Mayuresh Sarpotdar, A. G. Sreejith, Margarita Safonova & Jayant Murthy. Proc. SPIE 9905, Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016: Ultraviolet to Gamma Ray, 990532 (July 18, 2016)
  7. ^ Mayuresh Sarpotdar, Joice Mathew, Margarita Safonova and Jayant Murthy. Proc. SPIE 9915, High Energy, Optical, and Infrared Detectors for Astronomy VII, 99152K (August 5, 2016)
  8. ^ Mathew, J., Prakash, A., Sarpotdar, M. et al. Astrophys. Space Sci. (2017) 362: 37. doi:10.1007/s10509-017-3010-6
  9. ^

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 14°16′47″N 77°10′48″E / 14.27972°N 77.18000°E / 14.27972; 77.18000