What type of work is done in Space Science?What background is required for research in this field?
How do I get into this field?Do I really want to do research in Astrophysics/Astronomy or I should do something else?Which books should I read as a beginner in this field?
First of all, let’s talk about what is Astrophysics & Astronomy and what do we really do in this field? In Astrophysics & Astronomy (let me call it Astro) we study the universe outside our earth. To do that we make use of information that reaches us from outer space. This information comes in the form of light (when I say light it means all electromagnetic waves) mostly and some other forms like gravitational waves, neutrinos etc. So light is an electromagnetic wave and it has specific features like wavelength, polarization, intensity etc. By using these features of light reaching us from distant stars and galaxies and combining these with concepts like Doppler shift, spectroscopy, Zeeman effect we can tell how far a body in space is from us, how fast it is moving as compared to us, it’s mass and composition.
I don’t know your actual source of inspiration for pursuing Astro after Engineering. It may be the physics/popular science books, documentaries on Discovery channel, great scientists like Subhramanyam Chandrashekhar, SN Bose or maybe you like to look at the stars and get curious about what’s going on out there. Maybe you want to find the answer like the origin of the universe or how our solar system was formed? Whatever it is, Good, keep it that way. Just make sure that it’s what you really want to do because reading stories & books on astronomy is quite different than doing research in this field. I will discuss research in the next sections.
Background for research:
Now, let’s discuss the second question. What can you do to prepare yourself for your journey into the field of space science? In Astro itself, there are different topics of research like stellar evolution, galaxy, solar physics, space weather, cosmology & black holes, star clusters, exoplanets, experiments & instruments etc. So the background you need depends on the topic of your research.
In general, you should have a good knowledge of Electrodynamics & Optics. Also, whatever you do in Astro will require a good knowledge of Mathematics. You can read the books, I have mentioned later to prepare yourself.
Research in Astro:
We can divide the research into Astro into 3 different parts:-
1) Theoretical :
a) Solving the complex equation using pen & paper in first or second order approximation.
b) Solving equations on the computer with higher accuracy using numerical methods.
2) Observation (Data Analysis).
3) Experiments & Instrumentation.
Theoretical Astrophysicist either solve the nonlinear equations using numerical methods and try to simulate the same environment on a computer and then predict the result or they solve these equations analytically by hand using approximations.
To solve equations on a computer, we use different programming languages like Python, Fortran, C, Matlab.
People working in observation collect data available from the satellites & observatories and then analyze the data using different computer tools.
People working on experiments and instruments conduct different experiments and also make instruments that can be used in satellites & observatories to gather data from space.
Entrance exams are an important part of your journey because without cracking them you can’t apply to any institute/university. So prepare well for these exams. All the entrance exams are already mentioned in the blog posts- Entrance Exams and How to become a physicist after engineering?
Some Good Instiutes for Space Science in India
Top colleges for Ph.D. or Masters in India are:
- IUCAA, Pune
- IISc, Bangalore
- TIFR, Mumbai
- ICTS, Bangalore
- NCRA, Pune
- IIA, Bangalore
- Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India (CESSI), IISER Kolkata
- Physical Research Laboratory (PRL)
- RRI Bangalore
- IIST Thiruvananthapuram
- Centre for Astroparticle Physics and Space Science (CAPSS), Bose Institute, Kolkata
- IIT Indore (Center of Astronomy), IIT Bombay and IIT Kharagpur.
- ARIES, Nainital
- Satyendra Nath Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata
1) Mathematical Methods for Physicist by Arfken & Weber/ Advanced Engineering Mathematics by Ervin Kreyszig
2) Electrodynamics by Griffith / Jackson (Advance)
3) Optics by Ghatak
4) Classical Mechanics by HC Verma/Goldstein
5) Astrophysics for Physicist by Arnab Rai Chowdhury
6) Introduction to modern astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie
7) Feynman’s lectures in Physics
1) Lectures by Prof. Walter Lewin: Walter Lewin youtube channel
2) NPTEL lectures and MIT open courseware
3) Lectures on Differential equations by Prof. Gilbert Strang
4) Astro courses on Edx, Coursera
5) ADS Harvard and Google Scholar to read research papers related to Astrophysics
6) PBS Space time youtube channel
Events Related to Astronomy in India:- Events