Commemorating Vainu Bappu,architect of the revival of astronomical studies in India

Today,August 10th  is the birthday of Manali Kallat VAINU BAPPU, who was a great astronomer and president of the International Astronomical Union. Being one of the greatest astronomers of India, Vainu has contributed much to the revival of optical astronomy in Independent India. Vainu was born on August 10, 1927 . He was the only child of Manali Kukuzhi and Sunanna Bappu. Vainu Bappu was not only excelled in studies but took active part in debates, sports and other extra curricular activities. However astronomy to which he was exposed from an early age became his passion. Being a keen amateur astronomer, even as an undergraduate, he had published papers on variable star observations. After getting his Masters degree in physics from Madras University, Vainu Bappu joined the prestigious Harvard University on a scholarship.

Within a few months of his arrival at Harvard University, Bappu discovered a comet and it was named Bappu-Bok-Newkirk after him and his colleagues Bart Bok and Gordon Newkirk. He completed his Ph D in 1952 and joined the fellowship. He and Colin Wilson made an important observation about the luminosity of particular kind of stars. This important observation came to known as the Bappu-Wilson effect and is used to determine the luminosity and distance of these kinds of stars. He came back to India in 1953 and played a major role in building the Uttar Pradesh State Observatory in Nainital. In 1960, he look over a as the director of the kodaikanal observatory and contributed a lot in the modernization of it. In 1986, he established the observatory with a powerful telescope in Kavalur, Tamilnadu.

He was awarded the "Donhoe Comet Medal" by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 1949. He was elected as the President of the International Astronomical Union in 1979. He was also elected as the Honorary Foreign Fellow of the Belgium Academy of Sciences and was an Honorary Member of the American Astronomical Society. He died on 19 August 1982 but his name will always be remembered in the history of modern indian astronomy. He was the first indian astronomer whose name had tagged to a comet bappu-bok-new kirk.

The Indian Institute of Astrophysics owes its birth to the vision and dynamism of M.K.Vainu Bappu. Vainu Bappu is also responsible for the revival of optical astronomy in independent India. In 1960 at the young age of 33, when Bappu arrived in Kodaikanal as the Director of the Observatory, he had already established himself as India's foremost optical astronomer. The seminal paper on the Wilson-Bappu effect had been published three years earlier and had opened up a new field of study - stellar chromospheres. As primarily a solar observatory, Kodaikanal had made impressive strides in solar work but the facilities at the observatory were inadequate for night time astronomy. While Bappu directed the solar work with dedication, he also started looking for a good astronomical site in peninsular India where a stellar observatory could be built. A decade-long effort led him finally to a spot in the Javadi Hills of Tamilnadu, next to the village of Kavalur, where he established the premier stellar observatory of the country. He undertook the pioneering though arduous task of building indigenuously a large optical telescope for the observatory at Kavalur. In 1986, when the late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the indigenuously built 234-cm telescope at Kavalur, both the telescope and the observatory were named after Vainu Bappu, who had died rather suddenly in 1982, before the completion of his dream project.

Soon after coming to Kodaikanal, Bappu had also initiated action to create an autonomous research institute, which led to the formation of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in 1971. Today IIA has three field stations - the solar physics Observatory at Kodaikanal, the Vainu Bappu Observatory at Kavalur and the Indian Astronomical Observatory at Hanle in Ladakh. The Institute has its headquarters in Bangalore and another campus in Hoskote, the remote station to operate its telescopes in Hanle. The Institute also runs in Gauribidanur a low frequency radio observatory for solar observations.


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