Rishi Shah of the Nepal Academy of Science & Technology (NAST) organises and promotes amateur astronomy groups and writes columns on the subject in national newspapers. Columnist Kedar S Badu spoke to Shah about the opportunities and challenges of stargazing in Nepal.
Kedar S Badu: How did you come to be a stargazer?
Rishi Shah: Looking beyond our planet earth always fascinated me. I had an intense desire to reach for the Sun, Moon, the planets and the stars and know as much as possible about them ever since my childhood. Later I went to study in Germany and then I got the chance to really learn about astronomy.
How is astronomy developing in Nepal?
The passing of Haley's Comet in 1986 created a lot of interest in Nepal, but compared to the rest of the world, astronomy here is developing at a slow pace. However, some hard-core enthusiasts are carrying out activities, and some teachers are taking the lead in schools.
You tried to establish a planetarium and observatory in Nepal, but it has not happened yet. What went wrong?
Although Prime Minister Koirala officially initiated the BP Koirala Planetarium and Observatory Project in 1992, it is still struggling to get off the ground. Many factors such as political instability, unclear long-term vision and the inexperience of management staff have slowed down the progress of the project. If it could be linked to the amateur groups which are already conducting events this project could bring great benefits.
Is astronomy really important in a poor country like Nepal?
Yes. Nepal needs astronomy to dispel superstitious beliefs that are deeply rooted in our society. Astronomy helps us to think logically and to understand our evolution, our role in the universe, in our solar system and ultimately on earth. We in Nepal could contribute to international research on astronomy and space exploration by setting up an observatory, as our geographical location is excellent for observational cosmology. Such projects would help to develop human resources and infrastructure, and would thus help the country's economy.
How could we support students and amateur astronomers for stargazing activities?
Students and amateurs should be encouraged and supported to participate in astronomical activities as much as possible. Schools, government, NGOs and the private sector should all play a part in this, as it would fire the minds of many people in the country.
April Night Sky Highlights
Mercury and Venus are both very close to the Sun, so they are more or less out of sight this month. Mars is high up in the western sky at dusk, and Jupiter is now playing the role of 'Morning Star': it rises in the east about three hours before sunrise. Saturn on the other hand is high in the east at dusk, and doesn't set until shortly before sunrise. On 13 April don't miss to spectacle of Saturn (in Leo) and Mars (in Gemini) with a crescent Moon suspended between the two. After a break of a few months, the meteors are back again. The Lyrid shower is active during the third week of April, and will peak in the early hours of 22 April, producing one meteor every 10 minutes or so.