By Casey Monteiro
This April is extra special for members of the Association of Friends of Astronomy (AFA), as they celebrate their 40th Anniversary, coinciding with International Astronomy Day ie April 29. And, what makes it extra glittery is that it’s Global Astronomy Month.
During the last four decades, the AFA has worked hard to inculcate a love for this science in the hearts of Goans. The result is the expansion of the AFA outreach to different parts of Goa.
The AFA was founded in 1982, through the untiring efforts of a retired bureaucrat and active Goan citizen, the late Percival Noronha. Over the years, with the consistent and dedicated service of its members, the AFA has got to their credit several firsts.
They were the first in India to start the concept of rural astronomy centres, says AFA President, Satish Nayak. In Goa, it was started in Morjim and has now increased with centres starting in Borim and Sanquelim.
Besides these centres and the headquarters in the capital, Panjim, the AFA has centres in Margao, Mapusa, Canacona, Vasco, Porvorim and Arambol.
The AFA was also the first to set up the Public Astronomical Observatory in 1990, the first of its kind in India, informs Satish. Today, the AFA voluntarily manages it with support and funding from the Department of Science, Technology and Environment, Government of Goa.
ACTIVITIES AT AFA
Today, many of those who have been associated with the AFA attribute this linkage to them scaling heights in their respective careers because of the curiosity and creativity astronomy sparked in them.
“Astronomy,” says Satish, “is the grand culmination of man's aspirations to look into the future."
The Astro Kids Club, which meets every Saturday at the Public Astronomical Observatory, in Panjim – and has a dedicated astronomy centre, replete with its own cosmic museum, auditorium, astronomy library, tinkering lab among other facilities – has become quite popular with students, informs Satish.
The AFA also hosts an Astro Film Festival and Documentary Film Festival which have now become annual features in the AFA's astro calendar.
Another interesting activity of the organisation is their Astro Photography Club, which has caught the fascination of many. Satish enlightens how the club, which has some of the best photography equipment to click the skies, is training enthusiasts in various facets of photography related to astronomy.
Besides these, the AFA holds beach astronomy observations, workshops, school programmes, even during monsoons, when sky observations are not held.
The AFA has their own publications, too. They released Astronomy Simplified, a Concise Info Booklet and publish their regular Via Lactea, which means ‘Milky Way’ in Latin.
One can easily become a member of the AFA and be a part of their activities. There's nothing astronomical about the fees! Student membership has a one-time fee of ₹ 500. For adults, it’s ₹ 500 annually.
ASTRONOMY IN THE CURRICULUM
The AFA has yet another feather to its cap as Satish explains how Goa is the first state to offer astronomy as a subject in its curriculum. And, credit to that goes to the AFA, which worked in tandem with the Directorate of Education, Government of Goa, and scientist, Dr Nandkumar Kamat, to introduce Astronomy as a subject in Goa Board schools.
Currently, it is being offered as a subject in Std IX and X. “The idea was to develop a passion for astronomy from a young age,” says Satish. The Board of Studies at the AFA helps develop study material, syllabus, journals and study books, besides organising workshops for teachers of astronomy.
Light pollution is a relatively lesser-known type of pollution. But to the ardent star gazer, it can be total eyesore.
Development is sadly being seen as the equivalent to lighting and illumination, says Satish. There is something known as subdued and sensible lighting, which can be followed in the course of development, he avers, adding how the sky and all it holds is our ancestral heritage.
“Through it, we have come to know about seasons, developed calendars, agricultural patterns etc. We need to nurture love for its study and one way to facilitate that is through study and research,” he explains. But, hurdles to it come in the form of light pollution says Satish. “We are impressing upon the authorities to designate certain areas for sky gazing and that would entail ensuring there are no disturbing lights in that area when night begins to fall.
LOCATION: The Public Astronomical Observatory, Junta House, Panjim
STUDENT MEMBERSHIP: One-time fee of ₹ 500
ADULT MEMBERSHIP: ₹ 500 annually
WHEN TO GO: November 14 to May 31
TIMINGS: Monday to Saturday (7 pm to 9 pm)
CONTACT: +91 98223 81869