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The TMT, India and the Indian astronomical community.

I am crazy about the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). I worked on data from the SDSS for my first summer project. I learnt about SQLquery to acquire data from the SDSS's servers and I learnt Python to do the relevant data analysis. It's an unbelievable treasure trove of data and is in my opinion, the best place to start off if one is serious in pursuing a career in astronomy. Having said that, a while back I was looking at the various institutional members of the SDSS and I found out that there were NO Indian institution involved with the project. None whatsoever. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure that there were Indians involved in the project. I'm saying that there was no institutional support meaning that Indian universities weren't funding the project or actively building instruments for the project or had priority access to the data. And it kind of made me sad.

The good news now is the fact that India is a 10% partner in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), built in collaboration with Caltech, Yale, Canada, Japan and China. It's a mammoth observatory and a mega project, with a 1.4 Billion $ budget, one of the main reasons it needed to be collaborative in nature. I learnt the most about the project by reading these set of articles from the Journal of Astronomy & Astrophysics published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, a special issue on the TMT. The cherry on top of the cake was when I came across the Decadal vision document - Astronomy & Astrophysics (PDF file, 27 Mbytes) compiled by astronomers from across the nation, laying out a road map. This is what my weekend reading will be.

Coming back to the TMT and India's involvement in the project, you can find more about it here. I specifically love the fact that India is responsible for the observatory software (OSW), data management systems (DMS) and Image and object catalogs (CAT). One of the main reasons I love the SDSS is because of how easy it is to access their data, something that I think a lot of other people and surveys can learn from.

I started this article wanting to write about the TMT and India's participation in the project and now it has become more about the astronomical community in India than anything else. Looking back at it, I don't know if I didn't know as much about the astronomical community in India because I didn't have a better understanding of the research being pursued by Indian astronomers or if it's because I am only now looking deeper and closer at the work Indian astronomers are doing. Either way, I'm sad that I didn't know how vibrant astronomical research in India currently is and I am happy for finally starting to know about it.

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