Indian Scientists - Dr Venu Bappu
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Indian Scientists> Dr Venu Bappu
Dr Venu Bappu
Indian Scientists

The great Indian astronomer of the 20th century. Dr Venu Bappu, was born on August 9, 1927, in a cultured south Indian family. In the local primary and high school, he maintained top rank every year. After completing graduation and post-graduation with physics from Chennai (Madras) University with high ranks, he went to America for further studies. There he completed his PhD in astrophysics from Harvard University.

In 1949, when he was doing research in America, along with Prof Dr Bart John Bock and his senior colleague Bob New Kirk, he discovered a new comet. This comet was jointly named Bappu-Bock and New Kirk comet after the three discoverers. He became the first Indian astronomer to discover a comet. This comet after its long trip will show up again after 60,000 years.

His research area was solar and celestial physics. It is a known fact in astronomy that red stars are considered cold and purple-coloured stars are very hot. The colour of a star shows its temperature. Besides being hot, purple-coloured stars have more of helium content. The Sun is a cold star. Similarly, Aldebaran, Polestar, Arcturus, Betelgeuse, etc., too are considered cold stars. When a spectral analysis of star is done, the composition of heavy elements is visible in the lines. Calcium in the cold stars shows its own line. Properties like the width of these lines as well as the absolute brightness and the absolute magnitude of the stars are related to each other. Bappu’s research in this connection is known as the Wilson-Bappu Effect. This was Bappu’s major contribution to astronomy.

After returning from America, he joined the observatory at Nainital. After a short time he moved to Bangalore and settled there. There he set up the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and took active part in its development as founder director.

He achieved excellence in designing the optical telescopes and in preparing and grinding their lenses and mirrors. He contributed greatly in developing the Nainital observatory and in setting up the Kovalur observatory. He provided technical know-how for making 100 cm (40 inch) telescopes for various institutes in the country. Besides, under his guidance an infrared telescope lens with a diameter of 1.2 metres (48 inches) has been constructed at Bangalore, for the observatory of Physical Research Laboratory at Gurushikar on Mount Abu. In fact, he constructed various telescopes with lenses with a diameter of 37.5 cm to 100 cm (15 inches to 40 inches) in the country. He focused all his energy in constructing India's largest optical telescope at Kovalur. The lens of this telescope measures 2.25 metres (about 90 inches) in diameter. This largest telescope in the country is today known as the Venu Bappu Telescope in his memory.

He was a well-known figure internationally. For his contribution to astronomy, the Royal Astronomical Society of London honoured him by electing him as a Fellow. Belgium’s Royal Society of Science made him an honorary member. He was president of the International Astronomical Union for three years, the only astronomer from India to chair such a post.

At home, he was presented the Dr Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar Award. The Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmadabad, honoured him with the Dr Vikram Sarabhai Professorship for 1982. Young researchers of astronomy, scientists and students got an opportunity to work and Interact with him. Earlier, in 1981, talking about comets at a lecture in Ahmadabad, he had shed some new light on Haley’s comet. He had also given information about its reappearance in 1986. Haley’s comet reappeared in 1986, but alas, he was not there to witness it!

In 1982, he gave two public lectures on Distances in Universe in Ahmadabad. In August 1982, he left for heavenly abode.

He was instrumental in putting the solar observatory at Kodaikanal on the world map. In his last days he suffered from kidney problems. For its treatment he was taken to Munich in August, 1982. He died dmlng the operation. Thus, the sun set when it was at its peak, with the vtorld and especially India losing a great astronomer.