As India (read ISRO) takes its leap forward into space exploration, an underdeveloped but creative realm of space education which started its journey in early 2016 also starts to prosper, driven by digital media. Initiated by some of the earliest players in space communication and then eventually reinforced by many along the way, today there are hundreds of space communication entities in India that are taking this legacy forward.
We have with us for conversation, Rishabh Nakra from The Secrets of the Universe and Aakash Gautam AKA Planet Aakash, two of the earliest players in new-age space communication who not only developed a sphere of learning for space enthusiasts but also cultivated the essence of inspiration for other space communicators.
Arun Prajapati (AP): What was the drive and motivation behind you starting this incredible journey in space communication in India at a time when not many people seem to care about space and astronomy at all?
Rishabh Nakra (RN): I started this journey of space communication in my summer vacations of 2016 while in university. Back then, there weren’t many webpages on Facebook with astrophysics as their main theme. So I took the initiative and developed a page, The Secrets of the Universe, which would focus on astrophysics and not just the popular science topics of astronomy. I wanted people to know how beautiful astronomy becomes when combined with physics.
Aakash Gautam (AG): Well, we, as a species, are explorers. The valuable and often neglected source of wisdom and curiosity can be found not in what we know but in what we don’t know. Following the same essence, the very nature of this vast, dark and seemingly unfathomable cosmos motivates me to learn as well as educate others about it, and hence Planet Aakash. For me, outer space is like divine nectar—a continuous source of inspiration and learning. Moreover, the joy I found in learning about space and educating others has been enduring.
AP: What are the ingredients of good space communication? What is the secret formula behind it? How do you guys cultivate curiosity for the exotic yet interesting outer space?
RN: Great space communication comes when you take the audience along with you. You have to make things as simple as possible. In space communication, you must understand that it is your responsibility to showcase astronomy and astrophysics as an interesting field. Besides sharing interesting facts, it is very important to share the concepts of this field as well. One must try to make learning fun.
AG: Over the years, I have observed that astronomy is too illusionary to be understood without any assistance. People do take an interest in it, but they don’t have much idea because of the lack of information on what they are talking about. Hence, I have always kept my language as simple as possible while communicating, of course, with the scientific base of facts. I try to communicate the beauty of space with little but needful information rather than bombarding people with a massive amount of information.
AP: Factually speaking, in India, we don’t see children aiming to pursue their careers in astronomy and space science. Moreover, elementary schools don’t seem to cultivate curiosity for space science in children. What are some of the reasons behind this and how, in the course of your journey, have you seen a change in this trend?
RN: Astronomy is a field that requires basic knowledge of physics. So the education system cannot be blamed for having limited textbooks on astronomy. The maximum that schools can do is spark the student’s interest in astronomy by organizing workshops and sky gazing events. I have seen this trend change over the past few years. The number of schools organizing astronomy events is increasing year by year. I have visited several schools to conduct these workshops.
AG: Generally, I do believe that the education system plays a small role in the non-engagement of children with astronomy, but the major role is played by society. We live in a country where people are still under the influence of astrology rather than astronomy. So, what you can expect!?
As an educator, I see astronomy not only as a science but also as intriguing and fun. You can pursue astronomy not only academically but also as a hobby, as an interest for personal satisfaction or just to appreciate its beauty (astrophotography). Furthermore, any child can be introduced to astronomy by blending it with literally any subject out there. It is one of the most cross-disciplinary subjects I have encountered in my life. We just need to foster that wonder and excitement in them.
AP: Now one of the most controversial questions, what are the odds that life exists elsewhere in the universe?
RN: Taking into account the vastness of the universe and an infinite number of stars and planets, the existence of alien life is quite possible. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Maybe some near earth civilisations haven’t developed the systems of communication yet. Perhaps they are too advanced and have successfully concealed their identity. Anything is possible.
AG: Odds! It seems like a near certainty to me. There are billions of galaxies in this cosmos, and every single one of them contains billions and billions of stars. There are just too many places where life might potentially arise. But the truth is we don’t know about them yet. It seems implausible to me that life doesn’t exist elsewhere. It surely does exist, at least somewhere in the universe—either in microbe form or as an organism. And if it’s not present anywhere, I would be scared as hell.
AP: Final motivational message for young space enthusiasts and budding astronomers!
RN: My message to budding astronomers is, the road to astronomy and astrophysics is through physics and mathematics. Make sure you have a concrete hold on the concepts in physics. The research in astrophysics is very vast and not just confined to black holes and other popular science topics. There is much more to explore. If you want to be an astrophysicist, master the subjects of statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, spectroscopy, relativity, optics, nuclear and particle physics, and classical mechanics. Astrophysics will then be a cakewalk for you.
For young space enthusiasts, “Keep your passion in astronomy intact even if it becomes difficult at times. Make sure you learn something new every day. Read a lot of books and share what you learned with your friends. Good luck!”
AG: Well, I don’t see myself as someone who can motivate others, but astronomy itself can do wonders.
As a discipline, it allows us to view humanity through a cosmic perspective, which makes us more humble and kind towards fellow humans, nature, Mother Earth and the universe itself.
The path to pursuing astronomy is not merely through science. There is a clear-cut difference between an astronomer and an astrophysicist. Just keep that relentless spark of curiosity alive to study the unknown. Keep learning and sharing because while learning keeps you informed, sharing makes you respected and loved. Keep Looking Up!
Being a part of a country like India where astronomy is still not considered a good prospect, it is not easy even to dream of the vast mysteries of outer space let alone educating people about it. However, the foundation these two have set in space communication, and the legacy they have built continues to inspire India’s youth and change their perspective about astronomy and space science. We wish them both good luck for all their future endeavours.