Published: 21st February 2020
In this Risa Astronomy's 'hands', astronomy isn't rocket science for students of all ages
We speak to Anish Kumar who conducts workshops and classroom sessions for those who are interested in Astronomy and space. He shares some of the interesting differences that we get to see in the sky
Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered how many stars are looking right back at you? You need not wonder anymore as all your questions about space and the great beyond will be answered at the Astronomy workshops conducted by Anish Kumar through his start-up Risa Astronomy. The fabulous thing about these workshops is that there's no limit on age. In fact, recently, an 80-year-old attended the workshop to satiate his curiosity about the night sky. Pretty cool, right! Coming from a non-Science background, Anish says, "People from all age groups, even those from the non-Science background, can attend my Astronomy workshop. If explained in simple terms, Astronomy is not rocket science."
You will be surprised to know that Anish is self-taught when it comes to matters of stars and infinite space and it was his curiosity that led him to discover and learn more about it. This Kerala born explains, "In 2007, I bought a six-inch Newtonian telescope and a friend wanted to look at the stars through it. She started throwing various questions at me. Then, I realised that there are many people out there who are interested in understanding how to use a telescope or how to study the sky. That's when I started to take my telescope up to the apartment’s terrace and would ask children to join me to gaze at the sky. This gave birth to programme Outreach, for which as many as 20,000 people have joined me and we would look at the sky through the telescope during weekends and holidays. Gradually, I started an Astronomy Club that had 700 members and we would meet to discuss different discoveries that were made in the fields of space and Astronomy."
In 2017, Anish started Risa Astronomy to formally conduct workshops and introductory classes on Astronomy. But before venturing into it, he read books and took up online courses that taught him all about the technical terms and concepts. If we haven't made it obvious enough, Anish is crazy about Astronomy, so much so that he even collects old and antique books on the subject. One of the books from his collection dates back to the early 1900s. "I learnt everything by watching YouTube videos — how people operate the telescope, whether constellations can be seen with the naked eye and so on. Apart from this, I learnt a lot of things through an international forum, as well as old and contemporary books. One such book that I recommend is The Stars: A New Way To See Them by HA Rey. A new edition of this book is released every year with new information on data, concepts and inventions. The speciality of this book is that anyone who wants to know the basics of Astronomy can read and understand it. I believe it was written during a time when there were no pictures or videos of Astronomy," he says.
So, where does Anish conduct his workshops? Anish says, "We need a clear night sky if participants want to learn. Therefore, we choose locations like Kolar, Denkanikottai, Madikeri and other such venues away from Bengaluru. My friend Sunil Radhakrishnan helps in scouting various locations suited for night sky watch. Due to pollution, clear night skies are a rarity in cities like Bengaluru. In these workshops, I don't discuss trivia or use complicated terms. I just ask them to look for constellations and encourage them to join the stars one by one. Once I teach them these basic things, they can apply this knowledge and study the sky from wherever they are. We conduct workshops twice in a month from December to April."
Quenching our own curiosity, we ask Anish if the sky is different during summers and winters. He says, "Yes, during winters, one can see the winter Milky Way or what we call as the internal Milky Way galaxy. And during summers, one can see the outline of the Milky Way that we usually see on the internet." Anish recommends in-depth classroom workshops for those who want to delve further into Astronomy. "There are people who want to learn more and achieve something as a part of their discovery. Hence, we conduct classroom sessions for them and call experts from the field to address the participants," he concludes.