500 astronomy labs yet to see light of day

Aryan Mishra (second from left) had made headlines when he discovered an asteroid at the age of 14.   | Photo Credit: 19 Aryan Mishra;Yogesh Gupta

Aryan Mishra, 21, son of a newspaper seller, made headlines when he discovered an asteroid at the age of 14.

He was set to build astronomy labs in government schools in 2019 after being approached by the Central government. The idea hasn’t taken off yet and he and his colleagues Shishirant Rahul, Shakeel Ahmad, and Naveen Sharma have been able to set up only 15 labs across the country, including in only three government schools in Jammu, Leh and Kargil.

“The government’s idea was to set up 500 astronomy labs across the country. I don’t know why the idea hasn’t taken off yet. Delhi government schools have done well over the last few years. I hope we can take the idea forward. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to meet Delhi Deputy Chief Minster Manish Sisodia. I have tried many times though,” Mr. Mishra, now a third-year BSc student of a private university said. He is studying on scholarship.

Could not fund studies

The idea of astronomy lab — a start-up called Spark Astronomy — was conceived in 2018 when Mr. Mishra had just graduated from Class 12 and had got into several universities in the U.S. but had to cancel his plans because he couldn’t arrange the funds.

“Honestly, I thought that with this start-up, I’ll also be able to fund my education but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. And the whole idea behind it was to make science accessible and easy for those who are interested,” he said.

The lab — which roughly costs ₹4.5 lakh and 20 days to fully set up — has telescopes, planispheres, moon mapping catalogue among other articles.

Now, this group of four is working towards making low-cost telescopes so those who want to see the sky can see it freely. The feeling was invoked because of Mr. Mishra’s personal experience as a child and the hardships he had to face coming from a humble background.

He was born to Birbal Mishra and Shashi Mishra, both uneducated who had come to the city from their hometown in Uttar Pradesh, 32 years ago, in search of a better life. Mr. Mishra recalled how his father used to sell vegetables in the initial years when he came here and then worked as a watchman for 10 years while selling newspapers with his brother. Though he has quit the watchman job, he continues to deliver newspapers in Vasant Vihar and Shanti Niketan.

Mr. Mishra got into a charity school where his parents managed to pay the fees because they wanted their children — Aryan and his sister — to study because they couldn’t.

“While living in the slums at Kusumpur Pahadi, I got a clear view of the sky. There were no big buildings that blocked my view and I was a curious child who had so many questions about what goes on up there. I used to ask my teachers at school and finally joined the astronomy club,” he said, adding that a cyber cafe in the vicinity helped him a lot.

“I used to spend a lot of time there and that’s also where I discovered the asteroid from. He never used to charge extra money from me for sitting there for extra hours”.

Mr. Mishra managed to buy a telescope, while in school, by saving up money.

After the asteroid discovery, he got appreciation from different corners and was invited for talks but all the fame never really translated into anything tangible, he added.

“I never received any monetary or other help from anyone to enable me to do anything. I have done everything on my own and with my family’s help. I continue to stay in the slums. Only now I live in a pucca house and also have a personal phone,” he said.

Some incidents of the past still hurt though, Mr. Mishra said recalling an episode from school time when he was helping his father with delivering newspapers. A few students travelling in the school bus had seen him and informed school authorities. “They called my parents and told them that they shouldn’t because I am a child. But sympathy wouldn’t have fed my family”.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 3:21:25 PM |

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