Behind the discovery of `Bharat'

NEW DELHI, AUG. 14. Here after, when one gazes the sky one can see `Bharat' orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter. The International Astronomical Union has recognised the discovery of an asteroid by an Indian-born amateur astronomer in the U.S. and on his request has named it as `Bharat'.

`Bharat' is a two to three km diametre asteroid orbiting the sun once every four years in an elliptical orbit at an average distance of 3,79,340,000 km. The orbit is inclined to the eclipitic plane by about 17 degree.

Amateur astronomer

The asteroid was discovered by Vishnu Kanupuru Reddy in 2002. A native of Sullurpeta in Andhra Pradesh, in 2002, he is a graduate student in the Department of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota in the U.S. He is a journalist-turned amateur astronomer. He was working as a reporter in a newspaper in Delhi, when he got inspired to discover asteroids after meeting an astronomy professor from the university of Arizona, Tom Gehrels, in 2000.

``Dr. Gehrels was giving a talk at the Nehru Planetarium and I had gone there to get only a good story for the newspaper. But, at the end of the interview, I had made up my mind that asteroids were my future. I then invested personal savings into the project and with the help of a fellow amateur astronomer, Roy Tucker of Arizona, U.S., engaged in studying asteroids,'' he said, in an-email interview to The Hindu .

He discovered `Bharat' on July 4, 2002 during a routine scan of the sky from Roy Tucker's Groodricke-Pigott Observatory. It was initially named as 2002 NT and after its orbit was accurately determined, it was numbered 78118. Following this, a 15-member committee on Small Body Nomenclature (CSBN) of IAU approved its official name as `78118 Bharat'. The name was suggested by Pratibha Kumar, Reddy's wife, who is also a graduate student in the University of North Dakota, doing a course in communications and an avid amateur astronomer.


The official citation submitted to CSBN by Reddys and since approved reads: "Bharat is the native name of India and derives from the wise and pious King Bharata of ancient Hindu mythology. India is the motherland of the discoverer.'' It was published in the 13 July 2004 issue of Minor Planet Circulars/Minor Planets and Comets by the Minor Planet Center at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, U.S., on behalf of Commission 20 of the IAU.

Mr. Reddy is currently engaged in studying the composition of asteroids using telescopes at Mauna Kea in Hawaii. He has also set up an organisation called Spaceguard India, which is involved in promoting awareness about asteroids in India.

Childhood fascination

Mr. Reddy said he had been interested in outer space ever since childhood. ``My home was just 20 km east of ISRO's Sriharikota rocket launching facility and as a school kid, I was fascinated by rockets. I never missed even a single launch, which were clearly visible from the rooftop of my house. But, initially the destiny took me to a career in journalism. But, soon enough, it itself gave me an opportunity to get back to my first love in the form of an interview with Dr. Gehrels. Now, there is no looking back,'' he said. He and his wife were here in June as part of a U.S. team to study the rare celestial event of transit of the Venus across the sun.

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