We live in a vast and wonderful universe. The earth, moon and sun are the part of this enigmatic universe. As we gaze into the night sky, we are smitten by mysterious celestial objects that include planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies and millions of tiny particles. Shining stars and cosmic phenomena inspire the residents of earth to explore the possibility of new life beyond their planet. With the help of powerful telescope and other sophisticated technology, astronomers have observed and tried to explain them applying the theory of mathematics, physics and chemistry. Divided into observational and theoretical branches, the astronomy provides us with scientific insight about the objects and their movements that are tens of thousands of light years away from the earth. Infinite universe continues to expand since the Big Bang. The importance of astronomy has further grown to demystify the riddles of the heavenly objects outside earth’s atmosphere.
Despite the broad significance of astronomy in boosting the space science, it has not been developed as an independent discipline in the country’s university curricula. Nor is there systematic research of astronomical sites and objects across the country. A news report of this daily revealed a poor status of research of celestial objects in Nepal. In the absence of scientific study, many scholars have been misled by the misinformation and myths. The report mentions a Chhate Dhunga (umbrella rock) located in Aathrai Rural Municipality in Tehrathum district. Some astronomers wrongly considered the oddly shaped stone as 2000-year old celestial object used in ancient time to track position of the sun (solstices and equinoxes). One expert even went on to compare it to the Stonehenge of England.
In fact, it was a rocky structure built in 1981 BS. Locals go to Chhate Dhunga to flick stones on the top of it to bring good luck and prosperity in their life. For years the academics presumed the very stone as heavenly thing in the absence of scientific study and investigation. It is true that astronomy has not found its way into academic mainstream but many Nepali scholars had penned illustrious books on astronomy and astrophysics (A&A) including Sumati Tantram (576-880), Bhaswati Baal Bodhini Tika (1494) by Balbhadra of Jumla and Mathematical Astronomy (1663) by Gaureshwor Joshi. People’s curiosity about astronomy started when an oﬃcial observation programme of Haley’s comet was organised by then Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) in 1986.
Nepal holds huge potential to enhance astronomy owing to its unique location in the world. In 2016, National Geography listed Sagarmatha National Park as one of the world’s five best stargazing sites on the planet. The Park could attract academics and observational researchers from around the world but there was no concrete initiative to develop it as the hub of global astronomers. As experts say, astronomy is a matter of passion but when it is incorporated in school and university curriculum, many young minds will embrace this discipline with enthusiasm. Of late, there is a rise in the number of amateur young astronomers with the launch of outreach programmes like the National Astronomy Olympiad and Asteroid Search Campaign. Many advanced nations have already made strides in the development of space science. Nepal should also invest in astronomy education to broaden the understanding about the faraway planets, stars and galaxies and the celestial events like eclipses, meteor rains and proximity of large asteroids.