The Astronomer, The 'AstronAmar'

Updated: May 16

Amar A. M. Sharma

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2014)

Amar got interested in astronomy during high school, around 22 - 23 years ago in 1999 - 2000. Through the local planetarium along with the local amateur club, in late 2002, he happened to make some visits to a village inside Bannerghatta forest, on the outskirts of Bangalore city. Back then (in times of lesser urban development), even 25 - 35 kilometres outside the large city, the night sky was so unthinkably splendid that it was hair-raising to see stunning views of the bright Milky Way band with thousands of pin-pricks of stars studded in the heavens. The sight of those starry night skies (which today’s youngsters and even adults will not have the ability to even imagine about), was a life changing event for him, in its external sense. This was, anyway, otherwise, internally scripted to be his life's sole path. Since 2002 - 2003, aged 18 - 19, there was no looking back, Amar had got permanently affected by Astronomy, in the unconventional manners of the field.


Those were the days of collecting every bit of paper related to astronomy, of not knowing the field but knowing distinctly well that he has to do something internationally outstanding, and etch a mark in it, forever. During his later college years, in 2004 - 2005, his interest from academics and studies started deteriorating because he dreamt about sleeping under the stars. He underwent a rebellious phase against education and could not sit in the classroom (with physics, mathematics, electronics), started disappearing from the classroom’s attendance and even its minimum requirement, started failing exams with single-digit marks. Amar made a very hard decision for the society to walk out of college incomplete (in final year of graduation) and remains a proud college drop-out!


Soon, he realized he has to work for astronomy as an 'amateur', i.e. for the rest of the field of astronomy but in non-academical ways. He could never join any type of job or even earn money – the night sky and amateur astronomy was to be his full-time job, irrespective of the societal odds that would rise up. In mid-2000s, while millions of other ambitious youngsters were already focussed on their lives & careers aiming for 5-6 digit paying jobs, at the age of 21 - 22 it was Amar’s staunch desire to spread astronomy to other people; he had resolved to courageously make a living by "lying down under the stars", that too, without a college degree, an unrealistic goal and profession in India.


With some like-minded youngsters, he co-founded a local amateur (astronomy) club in 2006 and went on to serve it up to 2011 - 2012 on a voluntary, unpaid basis, for every single day of 365. During this phase, as the lead night sky guide, he led frequent night-sky programmes for hundreds of enthusiasts who were able to live the thrill of night skies along with him in many dozens of joyous observing sessions and 'star parties'. He also communicated astronomy, as the most active astronomy writer on the Indian internet astro groups (Yahoo & Google), through over 3500 writings (emails), for nearly every single day of 365 for half a decade. Already at the age of 22 - 23, by 2006 - 2007, Amar had lit the region’s amateur astronomy’s stage. Between 2006 & 2010, aged 22 - 26, he had gained the limelight and fan-following that is early for a young career. In the Indian astronomy communities, his name became identified and attached synonymous with the night-sky and amateur astronomy; hundreds of people – including his seniors / mentors who guided him into astronomy and night sky in his early days as well as few Indian professional astrophysicists – remembered him as one who could "speak the language of the night sky". Amar had already dubbed himself as the "Astronomy Sanyasi", meaning a renunciate for astronomy, and people in his circle, too, chose to call him by this nickname during his golden days of amateur astronomy. He also became acclaimed across the amateur community, Indian and even amongst some foreign amateurs, for his fanaticism – only explainable by an inner calling – for comet hunting and to discover India’s first comet through visual observing or ccd-imaging.


Comet Silver Certificate with Pin & Card from the US Astronomical League (AL)

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2008)

During that half decade, 2005 - 2010, in his early 20s, Amar made literally uncounted number of visits to dark sky sites over a few hundred nights, travelling many thousands of kilometres. Having spent a few thousand hours under the night sky – either observing them with telescopes and binoculars, or plainly sleeping in the rural open – his fortune lay in having witnessed the glory of the very dark, splendid, starry-dotted night skies and the Milky-Way band appearing like grayscale watercolour paintings, on more occasions than he could recall from faint memory. His vocabulary of the night sky and mental database of celestial objects had become second to none in India, nearly at international levels, and he could even pin-point & find (in the sky) dozens of faint celestial objects with telescopes and binoculars from memory without referring (for their positions) in star charts/atlases. Known for his extraordinary flair for deep-sky observing, his flair could be discovered also in his extensive writing style; he was the pioneer (first one) of penning down scores of his observing sessions in form of observing reports on the Indian internet forums, with dozens of readers virtually able to feel the observing sessions through the writings. Before 30, he had spent more cumulative hours under the night sky than ANY Indian.


Amar A. M. Sharma during his night sky visual observing heydays 2005 - 2008

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2005, 2008)


Some of the AstroSketches during his heydays of visual observing 2005 - 2008

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2005, 2008)

As an innate reformer ever restless for untapped, differential astronomy, he was never satisfied seeing the hobby-level astronomy prevalent in India; he was a proponent of doing things in astronomy which were not done or imagined before in the Indian community; his goal was to contribute to undone areas of astronomy versus engage in it for one’s own recreation. After serving for nearly a decade at the local astro community, Amar realized that his work in astronomy needs to step much higher than city or regional level.


Very fortunately, in late 2011, fate brought him across an executive corporate individual, Mr. Chandra Mouli Raman, who was setting up a private observatory, Nikaya Observatory, outside Bangalore city which was looking out for someone to do its public programs. He quit the club he was so active with and decided to walk the lone path towards a part-time "dream job" – with only a humble stipend of ₹5000 - ₹8000 per month. For 4 years, between 2012 - 2015, remaining indebted to Mr. Mouli Raman, he had been working singly at the beautiful private observatory housing a 14-inch computerized telescope under a motorized dome as the astronomer-in-charge, and was able to spread the wonders of the Universe to around 3000+ students and adults who were all The Nikaya Observatory undoubtedly impacted. During the free nights there, © Nikaya Observatory (2012 - 2015) he stepped into ccd-imaging and concentrated on capturing images of few faint comets & supernovae. In 2012 & 2013, he spent more hours with the ccd camera on the observatory telescope than ANY Indian amateur capturing around 35 comets on image. The full decade-old unsettled fervour for discovering a comet still remained.


SBIG ST8XME CCD Camera coupled with C-14 Edge HD Telescope on CGE Pro Mount (left)

(right) Working alone inside the Nikaya Observatory Dome during solitary nights

© Nikaya Observatory (2012 - 2015)

Images of faint comets and supernovae taken at the Observatory with the CCD Camera

© Nikaya Observatory (2012 - 2015)

Images of bright nebulae, star clusters and galaxies taken at the Observatory with the CCD Camera

© Nikaya Observatory (2012 - 2015)


In a twist of fate, in June 2012, while ccd-imaging – trying to capture Pluto – under cloudy skies at Nikaya Observatory, on 19 June and 21 June in his images, Amar happened to stumble upon a star that was not visible before. This turned out to be an eruption of a Mira-type variable star not reported before. Although an 'accidental' discovery, he became the first discoverer of a celestial object in full personal capacity from the private Observatory – independent telescope, own ccd camera, own imaging, own identification, own analysis, own reporting to IAU CBAT – in India! This discovery has been registered in the AAVSO database as IRAS 18322-1921.


Original CCD discovery images of the Mira-type variable star on June 19 (left) and June 21 (right), 2012,

with Pluto's minor movement marked

© Nikaya Observatory (2012 - 2015)

Discovery entry in the AAVSO's International Variable Star Index (VSX)

Credit: American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO.org)

From 2013 to 2015, by an inner voice, he started authoring a book on amateur astronomy, not a guidebook, but as a narrative of the field. When completed, it would weigh up to 500 pages and will turn out to be the deepest commentary book on the passion and spirit of amateur astronomy that is available today. Around that time, in parallel, he got very involved in working on the history of comets and, specifically speaking, comet hunting and biographies of amateur comet hunters, an extremely niche sect of human population countable on fingers, and began compiling an encyclopaedia. He was among the mere handful in the world working in this area of amateur astronomy; and gained certain respect especially from the international comet fraternity.


After 2015, he realized that his work in international astronomy has actually begun and that he has to step up even higher than anywhere until now, and he needs to serve the global field than mere Indian level. He quit the private observatory and went into complete isolation – till time of writing – carrying the herculean size of astronomy reformation and innovation on his shoulders. In mid-2015, he found a new direction, a vast one. International astronomy tourism. In the next 6 years (till 2021), he worked for around 7500 hours researching online the global astronomy features, and preparing and working out ways to make the public and students acquire their astronomical experiences, either as a hobby or semi-career. As the pioneer of AstroTourism and an 'Observational Astronomy Curriculum' for India, he is now able to create the best environment for astronomical tourism and experiential education than even existing in competitive places across any point on the globe.


He also got increasingly eager in his aspiration for making astronomy documentary and feature films, having penned dozens of topics, original and non-original, for film movies. He now earnestly wants Hollywood, and Bollywood, to make a feature film and / or (web) series on the ideal, inner, true, 'Life of an Amateur Astronomer', of whom he is the story-teller with finesse, panache and command.


In April 2014, world iconic figure, comet hunter & discoverer, and accomplished American veteran amateur astronomer David H. Levy honoured Amar Sharma with his own asteroid discovery as "380607 Sharma". In astronomy circles, this could be called like a 'lifetime achievement award'; he remains forever indebted to Levy for conferring on him this unearthly award!


The Citation by David H. Levy (Arizona) in NASA JPL Database of conferring his discovered asteroid on Amar A. M. Sharma as '380607 Sharma'

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2014)

Cover page feature in Bangalore Mirror newspaper on 1 May 2014 of the Asteroid Naming

© Amar A. M. Sharma (2014)

Presently, aged 37, even after a minimum of 25,000 hours in amateur astronomy, with around 750+ nights under the night sky (either plainly sleeping or observing or public night sky sessions or waiting under cloudy weather), in only 20 years of doing or living or thinking astronomy in some form or the other, Amar still avoids getting out into the city even once at any cost, and is found working on his astronomy projects – creativity and innovation – in isolation from inside his house; he is thinking or working literally for 12 - 15 hours every single day.


Having communicated astronomy to not less than (perhaps) 15,000 people, students & common persons (through either public & private talks or sidewalk outreach programmes), he considers it a greatest blessing of his life to be able to pursue something so spiritual which hundreds of millions of people, especially the youth of India, engaged only in external lifestyles and gadgets, have no idea about, especially with today's technology, something that only makes life comfortable, which is ultimately of no use in front of the 'realization' of the Universe. Having selflessly never, ever, worked for money throughout his 20s and 30s in spite of this as his sole livelihood, his singular everyday struggle and challenges – of making the commoner look up at the night sky and make it a significant direction of their life, and reform amateur and public astronomy even globally – are, in every sense of the literal word, "out of this world", for, they belong to the celestial plane. In the recent years, his is a forgotten story for the Indian society and he remains oblivious to the awareness of the masses.


It is also like a divine portent that his name fits exactly in the word 'astronomer', and "Astron-Amar" sounds the same as "Astronomer" – and it is no coincidence, for, matches are indeed made in heaven!


And this is still NOT the complete story of this voracious amateur astronomer and prodigious cosmic dreamer, it is – believably – only the outline...!

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