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‘Bibha’ hotter than sun

Star named after physicist

By G.S. Mudur in New Delhi
  • Published 18.12.19, 2:24 AM
  • Updated 18.12.19, 2:24 AM
  • 2 mins read
Bibha Chowdhuri (Wikipedia/Article: Bibha Chowdhuri)

A yellow-white star around 340 light years away from the solar system hitherto listed in star catalogues as HD 86081 will henceforth be named Bibha, after the 20th century Indian woman physicist Bibha Chowdhuri.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has accepted the names Bibha for the star and Santamasa, a Sanskrit term for clouded, for its orbiting exoplanet listed hitherto as HD 86081 b, Indian astronomers involved in the naming process said on Tuesday.

The IAU — the authority that assigns names to celestial bodies — had earlier this year offered every country an opportunity to name one planetary system, comprising one star and its exoplanet. India was assigned HD 86081, a star slightly hotter and larger than the Sun, and its planet, a Jupiter-like gas giant, orbiting close to its star.

“The primary motivation for this global exercise was to bring attention to exoplanet research,” said Aniket Sule, a scientist at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education and chair of the Astronomical Society of India’s public outreach and education panel.

The ASI had in July this year issued a nationwide call inviting proposals for names for the planet from school students and for the star from college students. An ASI panel selected a set of 10 names from 1,717 received from across the country and 5,587 people voted online to pick Bibha and Santamasa.

Ananyo Bhattacharya, a 20-year-old student at the Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology, Surat, had proposed Bibha, while Vidyasagar Daud, a 13-year-old student from the Singhad Spring Dale Public School, Pune, had proposed Santamasa.

“The star’s name refers to the pioneering Indian woman scientist Bibha Chowdhuri who had discovered a new subatomic particle, the pi-meson, from experiments in Darjeeling, with her mentor D.M. Bose, and published her results in the journal Nature, but did not get due recognition” said Somak Raychaudhury, director of the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune. “I am happy that we can recognise her contribution by naming a cosmic body after her.”

Chowdhuri (1913-1991) had assisted Nobel Prize winning physicist Patrick Blackett during her doctoral studies in the 1940s. The ASI’s national committee has said the star’s name highlights women’s contribution to Indian science and honours this “unsung Indian physicist.” Chowdhuri had worked at the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Calcutta, among other institutions.

Astronomers in the US had in 2006 discovered the exoplanet Santamasa, which is so hot because of its proximity to the star that gold and iron would melt on it. Astronomers do not yet know anything about its chemical composition.

The IAU, which announced the new names in Paris on Tuesday, said the Name Exoworlds initiative was intended to create awareness about exoplanets and stimulate thinking about how Earth would potentially be perceived by a civilisation on another planet.

Each nation’s designated star is visible from that country and sufficiently bright to be visible through small telescopes. Other names picked are the star Tuiren and its planet Bran proposed by Ireland, the star Intan and its planet Baiduri from Malaysia, and the star Mouhoun and its planet Nakambe from Burkina Faso.