The Association of Friends of Astronomy (Goa) is a non-profit making organisation established with the sole aim of bringing together persons interested in the study of amateur astronomy, telescope making, observation of the sky and space travel. The Association’s objective is to instill into the minds of our people, especially the Goan youth, how to become curious about our next environment. Founded on December 26th 1982, it was inaugurated by Dr. Bailon de Sa, a noted mathematician and former Vice-Chancellor of Ghana University in the presence of Dr. Bandyopadhyay, the then Director of Positional Astronomy Centre, Kolkata.
The AFA(Goa) with its limited resources, made great contribution to the popularisation of astronomy in Goa. It is worth mentioning here that during the last 27 years of its effective existence, the Association of Friends of Astronomy (Goa) conducted several programmes, out of which few of them are: School Programmes, Astro-Kids Programmes, Workshop for Teachers/Students, Astronomical Meets, Star Parties, Study tours, Exhibitions, Observation and study of unusual astronomical events, such as, solar and lunar eclipses, transits and occultation of planets, comets, conjunction of planets etc.
The Observatory project became operational in 1989 while officially it was inaugurated by Shri Pratapsingh Rane, the then Chief Minister of Goa on 28th February 1990. It is equipped to day with one 3 1/2" refractor; one 5"; three 6"; and one 8" reflectors and one 14" Schmidt Cassegrain Celestron foreign made telescope that was recently offered to the Association by the Goa Sudharop Community Development Inc., a Goan Organisation set up in USA for the benefit of Goans.
The running, maintenance and day to day affairs of the Public Astronomical Observatory have been entrusted to the Association of Friends of Astronomy (Goa) which manages the same during dry season only i.e. from November to May. The Observatory is open daily from 19:00 hours to 21:00 hours, including Sundays and holidays. The sky observation is subject to weather permitting conditions, Also, due to appearance of an unusual phenomenon, the observatory remains open outside the scheduled timings. Allowance is made to any group desirous of having sky observations outside the fixed timings by prior intimation to the management. On the technical side, the Observatory is run by a Programmer and Guide with experience in managing the telescopes and are knowledgeable about the principles of amateur astronomy. The Programmer is expected to give demonstration regarding the use of telescopes and the course of stars to young students and others desirous to learn about sky observations. He is assisted by a Guide who is versed in handling the telescopes. These two entities also maintain a daily watch on the visitors who lay down their impressions/remarks on the Visitor’s Book.
In 1998, a significant step was taken by the Association of Friends of Astronomy (Goa) with the opening of a Chapter in Margao, thus extending its activities to the entire taluka of Salcete. Here, the role of Mr. Atul P. Naik, a life member of AFA(Goa) is to be highlighted as he was instrumental to the extent of motivating the Govermnent to set up a Public Astronomical Observatory on the terrace of Vidyut Bhavan (Power House) that became operational on 16th November 2003. This Observatory is also functioning during the fair weather only i.e. from 14th November to 31st May with the same timings as those set for the Observatory at Panjim, but on Saturdays and Sundays only. Here, too, a large number of students and members of the public are attracted for watching the stars.
VIA LACTEA is the voice of the Public Astronomical Observatory (PAO). It is a periodical publication and comes out regularly on the first of every month. A total number of 280 are being distributed regularly to the members, institutions and to various authorities in Goa as well as in the rest of India.
As part of future expansion programmes of AFA(Goa), the cities of Vasco and Mapusa are also being considered in near future as astronomical centres on the lines of Panjim and Margao. Incidentally, the taluka of Ponda is already provided with good installations and a well-equipped Public Astronomical Observatory situated in an ideal elevation at Farmagudi in the Goa Vidyaprasarak Mandal’s school premises. The Observatory caters also to the needs of the public of that taluka and is equipped with one 6” and one 8” reflector telescopes, respectively, fitted with parabolic mirrors of foreign origin.
The Observatories proved to be a great boon to students. Also, the importance of this service is demonstrated by the widespread public interest of our next environment. Nowhere in the school/college curricula can the value of learning for its own sake be more convincingly presented than in the practical observations carried out by the students. The value of this science, however, is not measured mainly in terms of economic applications. Astronomy is concerned primarily with an inspiration of mankind, which is fully as impelling as the quest for survival and material welfare, namely, the desire to know about the universe around us and our relation to it.
The AFA(Goa) feels proud for having taken the task and shown the way for disseminating astronomical knowledge among Goan youth. In this pleasant task, the Association have amidst it many members who have been instrumental not only in planning but by conducting programmes to the entire satisfaction of the members of the public and also with great admiration of several entities visiting it. Presently, Satish Nayak has been superb in organizing very elaborate programs, especially for children. (Astro-Kids programmes) as well as by setting up exhibitions which have been a great source of attraction for students and members of the public.
Right from inception, several entities were quite favourably disposed towards our plans. Among them, it would be worth registering few names that come to our mind like the then Chief Secretary of Goa Government, Mr. K. K. Mathur (lAS), Dr. Jayant Narlikar, Scientist and Ex-Director, IUCAA, Pune, Dr. P. J. Lavkare, Scientist and former Advisor, S & I, GOI, Dr. Krishna Swamy, Scientist, TIFR, Mumbai and others. Also, the Association of Friends of Astronomy (Goa) gets financial assistance from the Department of Science, Technology & Environment, (Government of Goa), and in the past, a great moral support from the former director, Dr. Naraina P. S. Varde and the present one, Mr. Michael de Souza to whom the Association will remain ever grateful.