Reactivation of Ceylon Astronomical Association!
Interest in Astronomy in Sri Lanka is undoubtedly ancient. An ancient "map of the universe"- perhaps the oldest in existence, is carved on a rock cave in Ran Masu Uyana on the Tissa Wawa bund in Anuradhapura. The vastness of space and Time was accepted by the ancient Scholars of Buddhism.
Modern Astronomical research in Sri Lanka started in late 19th with planetary observations carried out by P. B. Molesworth F.R.A.S. (1867-1906); who in 1901 discovered the South Tropical Zone disturbance of Planet Jupiter using his 13 inch Newtonian reflector mounted at Fort Fredrick, Trincomalee. Molesworth's publications appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and he has also been recognized by a crater named after him on Planet Mars.
The total Solar Eclipse across Sri Lanka on June 20th, 1955, had created a great interest in Astronomy. The Russians had launched "Sputnik" on October 4th, 1957, dawning the Space Age. Arthur C. Clarke and Mike Wilson had just finished exploring the "Great Barrier Reef" in Australia and settled down in Ceylon.
The Ceylon Astronomical Association was founded on June 11th, 1959, with Arthur C. Clarke as the first President and Late Herschel Gunawardene as the Hony. Secretary. Membership of the Association was open to any member of the public interested in Astronomy. Members met mainly in their own private homes. Meeting were also held at the U.S.I.S. was followed by screening of the latest film on US space exploration to motivate an interest in Space and Astronomy. The Association also published a quarterly journal named the EQUATORIAL from 1959, that carried contributions from astronomers from Sri Lanka & abroad.
The 1964, Industrial Exhibition saw the opening of the Colombo Planetarium to popularize Astronomy among visiting School children. A Ten inch telescope was obtained by Herschel Gunawardene and installed at the grounds of the metrological department. In 1996 the Japanese Government gifted an 18-inch Telescope which is now located at the Arthur Clarke Center for Modern Technology in Moratuwa. A number of new Astronomical groups formed and were active for some years. The group at Subodhi under the guidance of Fr Mervyn Fernando continues to help popularize astronomy and a number of Schools now have Astronomical Societies.
However all is not well. There is no research group in Sri Lanka capable of publication in an internationally recognized refereed Astronomical Journal. All of the dozen or so Sri Lankans who did a doctorate in Astrophysics and continue in that field in their Professional career do their research at foreign universities. Molesworth's 13 inch telescope damaged during the insurrection of the late 1980's remains rusting in the dome on the grounds of the Colombo University, reflecting a lack of interest among university undergraduates. For students who are interested there are many research projects they can do using Astronomical observations obtained over the internet or on DVD.
Rationalist Dr. Abraham Kavoor was an active member of the Sri Lanka Astronomical Association and spared no pains to clarify the difference between Astrology and Astronomy. No one has effectively stepped into his mission since his death in 1978, and Pseudo nonsense such as Astrology are given Political support. Uneducated junk such as claims that the NASA moon landing was a hoax, or those Aliens and UFOs visits Sri Lanka are published in the popular media. The Committee of Popularization of Science (CPS) of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) reactivated the Astronomical Association on Saturday June 10th at SLAAS Auditorium, Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7, to motivate a new generation to the fascination of Astronomy. Sir Arthur Clarke who is the Patron of the Association was attended.
We plan to have Monthly public meeting, particularly making use of opportunities brought about by Astrophysicists visiting Sri Lanka on vacation. We’ll be mainly discussed through an E-mail group on Internet so that a new generation of Students interested in Astronomy can interact with Astrophysicists currently working abroad. The Association will work with all other astronomy related institutions in Sri Lanka. We also hope to get university students to do various researches and will assist them.
The Sri Lankan Astronomical Association was founded in June 1959, with the following aims and objects:
a) to promote the science of astronomy and all branches of astronomical study and research.
b) to promote the association of observers, especially naked-eye observers and possessors of small telescopes, for mutual help, their organization in their work of astronomical observation and the encouragement of a popular interest in astronomy.