India

When Vizagapatam was at the forefront of astronomy

Very few would know that Vizagapatam (now Visakhapatnam) had forayed into the realm of astronomy way back in 1840.

Gode Venkata Jaggarow, who hailed from a zamindari family, had built an observatory on his private estate in 1840. The estate was located in Dabagardens area. Having an aptitude for mathematics, Mr. Jaggarow was drawn towards the science and mysteries of astronomy, and at the age of 17, he left for Madras (now Chennai) to be tutored in the subject by one Thomas Glanville Taylor from Royal Greenwich Observatory, who was then heading the Madras Observatory.

Mass of Jupiter

While at Madras Observatory, Venkata Jaggarow made many observations and published several papers. One of his papers, in which he arrived at the mass of the planet Jupiter, brought him international fame.

In 1835, using instruments then available to him, he deduced that the mass of Jupiter was 302 times the mass of Earth. His discovery has stood the test of time — latest calculations say that the mass of Jupiter is 318 times that of Earth, only slightly off his estimate.

Venkata Jaggarow returned to Visakhapatnam in 1838 and set up his observatory in 1840 from his own funds to pursue his interest in the subject, says Edward Paul, who has done considerable research on various historical aspects of the city.

He also played an important role in establishing the latitude and longitude of Visakhapatnam. He also built an instrument for measuring rain, the rain gauge (pluviometer). He also procured many scientific instruments for his observatory. He established a flag staff on Dolphin’s Nose to provide timed signals to the ships and to the public. The time flag used to be raised between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and would be hauled down precisely at 9 p.m.

Unfortunately, Venkata Jaggarow died in 1856 at an early age of 39 years, leaving behind his observatory to his only daughter Ankitham Atchayyamma and son-in-law Ankitham Venkata Narsing Row.

Legacy

Inspired by his father-in-law, Narasing Row too became a keen observer of astronomy.

Apart from adding many instruments to the observatory, he continued to provide accurate time signals from the hill, even after the government stopped the service in 1871.

After observing a solar eclipse on August 16, 1868, and the transit of Venus on December 9, 1874 from his observatory, he published his observations.

For his work and observations, Narasing Row was elected Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1870 and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1872, said Mr. Paul.

After the death of Narasing Row, his wife Atchayyamma took his work forward by supplying meteorological results to the government. She also erected a Celestial Photographic Observatory with a photographic telescope.

It was only in 1898 that the government started its observatory at Waltair.

A few instruments from Mr. Venkata Rao’s observatory can still be seen at the Visakha Museum.

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