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The Spark: The Astronomer

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Intel is a microcosm of the world, peopled by dynamic, multi-dimensional individuals who are not only the best at their jobs but also some of the most inspiring personalities to work alongside. Explorers, creatives, performers, and gamers — in this blog series, some of our incredible colleagues share insights into their inner lives, unveiling a never-before-seen portrait of them – and the passion projects that drive them daily.

 

The Spark: The Astronomer

“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people,” French aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry famously wrote. Sure enough, for Ashwin Deshmukh, gazing skyward as a child grew into a lifelong love affair with the science of stargazing. In this tête-à-tête, Ashwin shares the story of his pursuit of celestial knowledge and how it (quite literally) keeps him up at night.

So, Ashwin, how’s work going? You’re in SoC Design, correct?
Yes, I’m part of the High Velocity Product team under the NEC Group. It’ll be three years since I joined Intel in 2019. Work is great! Mostly, I’m focused on validation of the emulation framework for our various IoT and edge computing projects, and that includes software firmware validation.

We also heard that you “moonlight” as…   
… An amateur astronomer, that’s right!

Tell us what got you hooked on astronomy.
It all began during a Class 10 lesson… I remember a chapter in a science textbook about the universe. All these questions like, “What exists beyond this universe?” and “What can and cannot be seen by the naked eye?” kept me up at night, so I got my hands on some star maps and did some stargazing. It was fascinating when I was able to confidently pinpoint my first sighting — the constellation of Orion and the Orion Nebula.

Many kids are fascinated by stars early on but it’s rare to hear of anyone taking that interest to the next level. So, what was that turning point for you? Or your big “spark” that really ignited this passion?

As I grew older, I discovered hobby groups with other amateur astronomers. Around the time I started attending star parties organized by them, I realized I needed to get myself a telescope. But as I’m sure you know, they’re really expensive! So, I thought… why not build my own? The most important step was creating my own mirror. The mirror-grinding process took me around eight hours a day, over 20 days. That was the hard part. It calls for a lot of patience. A lot. 

Patience and curiosity… these are qualities that are important to have in the pursuit of knowledge.

Certainly — even at work. Very often it’s important to be dogged in the search for a solution to a difficult challenge. But, also quite rewarding when you finally crack it. Anyway… after the mirror-grinding process, the rest was fairly straightforward.

What an undertaking that must’ve been.
It was, but totally worth it… as the result is a telescope that I built entirely by hand. You never forget something like that — and it remains one of the biggest milestones in my space quest. With that telescope, my perspectives enlarged beyond what the eye can capture. I could now see various faraway galaxies, nebulae... Helped tremendously with deepening my understanding of the universe.

What’s really cool to us here is how you’ve succeeded in combining your two passions — technology and astronomy. Any tips for budding astronomers out there?
Personally, I prefer exploring and learning on my own. So, I ordered the Manual for Visual Observing of Variable Stars from AAVSO and studied the whole thing on my own. It also includes a detailed “how-to” star chart that I found quite helpful. Then, of course, I’d say visit your nearest planetarium. It’s one of the best places you can go to understand the stars. In fact, Arvind Paranjpye is one of those in the field I admire, and he’s now the director of the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai.

And… I’d advise anyone who’s interested to join star parties. That’s where you get to meet the larger community of astronomers. Seeking out hackathons like the NASA Space Apps Challenge is a good idea too. As a tech enthusiast, I found it exciting to channel that passion into this project as well.

That sounds interesting… can you tell us more?
Sure. So… The NASA Space Apps Challenge is an annual event inviting people from all over the world to solve various challenges through innovation to help improve life on Earth and in space. I’ve participated three times so far.

Back in 2013, my entry for the challenge was a hardware project for children to learn about the work that moon or Mars rovers do. I developed a proof-of-concept Lego rover fixed with sensors, which made it both controlled and autonomous. It’s a great way to witness first-hand the impacts of space technology.

In all your years of study and sightings, what was the one that left you spellbound?
There are two that I remember. Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997 was definitely a highlight. And there was the Leonids meteor shower of 1999. I must’ve seen five to six meteors per minute, and it was a particularly intense experience. Anyway… at the end of the day, every star has its special properties, like humans. At the same time, knowing you are just a small speck in a vast, grand universe is very humbling. And for me, tremendously relaxing as well.

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