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Raghvendra Sahai
Raghvendra Sahai

Raghvendra Sahai

Dr. Raghvendra Sahai is a Research Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. He came to JPL in 1992 as a Senior Resident Research Associate of the National Research Council, and joined the JPL permanent staff in 1995.

Sahai obtained his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1984 with a detailed millimeter-wave and infrared spectroscopic study of the famous mass-losing carbon star, IRC +10216. After a 2-year postdoc at the University of Texas in Austin, Sahai went to the University of Gothenburg/ Chalmers Instutute of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. While continuing his work on the mass-loss envelopes of dying stars like IRC+10216, and teaching graduate and undergraduate courses and supervising student research, Sahai began to study molecular gas in planetary nebulae, using the then newly constructed Swedish-ESO-Submillimeter Telescope (SEST) in La Silla, Chile.

After almost 6 years in Sweden, Sahai returned to the US in 1992. He became a member of HST's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 Science Team at JPL in 1994, and started using HST to image proto-planetary and planetary nebulae. Not only have the beautiful images (examples) obtained from this work significantly revised our ideas of how planetary nebulae are shaped, but they have also captured the attention of the public at large. One of these, the Hourglass Nebula was selected to grace the cover of National Geographic (April 1997) and another, the Egg Nebula is featured on a US postage stamp.

Aside from dying stars, Sahai's interests include young stellar objects, brown dwarfs and extrasolar giant planets (EGPs), and Seyfert galaxies. He has participated in several studies related to the development and use of a coronagraphic camera in space to find EGPs around nearby stars.

Sahai describes his journey from a star-struck youngster to a professional astronomer:

"If I had to choose one experience most responsible for my life-long fascination with astronomy, it would be -- (as a young boy) going to sleep on the roof of our house during the hot summer nights, watching the star-studded beauty of the Milky Way house wheel across a pitch-black sky. During my last year in high school (St. Joseph's Academy, Dehradun, India), I was all set to follow in my elder brother's footsteps and choose Electronics Engineering as my major in college. My parents, aware of my strong interest in science, encouraged me to consider Physics instead - since at the same time I also won a competitive science scholarship covering all my college expenses at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT/K), I elected Physics as my major. I applied for graduate study in Physics at Caltech, got accepted, and had decided to study elementary particles. But, during my last semester at IIT/K, we were offered a new elective course, entitled Radio Astronomy. Our lecturer, Dr. N.C. Mathur, cleverly baited us by offering a free tour of India's astronomy facilities! I took the bait, and got hooked onto astronomy for good."