India has always been known as the land of sciences since ancient time. It was only after foreign invasions that we lost our status in the world. But India has many tales of science from the past which today not many of us are aware about. On the occasion of World Science Day, let us look back in the chapters of history and learn about one such tale of science which is related to India, but most of us don't know about.
Every year, the World Science Day for Peace and Development is celebrated on Nov 10, to ensure that citizens are kept well informed about the developments of science. This year has been precisely significant for the field of science, which is why the theme this year for the day is 'Science for and with Society.' The day was proclaimed in 2001 and is being celebrated by the United Nations since 2002.
The strengthening of the role of science for sustainable and peaceful societies, promotion of national and international solidarity, drawing attention about the challenges faced by science and the renovation of national and international commitment are the main objectives behind the celebrations of the day.
The discovery of Helium
Not many of us are aware of the fact that the second element in the periodic table called 'Helium' was first discovered in India. The Vijaydurg fort in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra is known as the birth place of the idea of the element Helium. A British scientist named Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer discovered the element for the first time while he was observing the event of solar eclipse in the 19th century.
When one visits the fort, one may also observe a raised platform which was built for the scientist to locate his telescope. At the same spot, a government board reads that Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer, a British scientist was observing a solar eclipse from this fort on 18 August 1868, when he discovered the element of Helium observed through his telescope on Sun in the form of a yellow flame.
And this is not it with the Helium story. According to the reports there were two scientists who had discovered helium in the very same year. And both of them had discovered the element on the Indian land. One of them was the British Scientist Lockyer who discovered the element at the Vijaydurg fort in Maharashtra.
The other scientist who is credited with the Helium discovery was a French scientist who did so at Guntur, which lies in today's Andhra Pradesh. French astronomer Jules Janssen observed helium emission lines on 18 August 1868 as a bright yellow line during a total solar eclipse from Guntur.
According to the reports which have been published later worldwide, it is reported that Janssen's discovery took place in August, 1868 whereas that of Lockyer had happened a later in January, 1898.
There are differences of opinion about whether they were the French or the British who first discovered the element of Helium. However, most of the Indians are totally unaware of the fact that this discovery, irrespective of who did it, took place on their own land itself.
Since 2009, World Helium Day is celebrated at the fort of Vijaydurg in Maharashtra. We Indians take much less credit for our heritage, culture and history than we actually should take.
- Himali Nalawade