Welcome to Akarsh Simha's homepage

Picture of Akarsh with his telescope taken at the 2015 Okie-Tex Star Party
Sketch of Whirlpool Galaxy made at the eyepiece of Akarsh's 18 inch telescope over the span of 2 hours under the excellent skies of Massacre Rim

Brief bio

I am in my 30s and presently live in the bay area in California. I work as a software engineer with experience in machine learning, compilers and frameworks. Even though I did not formally study computer science/engineering, it has been a strong hobby of mine since high school. Association with peers studying computer science during undergraduate college, the Google Summer of Code program, as well as working on the open source project KStars for many years honed my skill with computers before I started my career as a software engineer.

I got a PhD in Physics from the University of Texas at Austin. I was advised by Phil Morrison and co-advised by Mark Raizen. My thesis was on theoretical and experimental aspects of Brownian Motion in Liquids. I was very fortunate to work both on theoretical and experimental aspects of the same problem, picking up a diverse set of skills in the process. My publications are listed on Google Scholar. Despite specializing in my PhD, I like to think of myself as someone who is competent in many things, rather than a specialist that has a very specific field of expertise.

In my personal time, I have fun doing astronomy as a hobby, tinker around with Linux machines, learn some math, go hiking / car camping / road tripping / photographing, build small DIY things, write code (especially for KStars), process old photos, and work out.

Amateur Astronomy and selected personal projects

As for deep-sky observing, I use an 18" f/4.5 Obsession telescope that is 20 years old on a Gregg Blandin equatorial platform. Typically, I don't work on systematic observing projects and like to pick objects from various places. The only systematic list I am currently working on are the Hickson Compact Groups. I have a somewhat recent listing of deep-sky objects I have logged notes on over here

A long while ago, I created a pipeline to auto-generate observation logbooks for deep-sky observing using KStars and LaTeX. The code isn't particularly clean or something I'm proud of, but I am definitely pleased with the results. Here is a link to The Logbook Project. The code is on my Github.

One of my recent projects has involved adapting plate solving to visual hobby astronomy, by attaching a camera to my finder scope. Ever since I developed this system, I have stopped star-hopping. The system uses a combination of open-source plate-solving software and a custom personal software stack integrating an Arduino-based 9-axis IMU to provide a way to turn my telescope into a push-to system. Details can be found here. The part I'm most proud of is the cool math that went into building this system -- the IMU recalibration algorithm is based on quaternions and I remember the moment when I finally fixed a sign mistake in several pages of algebra and the system started working as expected!

Over the years, I have developed a DSS Query web tool, which is designed for amateur astronomers' needs: it resolves object names using SIMBAD, fetches images of the sky from various services, and allows you to adjust rotation to match your eyepiece view. Also can click on a position in the image and it will query SIMBAD to find the designation nearest to the cursor. It also makes querying other surveys like PanSTARRS, Hubble Legacy Archive etc. easier. It also makes annotating a DSS image with labels easy, so you can share it on forums etc. JavaScript and web programming isn't exactly my forte, so this was mostly built to scratch an itch.

I have also compiled a List of Peculiar Galaxies that I observed which showed interesting structure in the eyepiece of my 18" telescope.

Astronomy Talks

For the Bangalore Astronomical Society, I gave a series of informal amateur astronomy talks on various subjects which are available on the BAS YouTube channel: I also spoke about my plate-solving project at the Portland Alt-Az Workshop 2021. The recording is found on the Alt-Az workshop's YouTube channel, specifically here.

Some links of interest

You may contact me at akarsh at kde dot org