Viswanathan Anand, the astrophotographer!

The chess legend opened up about a lesser-known aspect of life

gallery-image Messier 43 or M43 is a star-forming nebula in the equatorial constellation of Orion.
gallery-image Also known as the Dumbbell Nebula, Messier 27 resides in the constellation Vulpecula.
gallery-image Messier 13 is a globular cluster of several hundred thousand stars in the Hercules constellation.


When I was very young, there was a copy of [astronomer] Carl Sagan’s Cosmos lying in my house. As I was interested in the subject, I picked it up. There were many things inside, especially the photos. You cannot look at a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies and not think there is something amazing in the sky. The other thing that fascinated me were the distances. Many years later, when I was in Spain, a book came to my home by post. I am not even sure I ordered it; it might have been misdelivered and there was no return address. It was a gift and I read it for a while. Then I looked up the browser, which was still in its early days, and found a lot of stuff about astronomy. That rekindled my interest.

The village in Spain had 6,000 people and a clear sky. I bought an old set of binoculars and found a lot of interesting objects. My wife saw this and got me a nice pair of binoculars as a birthday gift. With that, I started watching all the planets. I saw the moons of Jupiter.


There was a transit of Venus in 2004 (when Venus passes directly between the Sun and a superior planet) and a friend had mailed me a pair of glasses with which I could look straight into the telescope. It was beautiful.

Then I connected with a person called Christian Sasse; he is a photographer and a chess player. Many chess players I know are passionate astrophotographers. Many of them would sit around with their tripod, telescope and software to track the stars. It sounded too difficult for me. I enjoyed the output, but I did not get it.

Then Sasse and his friends started a company called itelescope―they had three telescopes; one in New Mexico, one in Australia and the third one was in South Africa. And maybe they had a fourth one in Chile. The beauty of this arrangement was that any time of the day, if you want to take a photo, it is night somewhere. You could log on [to their website]. It is still quite challenging. So you book a telescope, select the object in the sky [you want to shoot], you book how many minutes you want it pointing at that [object]... and you go to sleep. It is literally automatic. I have a reasonable collection of photos, but I confess I took them with a remote telescope.

gallery-image The Rosette Nebula is near one end of a giant molecular cloud in the Monoceros region of the Milky Way Galaxy.
gallery-image NGC 660 is a peculiar polar-ring galaxy in the Pisces constellation.
gallery-image Messier 45 is an open star cluster in the Taurus constellation.


There is a web page that tells you where it is at every moment (minor planet named after him). But it is not even remotely visible. Of course, it is visible with sophisticated telescopes. It is an asteroid in the asteroid belt and it is pretty cold. There was a chess player working in NASA who was a fan of my game. And then this [minor planet] came up and he suggested my name. I think once in a year the committee meets and decides all these things. So there is a planet named after me and it is very nice! It is called Vishyanand 4538.


The Sombrero Galaxy is a beautiful object, [and] I have a nice photo of that. I think galaxies are the prettiest. I enjoyed seeing Jupiter and Saturn with my binoculars, but a long exposure of a galaxy gives you colours and shapes that are amazing! I also have all sorts of nebula.


One of the beauties of the past couple of decades is the number of probes we have sent to other worlds. We have managed to fly by and take pictures of even Pluto. Of course, the moon has been extensively researched and it is not going to be a surprise. But we are still sending sophisticated equipment to find new information and it is always going to be fascinating. I will be quite excited when Chandrayaan-3 lands and hopefully we will have huge success there.

As told to Bhanu Prakash Chandra

Exclusive photos from Anand’s collection