A starry starry night…

starry-night

I had always been interested in astronomy… Reading a lot and also watching a lot of films on discovery and natgeo… And also seen through the telescope a few times. But over the years, like many other interests I could not follow it. And so when the COEP Astronomy club organised a star party – I knew this was one of a kind chance!

There were about 70 students including regular club members. A ‘semi-luxury’ bus and a Sumo had been arranged for transport. We started with some delays at around 19.00 IST (Indian STRETCHABLE Time as someone quipped). With few other ‘traffic’ delays we reached the site by 9.30pm. There was loads of fun on the bus with antakshari! People were coming up with some really long forgotten songs!

The site chosen was a farm considerably far from the outskirts of Pune – it was a very well chosen site. No artificial lights and a very kind and nice-hearted farmer was there to help. And a moonless night has been chosen! Orion was already setting when we reached there – so we quickly settled to watch and hear about it. The constellation was charted and both the Hindu and Greek mythology stories told. It was amazing. Other constellations like the Canis Major (containing Sirius – the dog star) and Canis Minor (the two dogs of Orion the hunter) were also pointed out (with a help of a really brilliant laser, i must appreciate – totally professional). We also saw the messier object in Orion – a star cluster.

A quick dinner – poli-bhaji pulav – n we were ready to go again. And then the real fun. For about 2-3 hours it was just and the sky. Starting with the Great Bear to Pole star and then the Twins – Gemini, Cancer – its brlliant “beehive” heart, the majestic Leo, Saturn(and its rings) in Leo, Virgo, the broken necklace, Bootes, Corvus, Hercules, the gateway to heaven. It was just too awesome!! Complete with stories and all! A quick tea break and we watched the stories of the two Mars rovers – Spirit and Opportunity. And all were introduced to the superb software – Stellarium. Its freeware (!) and the thing for an amateur astronomer. Various constellations were shown using it and discussed. All this on a screen with projector n laptop! Very well organized!

And as we sipped tea – the mighty Scorpio started rising. It was an awesome site to see Scorpio in its full glory! It is beyond words what it feels like. N I being a Scorpio, and it being the best zodiac signs (both to watch in the sky and in reality – Yeah bring it on!) it was a double treat!

As it started getting late – it also started getting very very cold. It was hard to imagine that it was a summer night. An open field and a slight  breeze made matters worse. But I enjoyed the cold – It kept me up!

4 sufficiently large telescopes served the purpose of probing into into the night sky! A cherry on the cake was Jupiter with 5 of its satellites alongwith Saturn and its rings! And dozens of sparkly M-objects and nebulae as well! N yes – half a dozen meteorites were seen too!

It was an amazing experience – no doubts about that. What I felt cannot be described in words. The sheer size of the constellations as they fill up the night sky is trully mind-blowing! And the way the heavens seem to revolve about. Its one thing to take a casual look at the sky and another to observe it over a period of time. The heavens put up such a brilliant show for anyone who cares to watch. I can now understand why the early humans felt that the earth was the centre of the entire universe – the stars make one feel so special – and lucky!

And I can imagine why did the early humans framed the zodiac signs and constellations and weaved the mesmerizing stories about them. Imagine yourself — back in time – and the whole night sky above you – beautiful, mysterious and yet strangely appealing. Who wouldn’t see and wish their own life in the stars? It was the playground for their imagination. Sadly today people chose prime time TV over this marvelous spectacle of nature.

I have decided to attend as many star-parties (as they are fondly called) as I can…

A morning breakfast of delicious poha-buscuit-tea and a return journey full of jokes completed the awesome experience!

1: The beehive cluster in the heart of cancer (M44). YES! These many stars were actually visible in the eyepiece!

2. Scorpio – The red heart – Antares(the yellow star in near centre), the tail curving to the left and the head and pincers to top right; with the milky way in the background

3. Leo (may be a bit hard to imagine) : a lion looking at you with head to the left. the reverse quedtion mark forming the mane of the lion coming down to its feet with body in centre and right angled traingle to left forming the tail!

4. Orion and Sirius:

Orion the hunter with the three stars as his waist and two stars(red and other) above forming his shoulder and two others his legs (similar to above two ones). A fuzzy patch below the central and the other forms the sheath. The bright star to the lower  left is Sirius, the dog star. Experts will locate Canis Major and Minor as well!

orion-and-sirius

5. Messier objects: Spectacular star clusters/galaxies/nebulae which fill up the night sky:

for a table of most of them (actually taken in one night!) http://gregscheckler.wordpress.com/2008/03/11/messier-object-marathon-march-8-9-2008/

6. To end the post – this wonderful pic of the rosetta nebula (not visible to the naked eye of course!)

And people ask me “Why to look at the stars?”!

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[Disclaimer: All images courtesy the internet. To see original images as well as many other pictures click on them. Thanks to all]

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