Me and my friends at work have been stargazing session since the beginning of the winter. However it never materialized. Sometimes full moon dominance, sometimes volunteer activities at work, every now and then there was some reason for unavailability of common free time. To be honest, push from my side was also less because of personal/family functions and shifting house etc. Suddenly we realized it’s April and with clouds prevailing every now and then probably the last chance of these season for stargazing.
Conditions : We knew we missed the best conditions to view sky in the winter in December/January and opposition of mars on 5th April but it was still not too late. However opposition of Saturn was just few days back on 17th April and was one of the best time to see it. Weather was unpredictable but we had our eyes at sky and forecast report every hour and finally there was some encouraging sign on the session day. It was almost 80% clear sky when we started.
People : We already had some enthusiastic people my work who were keen to go for a stargazing session. To attract more number of people I also floated the idea in the AHAA mailing list, however we were still missing a platform like meetup.com where we could collaborate and plan the event out. Problem ! meetup.com asks money for creating groups and its too formal for few armature astronomers trying to discuss mutually to plan event according to availability and suggestions of other participants. For meetup.com event somebody have to really take a lead and decide the time and place well advance before the event without the consent of other participants. This did not look right. Somebody suggested to use one of my friend’s start-up venture Amgonna.com . It not only have a simple registration process/Facebook-login feature but also much more collaborative. Everyone can suggest location, time and ideas during the planning phase of the event.. So we did it. We planned everything transparently in the following forum
Equipments : We had a 5 Inch Celestron Newtonian reflector and a 90mm Maksutov Cassegrain with us. We also had a 80X20 Binoculars and several SLR cameras and Tripods. We had printed some of the sky charts and brought a LED red light for reading them. We also used Laptops, iPad, Android phones loaded with Stellarium and Google Sky Maps.
Once we reached outside the city, sky looked bit darker but light from one of the building construction sites reduced the sky visibility. After some basic discussions on celestial coordinates , Zodiac, Ecliptic we move on and reached the Osmaan Sagar lake side at Gandipet.
Artificial Satellite ? We saw a bright star like thing moving very fast across the sky and within second realized that it is one of the artificial satellite.I narrowed down the possibilities and most likely we saw H-2A R/B as per Heavens-Above.com. It shined a lot for a second, the panels may have reflected the sunlight directly.
When we had visited this site last time on 17th April for Leonid Meteor shower it was very dark. This time timing was bit early so we had some lights sources causing pollution. As cloud cover was coming up, we assembled the telescopes quickly and pointed at Saturn right away which was rising in the eastern sky with Spica in Virgo. For most of the people it was first time experience. They had seen the magnificent NASA images but never saw it in their own eyes. It was jaw dropping. Most of the people said the word “Wow” as soon as they saw a glimpse of the ring. It was so sharp many checked if I had pasted a Saturn image at the back of the telescope. Some said it looked like a postage stamp of Saturn stuck at the other end. Due to cloud cover we did not really attempt to see the deep sky objects but we went through most of the constellation. We also saw the crescent shape of Venus through the telescope it looked like a zoomed out Moon. Finally we attempted to see Mars but due to wind we could not stabilize the telescope and failed to view the polar ice caps at higher magnification.
Discussion about space and astronomy in general went on among the people as Manohar and Nikhil shared their knowledge with others. We also discussed about the basic designs of the telescope and how it works.
When we were about to end the session few cops were roaming around and asked if we have permission for movie video shooting and we explained to them that we were actually looking at stars, nothing else. It would have been a strange thing for them I hope people in India take more interest in Astronomy and do sessions like this. Sometimes I feel its more fun and relaxing than any other entertainment we know of. I wish kids get addicted to telescope instead of gaming consoles. I have been a strong believer of outdoor sports always and I believe in outdoor activities too.
I am really thankful to all those who joined the session, specially those who extended their help bringing the telescopes to site and assemble. I don’t really appreciate people doing all the talking about interest in astronomy but not care to spend even for two hours for some real observation. People who showed up were not all amateur astronomers but they were passionate people in their respective fields. I met people who left their easy jobs and started their own ventures and follow their own interests like media and ad or travel every weekend to peruse their hobbies and interest . There is no doubt they will succeed in their fields. This kind of passion separates them others who just want to do everything from an A/C room, possibly over the internet.
We have plans to visit Rangapur Observatory which has a very big telescope and contributed to astrometry and Birla Planetorium Hyderabad which recently deployed a 11 Inch telescope in their premises. If anybody have any information how to get in touch with them and pay visit, please share with me (possibly in the comment of this post)