Dec 9, 2008

A night to remember

The over night study tour to a dark site for the night sky observation is a very important event in our school calendar. This year the excitement for the trip was at an all time high as the astronomy club membership is a whopping 63 comprising of 11 & 12 year old & their zest is far higher than the 16 or 17 year olds who take a casual interest in most things. So, it was quite a task to manage these young & eager kids during the full 14 -hour study tour.The site was a school in the small village called Jewar , which is around 100 kms from Noida. We took 2 1/2 hours to reach the site . As we stepped down from the warm comfort of the bus, we were greeted by a sharp nip in the air. After steaming cups of piping hot Chai, we started with our observations. The resource persons of S.P.A.C.E., who conduct these clubs in various schools, were all set with their powerful reflecting telescopes. The first study was of Venus & the craters of the moon. The image of the moon was so sharp that the bright speck was even visible when your eye is a foot away from the eyepiece. The image was so beautiful that I could not prevent myself from holding my cell-cam in front of the eyepiece to take a click. That is the image you see above this text. Beautiful!After a while we were treated to a tasty veggie dinner while the RPs(resource people) went about setting up their telescopes for the next round of observations. It was 9.30 pm & a sweater & jacket seemed inadequate for the falling Mercury. The children were now being taught how to use the latitude finder & planisphere( a chart that helps you get an idea of the night sky at a particular time of the day of the month/year). The senior kids, who are well versed in the usage of these devices were being shown deep sky objects-about him we read only in the science pages of the leading newspapers. Hold your breath!! The first objects that were focussed were star clusters located millions of light years away. Next on were the Nebulae(!!!!) Orion &Crab. It was a moment when we realised how miniscule we were in the larger scheme of things. While the kids were all excited at these sightings, my co-teacher & I were in deep discussion about how insignificant & small were we in this galaxy. As if these musings were not enough, the RP announced that he was ready with THE fuzzy object on his telescope. Can u guess what he focussed ? It was the ANDROMEDA galaxy, the farthest object visible to us, situated 2.5 million light years away & containing one trillion stars. So, on that cold December night of the year 2008, we were watching andromeda galaxy, the way it looked 2.5 million light years ago!!! A humbling & spell binding experience.Meanwhile, the junior group were being taught to locate rare constellations like, Cassiopeia, Taurus, Aries, Cancer etc. Let me add, that in urban areas one can see only 30-40 stars with the naked eye. While, here, the sky was a black velvet banner with over 2000 twinkling stars!!

The chill in the air was causing shivers , after all its not everyday that you are out in the open at 1 am in the night with the mercury at 4 deg Celsius. The salvation was another round of a hot cuppa strong ginger tea. The students , meanwhile, were sketching their observations under torch light. I must mention that it was pitch dark(hence the name dark site) which made it impossible to see a person who is sitting 5 feet away. The second study session came to a close at about 2.45 am .

The students were free to take a nap or watch a documentary on the International Space Station. While some sought refuge under blankets , others watched the documentary.

Soon it was time to get up for the last & final session. This time it was the beautiful Saturn. I have no words to describe the 1 millimeter sized image of the planet along with its ring. As the students took turn to watch the most beautiful member( I would say) of the solar system, the care takers had laid out our breakfast of hot puris with mixed vegetables. It was something out of the ordinary to have one’s breakfast at 5 am in the morning, outdoors, when the temperature is 7 deg Celsius.

It had started to sink in that our date with our galaxy was over & it was time to return to the dust & smog of Dilli.

1 comment:

mesushovan said...

Brilliant!! As if I have seen the different galaxies through your words. Must say, this is one of the best Blog pieces I have ever read. Thoroughly enjoyed!!