Monday, January 30, 2012

Star Party - Astronomy away from the city.

What is a star party?

A star party is a gathering of amateur astronomers, telescopes, binoculars, and other night sky observing equipment at a location away from light pollution, with the aim of learning, observing, astrophotography, CCD imaging, home made telescope exhibition, networking etc. In this event the newbies are introduced to stars and constellations, taught how to locate objects in the sky and how to handle a telescope etc. Astrophotographers spend their time capturing images and others observe through telescope binoculars or naked eye.

Bangalore Astronomical Society Star Party at Agumbe January 2012

From the time of receiving  the mail of a star party, to the moment of writing this mail the excitement had never diminished. While i can never forget the experience i had in this trip, i write this mail only to accumulate all thoughts and climax them so that i can overcome the overwhelming distraction and go back to my everyday work. 

Although i have been quite active on the mails and with my telescope in lonely nights i had never been able to go to any of the star parties. On getting the mail i was overjoyed as it seemed i could make it this time. 

Before 20th January Friday: Registered for the party, made few calls to Vivek and received excellent cooperation from him.

20th January, Friday: Rushed from work to home after getting a working Saturday off request approved from my manager after some effort. Stared at the baggage in which i had packed my scope and wondered if it will come back alive. With this scare in mind reached the pick up place on time and boarded the bus. Navin welcomed us and described the agenda, after which we went to sleep. Me (and i guess many others) did not know anyone. It was a nice night. Sleep was less and irritating blue lights inside the bus did not help fulfill my desire to stare at the stars outside the window while the bus traversed the highway. 

21st January Saturday: Early morning arrival at Agumbe, a very small village. The bus was parked outside the 'hotel' where we witnessed the red horizon sunrise, while Vivek and others went and organized the big group of 30-32 into our rooms. As we reached the rooms and people got ready the silence was broken as Rajesh with his humor he sparked a conversation and we observed the magic which happens when like minded minds meet. From Engineers to teacher, from managers to students, from kids to moms, all united by the magic of astronomy. In the guys room there was no introduction no stupid talks all had dived into the open sky. With the mood being set with this morning conversation we were invited for the breakfast, after which we went for the short trek. The waterfall was good and many relaxed with their feet in cold flowing water. The walk back was good. After reaching our hotel all had lunch and had a nap. We later went to sunset point and observed the sun. Few of us were able to see the sunspots at sunset. Great experience from a mountain top. 
Sunspots visible at sunset from Agumbe sunset point.
                           As the twilight set we rushed back to the observing spot where the equipment was already set by BAS. We were divided into groups with a leader. My group leader was Amar, amazing guy. His explanations and descriptions simplified everything even the 3 small kids of our group were understanding so clearly. The enthusiasm of the kids was awesome, future of astronomy looks good with such kids. Parents you deserve to be appreciated as well. A small guy was awake so late with us while half the others had gone to sleep. Amar showered us with information about Venus, Sun, other planets. Explained how distance to the stars is measured and various other phenomena. His talks kept the audience engrossed in his voice for about 1.5 hours which seemed to pass in a flash. He was not finished and neither were we satisfied when Vivek called us to see Jupiter through the monstrous 17.5" scope. We took turns and many amazed with the wow, To look at something which you cannot see with the naked eye, whose beauty you have not yet appreciated enough, whose mysteries you haven't yet solved, and its out there, with nothing between you and him(Jupiter), is a surreal feeling. It cannot be described completely in words. This feeling which gives me goose flesh each time i see through the eyepiece, i am sure each one experienced it to some level.
Telescope and sky in background
We were served dinner under the night sky, after which we proceeded with Navin who explained the celestial coordinate system with brilliance. He explained how earth's coordinate system relates to the celestial sphere, he showed various constellations, stars, planets with continuous flow of information. Later Navin showed us Sirius, Aldebaran red giant. Explained life cycle of a star. Showed Orion nebula and various other celestial objects

22nd January Sunday: It was around midnight we were sitting around in a circle with Navin who took us into the history and explained how astronomy emerged as a science. Many had desires to see galaxies, they look wonderful. with this aim Navin - the hero of this story started aligning telescopes. But every story has a villain. Here the humidity. Dew started setting in on eyepieces first. Cleaning of eyepieces helped at first but then the fog became denser making things tough. By 2-3 am sleep started dragging people to bed. But many stayed to observe Saturn from the 17.5". It was amazing. But it would stay in the field of view for fleeting moments. I questioned why they make such huge scopes and give it a dobsonian mount. The scope need to be moved after every observer. Later in the night we saw polar ice cap of Mars too with the huge scope. By 4am almost everyone was asleep. At that time Navin guided the very few of us awake to see Omega Centauri. Saw it through binoculars and my scope. Though not very bright i was amazed on seeing it. By 5:30 my legs, my back and eyes gave up and went to sleep.
Celestron Astromaster 130 EQ and Celestron Powerseeker 70 EQ wet with dew.
We said bye to Agumbe at around 10 am. Left the small beautiful place with a great experience. On the way back we went to the famous Sringeri temple and by late night everyone was home.

To conclude, the star party was a culmination of great minds, awesome people, excellent equipment, pure knowledge and hunger of exploration. To quote Prakash "Such a wonderful weekend it was ! My life's first Star Party ! Never imagined the night sky to be so awesome ! Excellent minds around, powerful telescopes by the side, freezing temperature in the middle of a dark deserted forest, is there any way to fly out of this world and join the cosmos ? Fabulous experience altogether !" and Gaurav "No camera flashes, no lights, torches-n-mobiles covered with red films ... half a dozen telescopes along with a monster 17.5" and few binoculars .. witnessed Jupiter moons, Saturn rings, mars polar caps, Orion nebula .. Knew nobody when I left and came back with a dozen of good friends .." not to forget hilarious jokes of Rajesh, experiences of Muhen, knledge base of Navin... i now know that stars do not exist in sky alone.


  1. Gorgeous photographs... Agumbe is such a special place...i can imagine how awesome this experience would have been...


  2. I am plannign to buy Celestron Astromaster 130 AZ Telescope
    here is the specs suggest me good one
    Newtonian Reflector
    130 mm (5.12 in)
    650 mm (26 in)
    20 mm (0.79 in)
    33 x
    10 mm (0.39 in)
    2 65 x
    Built-on StarPointer
    307 x
    19 x
    1.07 arc seconds
    0.89 arc seconds
    (Compared to human eye) 345 x
    Celestron Astro Master 130.

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