Thursday, January 17, 2008

Star gazing on a cool January night

If you didn't know, winter is the best time for star gazers in India. The nights are cool, the sky is cloudless, and throw in a new moon night and a power cut - you have a star gazer's paradise. Turn to the north, and just above the horizon, you see the pole star - our own Dhruva taare. A little away, the Saptarshi mandala or the Big Dipper. Turn your head 90 degrees and you see the brightest object in the sky, Venus, and as you reach the perpendicular, the belt of Orion.

When I was eight (or maybe seven), the science club in my locality got hold of a telescope. Boy, were we addicted!? Every night in winter, we would go up the stairs of my friend's place, position the telescope and keep watching. Of course, the telescope was a manual one, which meant that if you didn't look through the lens in 30 seconds your star was gone (due to the rotation of the earth). We had a pair of binoculars that we could look through, star charts for reference, and even a powerful torch to point at a particular star. To add to our viewing pleasure, the Karnataka Electricity Board (as it was known then) turned off power for half-an-hour at night everyday.

Today, I spent most of the late evening gazing at the stars, and trying to recollect names for them. The pleasure of lying down on your back gazing at the sky has to be experienced to be believed. No wonder early men thought stars were night-time landmarks created by God. Just seeing the stars twinkle away as newer and newer ones grace the skies every minute is simply overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the city has grown so much (particularly towards the north) that many stars that graced the horizon are no longer visible. Maybe one can get a better view from a place like Nandi Hills...hey, I can drive!

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