A Sky Full of Stars

I had always stared at the sky full of stars and wondered about our existence in the universe. With the help of knowledge from childhood textbooks, I could always identify some of the prominent celestial bodies but the curiosity to learn more had never died in me. So when the topic of star gazing session came up in one of the Quora meetup, I made up my mind that I won’t be missing this opportunity. When the day came, one of my colleague and I bunked the office to make it to the venue.
The Event was Milky Way special Star Party organised by Stargazing Mumbai, an amateur Astronomy and Stargazing group at Patil Farm in Mahuli, Asangaon. Prof. Arvind Paranjpye, Director of Nehru Planetarium was with us for the whole night. I have tried here to recollect some of the events of the night but trust me the actual experience was much better than words.

The night began with watching Jupiter. It looked beautiful with its 3 prominent moons. The bands of Jupiter were clearly visible. Then we moved to constellation identification. We were instructed on how to identify some of the common constellations that are generally visible in the sky, with the help of some prominent stars such as Polaris, Regulus, Sirius etc. We were shown Gateway to Heaven, Orion, Big Dipper, Small dipper, Ursa Major, Virgo, Gemini, Leo and a few other constellations whose name I don’t remember. The lady also told us about some of the mythologies and folk tales that are associated with these constellations.

After that 5 telescopes were setup  pointing at 5 diffrent things-
1. Beehive Open Cluster – Clusters are a group of stars which are bound by gravity. The Open clusters generally contain less than a few hundred stars and are relatively young. This cluster looked like a complex beehive.
2. M3 Globular cluster –  The globular clusters appear like a cotton ball in telescope and can contain thousands of stars. There was an astronomer in 18th Century named Charles Messier. He published a list of 110 celestial objects, mostly clusters and nebulas, that are generally visible in the sky. All of them are named after him and called M1, M2, M3 and so on.
3. Cor Caroli (A binary star system) – Our Solar System consists of only one star but in the universe most of the systems have multiple stars. A system of 2 stars is called binary star system. Cor Caroli is one such system.
4. Alcor and Mizar- Now, a binary system can be of two types. The first type is actual binary star system where both the stars are bound by gravity. The second type is called Optical Binary star system where two stars appear to lie on nearly the same line of sight but are quite distant from each other in space. Alcor and Mizar are optical binary stars. Mizar is the sixth star of Big Dipper( know as Saptarishi in India) and itself is a qaudruple star system whereas Alcor is a binary star system; together making a sextuple star system. In Indian mythology they are called Vashista and Arundhati.
5. Bode and Cigar – Bode and Cigar are two galaxies which can be seen near Ursa Major. Bode was discovered by astronomer J.E Bode and Cigar got its name for its cigar like shape. Here is a picture of them(taken from google).
bode and cigar galaxies

Post this session there was dinner break which was followed by a presentation on Evolution theory. After that there was a brief Q&A session with Prof. Arvind Paranjpye. He enlightened us with his vast knowledge. He told us how the outer planets were discovered and how Pluto was degraded from Planet to a Dwarf Planet. He also shared with us some of his astronomical experiences of pre-digital photography days. Here is a link to a video of  that talk https://www.facebook.com/pg/stargazingmumbai/videos/

The talk was followed by a tea break. It was past 3am and the Milky Way was clearly visible. While we were busy sipping our tea the volunteers started adjusting the telescopes to point various objects and the photographers started taking picture of the Milky Way. This part of the night was most exciting and we saw more than 15 objects. Few of them were-
1. Lagoon Nebula- A Nebula is an interstellar cloud of dust, hydrogen, helium and other ionized gases visible in the sky as bright patches. This one looked like a cotton ball.
2. Ring Nebula- When we looked at it we thought as if someone has kept a donut or a medu-vada in the space.
3. Albireo- It’s a Binary star system near the constellation Cygnus. The beauty of it is one star is red and the other one is blue. Here is an image of it (taken from google).
4. Jupiter- At this stage Jupiter was nearing the horizon and all 4 Galilean Satellites were visible.
5. Saturn- The Saturn looked beautiful with it’s ring.
6. M22 and M4 globular clusters.
7. Wild Duck and Ptolemy Open clusters.
8. Venus- It was almost 4.30 and Venus had risen. Although it looked like any ordinary star in the sky but when we saw it with telescope it was crescent shaped and looked beautiful.

As the clock was nearing 5 the Milky Way vanished from the sky. After sometime the dawn broke and stars started disappearing slowly. Our astronomical gazing concluded with an artificial satellite crossing the sky.
The Sun came up, we had a cup of tea and with dreamy eyes took the train to home. Although we have returned to our moribund city life our mind is still stuck somewhere in between those stars.

Special thanks to Prasanth for accompanying me on the trip and Stargaze Mumbai for organizing such a beautiful event.

6 Replies to “A Sky Full of Stars”

  1. Well written, Jeet. However I am a little surprised by 2 things: do you mean to say you could see Jupiter’s moons with the naked eye (initially)? And how come you missed Sagitarrius! That’s the centre of the Milky Way and the band of stars are a clear reminder of the flatness of our galaxy.

    1. 1. What I meant to say was all the telescopes were pointed towards Jupiter. 😛
      2. I think we missed the flatness of milky way part. Maybe next time you can accompany us for more of such trivias.

  2. “A very small hazy patch…it looks like a ring , or a smoke ring, or a donut, or a medu vada.
    Now I am hungry.”

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