Saturday, January 29, 2022

From rooftops & farmlands, city’s stargazers set off on space odyssey

For those who watch the night sky endlessly under a billion shiny stars, unravelling the mysteries of the universe, this is a quote to live by.

Written by Radhika Ramaswamy | Mumbai |
January 29, 2017 4:19:58 am
mumbai stargazers, stargazers, space odyssey, mumbai news, indian express news The gazers carry with them telescopes, binoculars and, of course, a mat to lie on.

IT WAS Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, who once said: “If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’d bet they would live a lot differently.” For those who watch the night sky endlessly under a billion shiny stars, unravelling the mysteries of the universe, this is a quote to live by. Stargazing, for many, is not just a hobby, but a pursuit to understand life through the lens of cosmos. Come winter and Mumbai’s stargazers camp out on rooftops and farmlands to watch the celestial wonders. From star clusters and comets to galaxies and meteor showers, the cosmic voyage of the sky is a fulfilling experience for these amateur astronauts. Several voluntary astro organisations conduct stargazing sessions in the city and its outskirts almost every week between December and April — when the night sky is clear.

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Khagol Mandal, one of the oldest organisations of astro enthusiasts, has regular events in Navi Mumbai, Kalyan, Neral, Nashik, etc., where thousands of people get together to gaze at the stars. Mahendra More, a volunteer in the organisation, said, “We conduct the overnight sessions at farmhouses, rooftops or camping sites from where we can see the sky nice and clear. We start at around 7 pm and the expedition goes on till 4 am.”

The gazers carry with them telescopes, binoculars and, of course, a mat to lie on. Once the equipment are set, the journey to the infinity begins.

Meera Rathod, founder of another organisation, Stargazing Mumbai, points out that watching the sky unfold is the most relaxing activity and it makes one wonder how insignificant our worries are in this infinite universe. She said, “We have kids and families, equally curious and excited to learn and explore. We start with audio-visual presentations, explain the position of stars and provide information of the galaxies and constellations that they encounter, its scientific explanation, origin etc.”

On a clear night, they get to see Milky Way, Rings of Jupiter, Andromeda, clusters of stars such as Orion and even meteor showers. “The patterns we get to see on the sky are breathtaking and kids compete to find as many constellations as possible,” adds Rathod, who has regular events at Mahauli.

Stargazing inside the city is quite a challenge because of the light pollution and the best time to observe the sky is during new moon when the skies are at their darkest. Inside the city, the groups conduct events on rooftops of schools or even in terraces of apartments or homes for two to three hours.

Many of the organisations have astro experts, specialists from Nehru Planetarium and physicists breaking down what people witness and view. Brahmand Darshan is another voluntary organisation which has its events in Virar, Panchgani, Lonavla, Saphale, etc. Bhavin Parekh, its founder, said, “Astronomy is not an easily accessible subject for people. Kids don’t learn the intricacies of the vast universe in school and what better way to learn it than experience it first-hand and real time.”

According to him, astronomy is linked with life as zodiac signs are associated with constellations. As Rohan Tandon, a 21-year-old astro enthusiast, points out, “Stargazing is an adventure, an entertainment and, for some of us, an addiction. I am transported to a different world while I watch the sky and the abundance of the universe.” So if you are intrigued by the celestial world, grab that telescope and take that expedition to the moon and back.

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