The date 28th Feb 2009, just a day ahead and a year back was the last such event (1st March 2008). This was the third BAS star party in alliance with TANASTRO members from Chennai, at the 3500ft high Yelagiri Hill, the mid-point for both the cities. They were joined with some boys from IIT-Madras. Before this, there was a trip to remember for the 6 of us BAS members, to the nearby Kavalur observatory. We were Utkarsh, Vanthika, Me, Madhu, Sandeep and Rakesh. We departed in a Qualis booked by Utkarsh (Akarsh's younger brother) which picked up people from within Bangalore city and then onto the congested Hosur Road, after which began the serene and excellent B'lore-Vellore-Chennai highway.
We stopped for lunch at Krishnagiri, diverging from the highway, into the town. We reached Kavalur, going via the Alangayam town and the curved roads that followed in the hilly region. It was as exactly planned, reach by 3 pm. It is mentioned ever since in IIAP's website that on Saturdays Kavalur is open for public, and we went as public, but this may not be applicable at all times, we need permission at times. When we entered we didn't know what to do next for the 'guided tour'. After deciding to stray inside on our own, we came across some staff including Mr. Kuppuswamy (co-discoverer of Uranus' rings, and operator of 40-inch telescope) waiting for some students to arrive for National Science Day, falling on the day.
We walked towards the 2.3-metre Observatory (Asia's largest telescope) and saw a bunch of small school students gathered. This was for the public visit, and we waited our turn to enter inside. Every time you see the goliath 93-inch telescope, you cannot but awe! One of the telescope operators, Mr. Dinakaran (whom I interacted with during my last 4-night stay, but I actually didn't identify) was the guide presenting the working of the whole telescope to the crowd. The dome opened, telescope moved slowly and noisily and we kept admiring it. I was feeling very bad that I was not able to show our other members the 40-inch telescope, since it was not for public display then (the telescope I have used myself twice!) (and the same one used for Uranus' Rings discovery)
It was time, post-5 pm for us to leave for the drive back and ascent to Yelagiri Hill. The IIT Madras boys gang had already arrived there, so did our legendary friend Doctor Suresh with TANASTRO gang. We witnessed an exquisite sunset on way up the hill, and it was dark by the time we saw everyone, setting up their equipment.
There was a good collection of 'optical eyes' to peer into the Universe, segregated on two different but interconnected terraces above our cottages, one for imaging and the other for observing. Arun's 10" f/5 Meade Light Bridge, Vijaykumar's Celestron 25x100 on his custom-designed parallelogram (p-) mount, plus few other scopes along with my Oberwerk 25x100 large binocs were the primary observing equipment, and IIT-Madras' 8-inch SCT along with Doc's setup for imaging. We were, by dinner, later joined by 3 other BAS members Praveen, Parag and Keerthi who departed B'lore as late as 6 pm!! In all, you could say there were 10 members from each of the federations; IIT-M, BAS and TANASTRO...in all 30.
The night began with Doc clicking his favourite targets, Pleiades, Running Chicken Nebula, and Comet Lulin. He had wanted to attempt LMC and Tarantula Nebula. The skies this time, I confess, were BAD! Immense sky glow had taken over since we went there last; lights increasing is proportional to time. Not even Milky-Way was visibly well!
Some of us gathered together, and begun pretty late with Messiers (since it was a star party mood too, amidst the announced 'practice session' for Messier Marathon). I did a quick overview with the green astro laser, and could assure of what Messiers the newbies could observe even on the actual Marathon day. In the western evening sky, Messiers including mainly open clusters, and some scattered objects could be easy. The pre-midnight sky consisting of galaxies in Leo, UMa and Virgo could be a pretty challenging task for any newbies, pointing telescopes. Post that, again the Messiers consisting of opens and globulars in the dawn sky are also conquerable.
Akarsh and IIT gang were busy doing their mixed activities of observing and imaging, there was pretty much infused interest in both acts, by them. They imaged quite a lot of stuff, including Comet Lulin, Markarian's Chain in Virgo and Milky-Way vistas.
There was a constellation identification session by Akarsh for the major bulk of people, which surely helped everyone get oriented the sky. There was hardly anyone who retired to bed, with the bursts and surges of excitement, everyone kept awake.
Later on, I was observing on the other terrace alone with my Oberwerk 25x100 on the p-mount, remembering Messiers and star fields. I did so by memory, successfully with 14 of the 17 galaxies of the Virgo cluster! The splendor of fully-resolved Omega Centauri with the binocs were beyond captivating. The Comet Lulin with a one-degree tail, galaxies like M83, NGC 4565, M51 and many other objects showing some features, proved the prowess of the mighty 5-kilo binocs even under average skies!
By dawn, some, including Doc and IIT-gang were still as energetic as when the night began, I had slept on the terrace itself. Those awake captured the Sunrise and by now, most were dead on beds, immersed in deep slumber. Some from BAS left morning by 8 am, whereas the rest of us left by afternoon, lazing the day doing practically nothing.
It was an amazing collaboration once again, a feather-in-the-cap for the Southern star party affair. Looking forward eagerly for more such astro-festives.
Some pics clicked by Vantika are here:
Waiting for all other group and astro-pics.