DRAFT for Kavalur blogpost

By admin; Published 25 Oct 2010

Wow! What an event! The star party of the night of 13th February 2010 has, for everyone -- surely for me -- etched memories in our personal lives. A respectable collaboration between
Professionals (Indian Institute of Astrophysics) and Amateurs, it was one of the best and biggest star parties in South India, at Vainu Bappu Observatory @ Kavalur -- the people, the equipment, the observations, and
moreover the prestigious location! Further, what
a way it was to romanticize with the Stars prior to Valentine's Day, for us Nature Lovers! :-)

we all would like to convey our sincere thanks to BAS member V. S. Shyam,
who served a "martyr" for the trip -- he managed to obtain permission for us
at the last moment, but unfortunately was not able to make it himself.

The youngsters from the Bangalore Astronomical Society (BAS), together with their mentors and seniors from the Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers (ABAA) joined hands with amateur astronomers from elsewhere in Karnataka, and from Tamil Nadu.

participants : Vivek, Akarsh, Naveen, Ravi Babu, Keerthi Kiran, Sunil,
Kiran, Gautham & Me from BAS [Akarsh for both BAS & IIT-Madras,
as with Keerthi for ABAA & BAS]. Veterans Dilip Kumar, Jayanth (president of ABAA) with
son Rahul, Chandrashekar, Vijay Kumar and Naveen were from ABAA.

Students from NITK, Surathkal, Cambodge & Arinjoy, Balaji & Parthasarthy from Chennai, and Mr. Sakthivel from the Coimbatore Astronomy Association also graced the occasion. The only girl in the group, Divya, a young student represented REAP (the course at B'lore J.N.Planetarium), along with 4 other boys who made it there independently. With this two
dozen-strong line-up, it's now the roll-call of the 'Windows to the
Universe' - our equipment.

Akarsh's "Monster"
17.5" f/5 Discovery, no doubt was the highlight (as is always). We had
BAS' 6" f/8 Dob, Vivek's 8" f/9, Keerthi's 8" f/9, Chandra's 8" GOTO
SCT (which unfortunately had problems setting up, and could not be
used), one 5" of Balaji. Last but not least, my 25x100 Oberwerk
binoculars (whose views I had not imagined would create such excitement that night!)

BAS'ians reached Kavalur in a booked
Tempo Traveler by 4 pm, to see Akarsh and ABAA folks who reached earlier,
already resting, and we joined the discussions, apart the exchange of
greetings in a long time. Some of us fragmented into groups and
departed for a tour of the Observatory. First stop was the 2.3-meter telescope (Asia's largest!)
which is currently under maintenance. With permission, we entered
inside to see the Goliath structure being painted, and the mirror
removed (maybe for re-alumnizing). Some of them next headed to the 1-meter telescope [acclaimed for it's Uranus' Ring discovery way back in Jan 1977; and which I too have been most fortunate to have used myself to visually locate a comet, apart other objects! :-)].

dusk, we all had decided to setup, naturally near the 6-inch visitor
telescope, since it offered the best plausible clearance from the
all-through tree and overgrowth, and there was a beautiful trimmed lawn
around this white 'roll-off-the-roof observatory',
welcoming us to settle. While setting up equipment in semi-darkness, we
all realized that the skies overhead are turning out to be one of the
most scintillating, something atypical for a place covered with clouds
like Kavalur, as seen by Akarsh and Me. The cries were soon heard, and
remarks that skies tonight will reach ~ 6.4 mag naked-eyes! With the
darkness crawling in, we could see many stars, Mars resplendent red,
and traces of broad Milky-Way.

Oh, and not to forget some of us could easily trace the orientation of Zodiacal Light,
which was seeming not different in color from the background light
pollution. However, it was very bright, rising till 70-degrees in
altitude, conical (tapering) in shape, tipped slanted in the path of Zodiac (Pisces and into Aries then); these facts confirming it was the evening Z.L.

sometime, for rest of the night, Akarsh's "monster" was
obviously thronging with a crowd, for views of Andromeda Galaxy, Orion
Nebula, M109 galaxy, and M79 globular appearing resolved. No doubt,
people were fascinated by the details they saw in it; like 2 spiral arms of M33 galaxy with the emission knot NGC 604 (a feature within the grand galaxy), both the 'Eyes' of Owl Nebula, Horse-Head Nebula barely visible and the dark lane of Cigar galaxy.

BAS 6" was being used for observing random objects like clusters,
nebulae and bright galaxies. Chandrashekar on the other-hand, was battling
with his GOTO which was refusing to setup. However, Me with Mr Dilip
and Jayanth were getting all avid to observe with my 25x100 (and I had
made up my mind this night I would use, and only use this). Everyone
kept themselves fruitfully busy, either observing or imaging.

skies were crisp until now. After everyone relished dinner, we were
little disheartened to learn of skies tending to degrade, and dew
forming on equipment! The sky background also had brightened due to
upper-atmosphere haze. This continued on till midnight, still never
damping the spirits of us well-versed-to-be-patient astronomers. We
resumed observing with all our equipment, 6-inches, 8-inches, 17-inch
and my large binocs. The skies began to improve by midnight and oscillated between good and mediocre for a while.

It is not possible to list the plethora of
objects that everyone saw, from their individual equipment in entirety.
However, here is a selection of the best:

5139) - Are there words readily available to describe this unfathomable
view, especially when your light-bucket is a Seventeen-Incher?! It
looked like one huge cotton fuzz-ball, with atleast 500-countable sugar
grains sprinkled all over, and each one resolvable! You go beyond 'oooh & aaah' when witnessing one of the numero-uno objects in the night sky!

CARINA (NGC 3372) - Well, I do not know what has overtaken me after
witnessing this one object through my binoculars mounted on a tripod. I
was shaken, stirred and rendered speechless (for sometime even more
than the above mentioned globular!). The 'oooh's & aaah's' that everyone else uttered also must have etched a visual inscription in everyone's minds.

wide-field binoculars have their command in a scene like this - a
starry-field in the blackness of background, with the expansive nebula
and it's wisps and extents really fascinating in the wide-field, giving
a contrasty view. A ditto gray-scale version of a great amateur photo!

GALAXY (M51) - Aperture power does it here. The galaxy is clearly split
into pretty faint 1 or 2 widely-spaced spiral arms. The mass-transfer
arm to it's companion galaxy is well seen, and so is the single star
below the core of M51 (also seen in pictures) faking a visual

SOMBRERO GALAXY (M104) - A 3-dimensional scape with
its central cutting dust lane, actually giving an eerie feeling, of a
distant system of trillions of suns floating out into the depths of
space! It was like the Hubble image of the object glowing in the eyepiece.

Yes, and I even managed to show the crowd a nice 9th magnitude (medium-bright) tailed comet called 81/P Wild-2, in Virgo and not far from Spica. I was on to my second comet, one in yet another outburst, 29/P Schwassmann_Wachmann-1.
After managing graciously to nail it down with my large binoculars (my
visual observing experience did prove worthwhile here, in locating the
difficult 10.5 mag fuzz) I was only waiting to have a confirmation at
it through the "monster".

As the Nature's timing of our
observing session would have it, in less than 2 minutes we had
over-head, then ground fog! In the next couple of minutes by 3 am, it
was all abruptly and forcibly over!

What could we do? Some
retired back to the rooms, some vehicles, and some of us decided to
setup a "refugee camp" right there, amidst ground-fog and dew, and
called it a night. The morning sunlight had a hard time making through
to the ground. By 7am, everyone was nearly making their way out when
the fog also started dissipating. We sat adjacent to the 6-inch
roll-off-the-roof and had a good chat, pre-breakfast. Mr Dilip was
recalling nostalgia, like of how dark the Kavalur skies were back in
1982! We ended up discussing which exotic location our next alliance
star-party in March New-Moon should be?

After breakfast, it was
time to unload the equipment, in the meanwhile of which, Akarsh and Me
had a quick meet-up with the former resident telescope-operator Mr. K. Kuppuswamy, the co-discoverer of Uranus' Rings (yes, with the same 1-metre telescope there, back in 1977)!

all done, it was time to move, and we all had to bid adieu with a heavy
heart, at the exalting experience we were blessed with.
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