Amidst clouds that tried their best to make the first International Sidwalk Astronomy Night 2007 as dark and gloomy as it could possibly get, Hundreds of visitors at Gauruda Mall, Brigade Road, Bangalore got peeks at their favourite ringed planet on saturday, 19th May 2007.
The venue itself remained volatile until the last minute, we managed to obtain the neccesary permissions to set things up from the mall authorities at around 5PM. Earlier we'd changed minds from having multiple locations unto one centralised one in the wake of unforseen hassles. We however had sought individuals with telescopes to put them up for the public wherever they were.
Our equipment included two 6" equatorials, a 5" Meade alt-azimuth and a 12" f/4.5 Dob. BAS Volunteers included Hemant, Vinay Kumar, Varatharajan, Amar, Naveen, Vasudev and I ably aided with support from Jaya, Guru and others. The event started at around 7PM owing to poor sky conditions and the lethargy inducing effect of the same. The cloud cover loomed thick and dark over the whole sky and any respite seemed hopeless. Not a single star was visible in the sky and neither was the crescent moon that shone bright enough to be picked out in daylight just a couple of hours back.
We however, hauled the 12" Dob and the 5" Meade with all hopes centered on a miracle. We however, dint seem to be getting any for things remained much the same and on the contrary tended getting worse. All telescopes were henceforth played around with, being pointed at random terrestrial objects of the like of advertising hoardings around the mall. Much as we managed to achieve nothing but align the finderscopes with these excercises, the public who were as usaul intrigued by the lot of paraphernalia sought turns at the eyepiece and managed to appreciate whatever modest sights that were on offer. This time, normally spent dedicated to handling queues at most times was now being utilised to answer questions put forth on the telescopes, the purpose of the event, etc.
At about this juncture, the clouds gave away for a second but the skies remained enveloped with thick haze. Nonetheless, a dull saturn shone through and both the telescopes on duty were promptly trained on the ringed planet. While this lasted not too long, atleast to the naked eye, The telescopes managed to keep saturn in view for a quite a time to come. The queues gathered strength immideately and the buzz of being at a public event seemed as ambient as ever. The planet appeared a tiny circular disc hardly separated from it's ring system in the 5" (at low power though), the 12" Dob on a 9mm eyepiece produced a crisp image of the planet with Cassini Division resolved. The queues only grew longer at the Dob whilst we heard the usaul exclamations expected by first time lookers. The fact that the 12" aperture (with a good eyepiece nonetheless) could actually resolve the cassini division despite the fact that the planet was as badly obscured by haze thick enough to put it out of naked eye visibility seemed intriguing.
Saturn remained the sole object for the night for we weren't lucky enough to have even a glimpse of the crescent moon since the evening. The skies otherwise seemed worse and saturn was perhaps the only star-like object that actually popped in for the naked eye observer although very seldom at that. The 12" seemed the only possible resort to the horrible conditions prevailing and was still able to produce an image of saturn sheerly by it's aperture size. The 5" was in this regard, not big enough and had to be decommissioned from service for the night as repeated attempts to find the planet invisible to both the naked eye and the 7X30 finder met with failure.
By then, the clock had ticked to about 9PM in the night on saturday and the skies seemed to take a turn for the worse. However, the turnout we estimate through the last couple of hours had been atleast 500 individuals at the eyepiece, most of who thoroughly enjoyed the sights they got. We too, were wholly and heartily satisfied with the turnout and response on a day that promised not too much for an astronomy night.
As we got to doing the packing up, We had a surprise visitor who was none other than Dr. Suresh Mohan from Chennai. The meeting was a complete coincidence for neither of us could imagine bumping into each other at a place so random as a shopping mall. It was a wonderful surprise and the next few minutes passed with talking to Dr Suresh and family. We wish him luck for more astrophotographic exploits when he heads back home.
The event - as always, concluded with the tracherously strenous task of hauling the equipment back into the cars and we went about it especially sulkily. We bid adieu to the Garuda Mall premises at around 10 PM.
ISAN 2007 has been a memorable experience for us so far as the response it generated goes and against all odds of the weather at that. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Donna Smith who did the tremendously tough job of coordinating the event on a global scale ever so efficiently. We hope the first International Sidewalk Astronomy Night has similar success stories of the like of ours from places everywhere else. We hope this is amongst the first rites of establishing sidewalk-astronomy cults worldwide and celebrating the spirit of astronomy.