Report: Star Party, Hampi.

By p6; Published 22 Dec 2007

The night of Saturday - 8th of Dec 2007 witnsessed one of the biggest BAS star parties of the year. The count of people present at the gathering numbered 37, and the atmosphere was one of unabated zeal. While the skies at Hampi turned out less exotic than the city itself owing to haze, humidity and other spoilsports, The star party however, went on at it's usual tempo.

No star party begins without telescopes, or atleast the telescope optics! While we awaited Hemant to arrive with his 12" f/4.5 mirror, We wasted no time in setting up the OTA we had carried ourselves, the day earlier. Hemant did make it shortly after, at about 7:30 in the evening and we immedeately took to the task of fixing the optics back in place. By 8PM, we were nearly done collimating the new setup and the Hardin Optical Dob with the all and new, shiny mirror was ready to go.

A majority of our audience this time around, consisted of novices, first timers and the like. The preliminaries of their acclimitazation to observational astronomy included help sighting and recognizing the primary stars of the winter sky. Constellations pointed out included Cygnus, Perseus, Cassiopeia, Orion, Canis Major, Lepus, Gemini, Auriga, Taurus, Aries, Pegasus, Andromeda and more. While Amar made it a point to explain mythical significances of each of these in greek lore, he also pointed out the importance of knowing constellations and zodiacs as to know the night sky and in finding Deep Sky Objects in and around the same.

Just about then, and much to some fresh transparency that became evident in the Perseus region, We managed to sight Comet 17/P Holmes. The comet, to a lot of us had long before, moved on into oblivion and past naked eye visibility. We were only to be contradicted altogether, as the comet's coma shone a dull, fuzzy halo bright enough to be visible to the naked eye. With binoculars, the coma appeared a behemothic 2 plus degrees in size and was a breathtaking sight. However, the comet was far too diffuse and low on surface brightness to appear anything but a halo in the 12" Dob, even in a 2Degree field on the 32mm 2" plossl. Comet Holmes was undoubtedly the sight of the night.

We retired briefly for dinner, post 9PM and returned to the scopes as soon we could gobble up the grub. Further observations continued, with objects of the like of Orion Nebula, Clusters in Gemini and Auriga, The Andromeda Galaxy, Objects in Cassiopeia, Canis Major and more. Andromeda Galaxy appeared in it's usual splendor, with it's satellite M32 providing a rather special sight. NGC 253 - The sculptor galaxy appeared in it's near usual excellence. The globular NGC 288 in it's neighborhood was another sight worthy of a mention. M79 in lepus was resolved rather easily at high magnification. Crab Nebula did not sport filaments, but was nonetheless,a great sight. Other notable objects of the night included Mars and Saturn, both of which as usual were the favourites of the crowd.

In all, the skies were by no means the most brilliant, but nonetheless provided mandatory mag 6 skies, a fairly good winter milky way, Andromeda Galaxy naked eye to most people and most importantly a near ideal arena for our scheme of things. The early streakers of the Geminid Meteor Shower (due peaking on Dec 14th) also enthralled all who were awed by the sight of shooting stars.

Past midnight, the group along side observations, indulged in discussions on various walks of astronomy. The knowledge sharing was especially informing to many in the group. At about this juncture, we retired for a brief sit-down session that included an introduction to BAS,it's motives and activities. It had been a busy day and this could've happened no earlier! We also sought feedback on the quality and usefullness of the session and we were promptly retorted with genuine reviews. Jude Pereira felt that a more comprehensive follow-up would've been ideal for all who weren't first timers. Suggestions resounded that it would've been perhaps, a good idea to have a more focussed workshop on Observational Astronomy. There were others who felt that it was better off being conducted on a lighter note. Nonetheless, the general feeling was one of satisfaction and contentment.

The time was ticking away well past late midnight-early morning, and most people decided to hit the sack at about this juncture. While the obsessively sleep deficient continued, the majority of the group took to the rooms at our hotel - Mayura Bhuvaneshwari of KSTDC.

The next morning of Sunday, the 9th of Dec included a visit to the Vijaya Vitthala and the Virupaksha temples of Hampi. We started the journey back home at about 12:30 from Hampi. Lunch was promptly devoured in large quantities at Chitradurga for we were completely famished. The group of 30 in our bus also coupled up the star party with a more unique party, with most people, voluntarily or involuntarily shaking it up to some popular tunes. We reached Bangalore at around 11PM in the night dropping off the first of our lot. Chandrashekar, the last in the line reached only at 1AM.

Earlier, on friday late evening - The group of 30 in the 32 seater vehicle had started off nearly 45 minutes behind schedule. Chandrashekar and I had managed to pick up and load the Dob Mount and OTA of the 12" only by 9:45PM. Attendees joined in, in succession through HAL, Domlur, Cubbon Road and finally Chord Road. Hemant and friends started only on saturday. Neha, Nidhi and Brijesh too made it by themselves. The drive to Kamalapur, Hampi was slow and uneventful, with our Bus driver Manju, who was especially void of sleep managing to catch a brief couple of hours of bliss at Chitradurga. We re-started to Hampi with a picturesque sunrise in the morning and reached Hampi at around 9AM. Our army promptly broke off into smaller batallions and went on a sight-seeing spree in Hampi. While the original call of action was to assemble at the Hotel no later than 5:30PM, The majority of us couldn't have enough of Hampi to return any earlier than 7:30PM! The star party raged on, right after.

A special word of thanks to Chandrashekhar, Co-organizer of the trip, who alongside me took charge of most of the logistics of the trip. Amar Sharma was as indispensible as ever to the Observation domain. Naveen's astronomy laser made life easier for us to point out constellations, in the absence of which, it would've been absurdly, ridiculously difficult with paralaxial finger pointing. Naveen had also hurled his 6" equatorial scope, the only scope apart from the 12" Dob. Naveen had also taken care of organizing our accommodation at KSTDC, Hampi. Hemant's 12" Dob was as usual, the mainstay of the the whole event and we shall refrain from thanking him for it as we really can't thank him enough. Thanks also to Rakesh, who ran promotional campaigns for the event, but couldn't make it to the trip himself due to unforeseen reasons. Last but not least, we owe a huge word of grattitude to all the participants, who not only
put up patiently with our delays but also cooperated in all regards otherwise. We shall look forward to more of their keen involvement in BAS and it's activities hereinafter.

Hampi, the world heritage site that it is, has also proved to be quite a heritage site to our group, Now having played host to two of our most succesful star parties as yet. We hope to try and make it there atleast once every year.

Some of the many picture Albums from the trip: