So there’s this pretty active astronomy club in Bangalore (BAS) that I’ve wanted to check out for almost a year now, only couldn’t because most of its activities are in North Bangalore, an area that I’ve only heard tales about, never actually set foot on. So when I found out that a star gazing session happening near my office, needed volunteers, I quickly signed up . The evening came, and though the boss gave me some last minute work, I managed to give her the slip, and started off towards the rendezvous.
In college, every once in a while I used to drag my mattress to the terrace and sleep there. I suppose it is here that my fascination with the night sky and stars began. The sight of that vast, wild expanse as I lay all alone on a large terrace with winds blowing strong and cold, always soothed my mind. And I was actually expecting to see something like this through the telescope.
So it was with sprightly steps that I landed at the appointed place and hello-ed the BAS guys present. They were busy looking through the telescopes and adjusting them. For a while, I was the life of the party, so to speak. Sure astronomers don’t really laugh too much when they meet, but hey I can tailor jokes to suit the company I’m in (I cracked one involving Pluto no longer being a planet).
It didn’t hit me right away, but chatting with them as they were setting things up, I suddenly realised that ‘volunteer’ had referred to someone with at least a slight knowledge of astronomy- I could barely make out a star from an aeroplane! As a result, the periods where the BAS people would look up at the sky rather seriously for long periods, were very awkward for me. I had no clue what they were doing, but followed suit anyway, and just to preempt any questions being popped in my direction, I asked mysterious, knowledgeable sounding ones (“Which direction is South?” and so on).
Soon however, I was spared this pretence as people began to crowd around the telescopes and the volunteers started pointing out Jupiter (the only clear celestial object on view) to them, also showing its moons and explaining a bit about its gaseous atmosphere. It was all fairly enjoyable, except I had to wait quite a while for my first view through the telescope. When I finally got my turn, I stepped close to the lens, psychedelic images of the milky way taken from space swirling in my mind. When I looked into the lens however, I was nonplussed to see just two large, bright spots, one bluish and the other cream coloured. Quickly I discovered that the blue spot was just something on my eyelash, and removing that only left something resembling this in my field of vision.
I stared on into the telescope with numb disbelief, but no cosmic revelation came. Slowly I stepped back and pushed my way out of the crowd pressing in for a glimpse. But even before I recovered from the shock, a man who’d just had his view came up to me to for explanations, assuming (er correctly) that I was a volunteer.
RandomMan: So waat is this?
Me: (Slowly recovering) Jupiter
RM: hmm… what are its features?
Me: (wtf?! Its not a digi cam dude!) er.. nothing, you can see 3 of its moons through the telescope… (not even sure if that answers the question!)
RM: How far it is from earth?
RM: How many kilometers?
Me: Um, not in kilometers, there’s this unit called lightyears…
RM: (No longer interested in the answer) We can live therea?
Me: No! Its fully gassy.. not to mention the temperature is not right, plus it doesn’t have water.
RM: (Suddenly shifts to a conspiratorial whisper ) This news of water on the moon… its correcta?
Me: (Er, yeah, ask me like I sent an independent probe to verify it) Yes it is
RM: So we can live on the moona?
Me: (Ok this guy obviously has major problems he has to get away from). No we can’t..
RM: (stoutly) But it has water..
Me: Can’t live there.. sorry..
RM: (Looks wistfully at the night sky) Even not now, later they find some place to live… (and with these words of wisdom, he finally walked away)
By that point, I’d learnt most of the things people asked related to Jupiter, so I answered a few people’s queries, and despite the initial disappointment of being able to see just a random point of light on the telescope, I began to enjoy the whole experience. By looking at it harder, I could actually notice a couple of bands on Jupiter (formed by its ‘clouds’), and also managed to spot its third moon (everyone could see three, but I could find just the two, and for a while had to pretend that I could see all three).
We had set up the telescopes at an unused bus shelter, not far from a busy main road. So when there was a fair crowd, a passing police patrol stopped and asked what we were doing. The cop was a hefty guy, who seemed pretty pissed (never a good combination) about the crowd spilling over onto the road, so we were sure he’d ask us to clear out. When we told him about the astronomy thing, he seemed surprised and asked who it was for.
Everyone, we told him, and were pleasantly surprised when the burly copper, hummed and hawed a little before asking if he could take a look through the telescope too! Laughing (not to his face), we obliged, and the guy was so fascinated, his poor junior had to remind him multiple times that they had ‘urgent work’! Heh, like I said, not a bad night in the end…