Your at-home guide to the stars, planets and comets

The first telescope AM Aravind ever constructed — in Class XII — was not the first handmade one in his household. “My father had made one too, before I was even born. It still sits in my grandparents’ house in Vellore,” says the Chennai-based fanatic over the cellphone, ruing that nobody has taken a photograph of it in all these years.

“Using both the telescopes, we could see craters on the moon, Saturn’s rings, and four of the largest moons of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto). We used to note down the positions of the moons every night, to observe the changes,” he continues.

“[My father’s was] a very basic refractor telescope, with 100 centimetre focal length… And I think a four-inch diameter objective [lens]. He used PVC pipes for the body of the telescope. Initially, we had a makeshift stand, using an old chair that was lying around in the house. Later, he got a very professional-level stand made, based on specifications given by him.”

These days, the astronomically inclined household — “My mom always used to say that the reason for my interest in astronomy is because she used to read astro books and stargaze while she was pregnant” — has its eyes set on the comet Neowise. So do others round the nation, for the comet is claimed to be the brightest one seen from the Northern Hemisphere on this quarter-century. It has been seen since July 14, and might be for an additional 18 days.

 Even if Neowise eludes you, there’s a lot to look out for out of your rooftop. Says Gurugram-based astrophotographer Ajay Talwar, “Ever since the lockddown began, the skies above Gurgaon have been so clear. I captured a photograph of Venus in Taurus [the planet is supposed to be passing through Taurus constellation over July and August], and Jupiter and Saturn close to each other.” Talwar is an Indian member of TWAN (The World At Night), a world initiative to current the world via nightscapes, and seize celestial sights from international landmarks. There are additionally city-based novice astronomy golf equipment you possibly can be part of, which have been lively via the lockdown and the place longtime fans guide new minds. And then, there are Facebook teams like Astronomy and Science (over 4 lakh members), Astrophotography (74,000 members) and the Maharashtra-based Amateur Astronomy Club (over 4,000 members) to flip to as nicely.

It’s raining meteors

  • Here are the meteor showers to hold an eye fixed out for this yr
  • July 28: Aquarids bathe

So what do you want to stargaze from residence? Not a lot, if seasoned amateurs and consultants are to be believed. Says Neeraj Ladia, enterprise head of Space Chennai, an organisation that works in astronomy training, “The first thing you need, when you look up at the sky, is to know your directions. For instance, Neowise will be visible to the Northwest. You can use a compass on your phone to find it, or look at the North Star.” Besides that, he says, there are a variety of stargazing apps which use GPS to work out the place you’re standing, and point out what stars and constellations are earlier than you.

“The next step after this, is real stargazing and appreciation. I suggest you go for a binocular before a telescope, because it gives you the freedom of spanning. You can spot galaxies and nebulae with a normal, 60 millimetre hand-held binocular.” If you need to go additional nonetheless — “to see the craters of the moon, Jupiter’s bands, or Saturn’s rings, you will need a telescope with an aperture of at least five inches, and focal length of around 700 millimetre.” It will price you round ₹20,000, says Neeraj, and, “It won’t appear the way you see them in photos, of course, you have to adapt your gaze and notice, analyse.”

Resource test

  • Jayanth Murthi, senior professor at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, says there are star charts, star trail-image creators “and other tools written in python for complicated calculations” out there on-line without cost, for novices
  • If you need to simply lookup at the sky and recognise constellations, web sites of planetariums may be useful. Not simply Indian ones, but additionally ones worldwide: primarily the tourist-friendly Hayden Planetarium in New York, an 87-feet-diameter sphere that seems to float inside a glass dice.
  • American Association of Variable Star Observers, or AAVSO, is a bunch of astronomers that comply with variable stars (stars with various brightness). They have centuries-long trails of adjustments in brightness, and it’s out there on their web site
  • Planet-finding machines like Keplar have web sites the place you possibly can supply knowledge and even assist them discover extra planets (test

“There are three planets to be seen right now,” Neeraj provides, “If you go up to your terrace at 9 pm or 10 pm, you will see Jupiter and Saturn. Around midnight, you will start seeing Mars. Venus will be available in the morning sky, around 4.30 am. These four are the only naked-eye planets.”

Capture a star

Your at-home guide to the stars, planets and comets


Photographing these wonders is totally different from seeing them. “You don’t need a telescope for this, you can do it with a decent SLR or DSLR camera and lens,” says Ajay. “Focal length is the least important factor — you can use a 35, 50 or even 85 millimetre lens; I used an 8 millimetre fish eye lens to capture the entire night sky. What is most important, is composition.” In reality, Ajay might be instructing all of this on Friday, at a web-based workshop organised by Mysore Astronomical Society.

Adds Neeraj, “There are additional camera accessories, like connectors, that you can use to attach your DSLR to your telescope. The idea is to put the camera in place of the telescope’s eyepiece, so that the camera’s sensor captures the image. With T-rings and T-adaptors, your telescope basically acts as the lens for your camera. You will have to check brand compatibilities.”

It isn’t all that easy, he cautions, however with some follow, and a whole lot of endurance, you’ll be set to seize the sky.

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