I can say that this was one of my most and very memorable days in astronomy, as it was the beginning, I had just started using a telescope on my own for sky-observations. This day was also the one that I made my first observing log of objects, of some kind.
I was new into observing with only around 6 months of experience, having used my friend Sathya’s 6″ f/9 dobsonian telescope and learnt to find objects all on my own. (This was from my light-polluted house terrace and not from a dark place!!) So as a result observing was restricted only to Messier objects, objects usually from which beginners learn observing. These were the nostalgic days which will never repeat. How much ever your present or future is successful and you blissfully enjoy it, the emotions and memories of the past will always overpower it, as they are your first steps into astronomy and you view the Universe from a different perspective. This is at least the case with me, such are the memories that they can even bring tears in my eyes!! They leave an ever-lasting imprint on your mind. That means the first days of astronomy will always be the most important to me even though how much ever I enjoy now in the present. And that too our observing site was in a jungle area, so it was a double treat by Mother Nature showered upon me, the darkest skies in mystic surroundings!!
As a result of just having started observing, I didn’t have a big group of people who could accompany for observing with me. It was usually only one or two. As a result, this time it was Sathya, the owner of the telescope and another friend named Vinay who was in contact with us only for some time then. And our site was a new site, not our usual one in South Bangalore, Sivanhalli. This time it was on Mysore Road around 20 km before Bidadi town. It was a diversion of around a kilometer or two from the main road, the main road could even be seen from the place. It was mainly an open area with a tarred road. The skies were fantastic here inspite of being quite close to the main road and being not very far from Bangalore city. For a few months until lights began increasing and the sky began to be redder in color, we used this site apart from our regular southern spot, Sivanhalli, 12 km from Bannerghatta National Park, which was a true paradise!!
We arrived to our Mysore Road spot in Vinay’s car. We setup our telescope at the spot. For me at the time, seeing any deep-sky object except Andromeda galaxy (M31), Orion Nebula (M42) and Pleiades cluster (M45) was a feat of achievement, as I wasn’t an expert in observing. We observed the bright M13 globular in Hercules which was setting and that too in slightly red city lights, the road was to the west of our site. We must have seen the small M57 (Ring Nebula) and the tiny M56 globular nearby, both in constellation of Lyra. That was the time when I focused mainly on open clusters including the Double Cluster and other Messier objects, as they were targets for beginners. The Northern Milky Way was at it’s glory!! Also we must have seen few bright Sagittarius globulars. I’ve made this observing report out of my memory after 2.5 years (in June 2006), so I don’t recollect exactly what we saw except for some special events/moments. I had got a printout of an observing log from somewhere on the internet and distributed it to both the observers with me. It just listed the Messier objects with some space ahead of each to fill in your description. Sathya and Vinay had to be persuaded to fill it, as you will have to do it to someone who’s quite lethargic when not so interested in something. But the 3 of us recorded our descriptions of the objects, the way each individual observed it. Some of the list of Messier objects spotted that day is here, to me it was a great thing then, for a beginner doing it on his own:
M77, M31, M110, M52, M103, M45, M42, M43, M38, M36, M37, M41, M57, M56, M29, M39, M27, M71, M17, M22, M15, M30.
This was the first time I focused to one of the brightest objects I had seen, M27 (Dumbbell Planetary Nebula)…and what an insatiable view it was !! No eye could have missed it, the brightness of it was just superb. The first words to, by default come out of my mouth were something like “Oh My God !! Oh My God !!” and probably I uttered it around 10-15 times continuously for some time!! On the contrary, this was also the first time I saw the faintest object for that time, NGC 246 planetary nebula in Cetus. This was at the extreme limit of visibility for an untrained eye, and I just felt that something is there after staring for long. It was a time for two opposite sightings, one of a bright nebula and the other of a very faint one.
We had english music going on in the car’s radio and you know, music under a dark sky has a magical effect on you, and that too if you’ve just begun doing something new which’s enchanting. Music of any language it doesn’t matter, it’s just the sound of music which’s important. But this time it was english and the rhythm just perfectly matched the scenario and time, all through over-night. Especially the music by the band Enigma was as if just created for the night-sky, it nearly used to teleport me to a different dimension through space!!
Currently I’ll boast about myself as being the biggest comet maniac ever!! I’ll always remember that day for a special event never to be missed. Periodic comet 2/P Encke has the shortest orbit of any comet discovered until now at 3.3 years. So this time it returned and was around. It was to pass 2 degrees close to Andromeda Galaxy. Now I had never observed a comet in my life before and had no idea how they looked, how much was 2 degrees and where to look for, I blindly attempted it for some time. I had never observed even the companions of M31 galaxy, so I was very doubtful of finding it. However viewing it would have been a blessing. And to top all the problems, this was a very diffuse comet to see visually, as revealed by photos later. There was just no way that except in dreams and imagination I could have ever spotted that with an untrained eye. Some days after this event, the comet was even reported to be split into few pieces due to internal pressures. (Sky&Telescope magazine covered an article sometime then about viewing it and it’s breaking up) The 2003 return was the comet’s 60th observed return. (Source : cometography.com) It was maybe quite a bright object for it’s 2003 return, around 8th magnitude on that day. A fantastic visual and photographic event lost :(( We returned back at early dawn (probably before 4 am) long before sunrise and after fog started growing in. I was tired and fell asleep on the way back in the car. When I got up mid-way Vinay was still riding the car back home and I could see Sathya dancing and humming to the beautiful song by Backstreet Boys “Larger than Life“. It really kicked the sleep out of me. And dogs at late nights patrolling the roads too got a kick of energy and danced their way around, doing what they do best; chasing the vehicle 😉
The earliest moments from 2003 until before 2005 are forever etched in my memory compared even to the present memorable observing sessions, and if possible, I will rather jump back to time and stay there forever and get lost, among those first enchanting days….The past just ROCKS 😡