An eventful trip although it only left us half-satisfied and craving for more. The weather most certainly did not hold up for us ..neither did they totally disappoint us after threatning us enroute to the location and then making a drastic transition from the no-hope ones to fairly clear ones.
18 persons in all – Pavan, Hemant, Harshad, Amar, Atul, Vinay, Murali, Manohar, Ranjit, Praveen, Sandeep, Harish, Jude, Loet, Amith, Srinivas, Krishnamurthy and Dhruvaraj made it, after we set off atleast an hour later than the stipulated departure time.
While the rest made it by bus – making relatively slow progress, Hemant, I and Mr Loet set off in his car to make arrangements at Hampi prior to the arrival of the rest of the lot. It all helped – as we did manage to survey quite a few sites and pick out the place where we would be spending the night.
While on the same, we visited the Vittala temple – off Ramanagar. The place is probably the most scenic in Hampi- with hills all around, the river tungabhadra behind it and no lights around till you can see. It’s just the perfect setup for an aesthetic photograph. Unfortunately enough, we couldn’t obtain permission to camp there… as it’s a protected monument and any permissions whatsoever to be obtained will have to be sought from the department of archeology.
In the meanwhile, the lot in the bus did reach Hampi – having lagged us by a good 3 hours or so. Light faded rapidly atop Hampi and all us bangaloreans used and adept to sodium vapour lamps all around finally got a taste of pitch darkness. The few among us who had gone out for a stroll on bikes would’ve had to grope their way back if not for assistance from hemant’s car lights.
Unfortunately enough, the clouds seemed to be anything but receeding – and more seemed to be headed our way. All we could hope for was – to have clear windows in patches through the night. We made it to our location – preparing for the worst and unloading our scopes.
While skies showed a little more promise, this bunch of people made it to Hampi to fetch dinner for all of us. No sooner had they been back – did we get a big patch of clearance.. The sky shone brightly and someone even went on to record the faintest star visible to the naked eye to be mag 6.1 ! Andromeda Galaxy was in full splendour and visible easily to dark-adapted eyes. The milky way clouds shone brightly through Cygnus, Cassiopeia and stretched as far as Perseus.
There wasn’t a moment to lose and we unloaded our scopes as soon as we could. First up for observing through Hemant’s 12″ F/4.5 Dob was Comet SWAN. The comet, has dimmed down quickly to magnitude 7 since it’s sudden upsurge to mag 4.5 late last month. Now, no longer visible to naked eyes and barely visible in Binoculars, It was no more than a fuzzy in the eyepiece of the 12″. The comet no longer sports a tail that can be picked out by naked eyes.
In the meanwhile, Praveen and I did quite a bit of photography. Handicapped without a cable release, we had to settle for the mandatory 30 sec exposures. We did manage to get fairly decent shots of the sky – with Praveen’s Nikon D50 set to max aperture and 30 secs exposure at ISO 1600.
While the others picked out Andromeda Galaxy – with it’s companions in M32 and M110 and later moved on to M27 – the dumbbell nebula. Although I was busy toying around with some tripods and cameras, It was obvious that they had been seeing quite something with the monstrous 12″s of aperture..and at high power with the O3 Nebula filter on. The dumbbell had beem quite a sight for me – even with the fairly ordinary 8″ scopes and was almost disappointed for not having a look. Anyway, Hemant reported that the “X” pattern in the dumbbell was obvious and the lobes had been easy to pick out too.. “As good as a 4-min exposed gray scale image” he said.
The next target was to pick out M57 – The Ring Nebula in Lyra, But the clouds managed to annoy us with continious interference. And we were finally cheated off a look – with the constellation being far too down the western horizon for our convinience.
After this, we moved onto what was probably the object of the night – The globular in M15. The object was just about spectacular. Evolving from a thick fuzzy object at low power to a completely resolved pack at high power. The resolution of the scope was just amazing and so was the 4.6mm nagler eyepiece. The object filled the view in the latter was downright astounding. A hubble image in the eyepiece.. ! Cant be put in any other way.
We then moved on to H and Chi Persei – the double cluster in Perseus. I had always been off the opinion that this was an object meant for wide field binoculars, but the 12″ scope proved me wrong. It was downright spectacular – at low power.. The field was just dotted with stars that numbered in the thousands for sure. The object managed to cause quite a few exclamation.
Up next was Pleiades and with the nebula filter on. Not even the widest of low power eyepieces could cover pleiades ( obviously ! ) … but the nebulosity ( Maia nebula ) was aparrent. Around this time, we did attempt NGC 7000 – the north america nebula in Cygnus, but we were probably too late.. For it was too hazy to pick our something as diffuse and low on the horizon.
Up next was the Crab Nebula – Just a shapeless speck of nebulosity at low power and the characteristic shape we see in the photographs becoming aparrent – at high power with the filter on. An unnatural and unpredictible object that Crab is, Neither was it disappointing nor was it as astounding as it’s seemed sometimes before.
Also given a glance at the same time where – the little dumbbell nebula ( M76) – probably the faintest of the lot in the messier catalogue.. But we had the aperture power and with a 12″ it was fairly easy to pick it out. Hemant – whose eyes had been photographically hypersensitive for a change…could even pick out the shape in the little dumbbell which neither amar nor I could feel.
Up next was the Sculptor galaxy – NGC 253 in Sculptor. Blame it on bad conditions, this object which’s spectacular with it’s central dustlane and characteristic elongated and edge on shape, was but a meaningless elongated patch of light. It was a pretty big disappointment.
Next focus was on the Orion nebula – M42. Not the best I’ve seen of the same, but aperture power again, the 12″ could still pick out details in the same despite the bad conditions. The O3 filter, I felt did not help the cause here. The Orion Nebula is more for the H-a filter , the latter being the prime line in the spectra of the nebula.
Being outwardly ambitious and rather stupid too, I gave a shot at B33 – The horsehead nebula.. The conditions being what they were, I had not the slightest chance of picking it out. Miscelleneous observations followed – as I picked out the couple of clusters in Auriga and Amar trained the scope on M35 in Gemini as well.
The clouds made a comeback at this point- cheating us off further views and even saturn in the morning. It was rather disappointing that we had to hit the sacks atleast a good 4 hours before we would’ve ideally preferred.. But we weren’t complaining, For it had seemed close to impossible that we might have skies as good as the ones we’ve got.. When the clouds loomed large and dark above us just 7 hours back.
The biggest disappointment was the Leonid meteor shower. True, It was supposed to be seen best in the morning, but the ones we saw in the evening weren’t even considerable in number. The lone fireball in the east and about 9 streakers was all I saw – and wasn’t justice to a meteor shower as hyped as the leonids. It seems like – the wait will only be more restless for the Geminids- which hopefully will please us better than the leonids.
And so, we woke up at 6 in the morning – for a further survey of Hampi, This after we packed up and finished the rituals of a couple of group photos. The place to visit was the Vittala temple again. Harshad, I and Praveen went up a hill amidst thorny bushes, scary creeks in between rocks and deep caves – all for a birds eye view of the vittala temple complex. We weren’t disappointed, although the others were..for we had kept them waiting for nearly an hour.
“And hence we happily headed back home forver” is how the story ends. Inflicted by the travel-back-home blues, and tired after an eventful 36 hours.. the way back home was pretty “breezy” and all about dozing off and waking up until we reached back home to bangalore. A little adieu to Mr Loet Heinemans, our friend from Netherlands who had made it the trip along with us.. after dropping him off where he was picked up.
Feedback and replies awaited from the people who made it. Certainly – it was a trip worth it for me, The only deficit being that I would’ve prefered atleast another couple of days to log a complete account of the Historical city.