Rtr. Ishaaq Ahamed writes on “Star Seekers”, a night sky observation camp organized under Grama Prabodhaya, from the perspective of a student who witnessed the event.
The Ayyalas and Akkilas from Colombo have been hyping us on this for a long time now and we just couldn’t wait till the 20th of February dusked. At around 6 pm, they began to arrive at Nochchiyagama with all sorts of eerie equipment. Although they had been traveling for more than 8 hours, they showed no signs of exhaustion. They bustled about setting up the equipment and attending to other necessities. In the meantime, I turned around and craned my neck; the hall was filled with more than 400 children and more were pouring in. I also observed rows of parents and teachers busy at the back as they brought in stocks of meals and refreshments for the night.
Within a few minutes, everything was ready and we were set to begin. The program began with introductory lectures. Although this was new for the little ones, being in Grade 10 I was already familiar with many of these. However, that’s not to mean I didn’t learn anything new; they did relate quite interesting stuff on the history of astronomy like the way the sailors used constellations to navigate their ships through the seas. With my stomach rumbling, I was thankful that dinner was promptly served at 9 pm and was grateful for getting a seat next to one of the Ayyas in the Organizing Committee. I learned in conversation that they were from the Nalanda College Astronomical Society and they were working in collaboration with Rotaract Mora in bringing us this magical night. Having finished our meal, he showed me the eight telescopes they had brought with them. He went on to elaborate that each of them was set in different positions to give different views of the night sky.
With that, it was time for our next session – deep sky observation. Of course, as a young village boy, the night sky was nothing new to me. Or so I thought until I peered through that telescope for the first time. What I saw there was mesmerizing… mesmerizing beyond any words the human mind could possibly invent. I saw all sorts of weird star patterns, twisted galaxies, colorful ‘nebulas’, speeding comets and a dozen other things I could not possibly name. However, I did manage to recognize a few constellations from my school lessons. In fact, I would have been happy to sit there all my life and gaze at these mysteries of Nature. Unfortunately, my time was up and the next in line took my place at the telescope.
Once everyone had their turn, we had a sort of fun activity to freshen things up and this was followed by a couple more lectures. The Ayyas explained all the peculiar stuff we observed through the telescopes including the constellations. Some of it were a little above my head but still, I managed to grasp most of what they said. This lasted for more than 2 hours and as soon as things started to get a little boring, they came up with another activity to revive the crowd. Subsequently, we had one final lecture on the origin of the Universe and then it was time for our next big program on the agenda – planetary observation.
This time we focused our attention on the planets instead. With the sky being quite clear we were lucky enough to observe Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Squinting a little, I even managed to distinguish something which I assume was one of the many moons of Jupiter. Unluckily, my time was again up sooner than I hoped for and I had to move aside. Fortunately, the Ayya I had spoken with during dinner was free at the moment and I had the opportunity to clarify on something called the ‘White Hole’ which I came across recently.
By the time it was 5.30 am, dawn was beginning to spring and we were forced to round off for the night. As the last event, they showed us how to make our own ‘Water Rockets’. These can be made using a bicycle pump, a plastic soft drink bottle, and a few other household instruments. The gist is that the compressed air pumped in, forces the water out of the bottle at a high thrust causing the bottle to propel upwards. But I won’t be boring you with the technical details. We, especially the little ones, had great fun making and seeing them rocket up. Afterwards, exhausted but happy we all returned home. A wash and a nap later, I decided to take up this task of trying to pen all my experiences of last night into paper.
As Eden Phillpotts says, “The Universe is full of magical things waiting for our wits to grow sharper”.