The year 2018 ended with an awesome full night Astronomy trip to one of the best locations for Astronomy at Badro Jabal in Sindh which has Bortle 2 skies. This mountainous location was discovered by some of the founding members of Karachi Astronomers Society (KAS). Since 2010, KAS has travelled to a variety of locations including Badro Jabal, Gorakh Hills, Mirpur Sakro, Hingol, Kund Malir, Chandragup and Gharo. This trip was organized to witness the best meteor shower Geminids around its peak (when the rate of shooting stars 120 per hour) and witness COMET 4P/Wirtanen.
Throughout the night we have the whole night sky available to us with new constellations rising and giving us the perfect opportunity to explore the heavens. The night is organized into different sessions ranging from basic practical observational Astronomy sessions to Astrophysics discussions accompanied by Telescopic observation of planets, Deep Sky Objects (DSO) such as Galaxies, Nebulas and Star clusters. We get to see the stars and their stuff that was used to give birth to another star.
We headed to Badro Jabal with 50 people on 15th of December 2018 with the aim of observing Geminids meteor shower and witness a rare Comet 46P. The temperature at 3000 feet (above Sea Level) Bhadra Summit at Badro Jabal dropped below 5 degree Celsius with cold winds blowing throughout the night.
We left Karachi in early morning, had lunch and reached the venue before the Sunset. This was perhaps the best Sunset that I have ever seen in my life. As the twilight began, it started getting cold. We could also see Mars shining brightly in the twilight with first quarter Moon besides it, a truly magical sight.
Imagine, with no city lights creating any kind of pollution, the night was pitch dark with light coming from the quarter phase moon. These trips especially at such remote locations are truly once in a lifetime experience, since one gets to witness not only the most beautiful sky but also get to learn a lot about the Cosmos, just in a span of 12 hours.
Using the available sky light, we set up our telescopes and equipment, and by the time we were ready, people had started queuing up to observe the Moon. The atmosphere was clear, cloudless and the sky was ultra-transparent. The views were simply amazing as we watched the craters, the oceans on the lunar surface, the mountains like the Alpine valleys on Earth and their elongated shadows on the lunar surface. During the Introductory session, we got to witness the International Space Station passing from West to South in the sky. Just within a span of one hour, we saw 5 artificial satellites passing over Badro Jabal.
Later, we took participants to an imaginative journey from the mountains of Earth to the Moon to the Sun to the inner planets passing through Asteroid field crossing the gas giants all the way to the Kuiper’s belt, to the Oort Cloud, to our local group, and finally to the edge of our galaxy. Next, we introduced the night sky to the participants including the constellations and the objects and the movement of the sky. Dinner followed, along with coffee and tea, necessary in such a cold night.
Astronomy discussion which is a mendaorty part of our Rutjgga’s would resumed after dinner. This session include but limited to Astrophysics, the universe, and the space around us. Telescopic observation of the Deep Sky Objects such as Andromeda Galaxy, Pleiades, and Orion Nebula followed later. All the Amateur photographers would find it easy to capture these objects.
The Great Nebula in Orion is around 1400 light years away from us while Flame Nebula and horse head nebula are approximately 1500 light years away. We showed the participants these nebulas with telescope and captured them right there with our equipment. We also informed them that all these stars and nebulas are part of our spiral galaxy “The Milky Way”. However, since Milky Way is our home galaxy, we can only see some part of it from the Earth.
In summers, one can see Milky Way like shown in photo (below). This is the Sagittarius arm of Milky Way and when we get a closer look at it, we get more details and can identify lots of star clusters and nebulas
As the moon set, we could see darkness around us but the stars started shining brightly soon afterwards and in no time, the night was full of stars with Sirius shining outshining all the stars.
By the time moon was set, the constellation of Taurus was overhead and we knew where to find the comet. It was quite easy to find Comet 46P as can been seen in photo below (that greenish object).
A self-portrait with the COMET 46P (greenish object besides star cluster)
It was getting colder as the night progressed but we kept observing the galaxies including Cigar galaxy, Bodes Galaxy, Sombrero galaxy, Leo Triplet and others. The Leo Triplet (also known as the M66 Group) is a small group of galaxies about 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo. The interesting thing about this triplet is that we can observe all the three galaxies at once in one field of view in the Telescope.
Now we could see the planet Venus rising over eastern horizon shining brightly. We could not resist and pointed our telescopes towards Venus to see it in a crescent phase. Wow! What a sight! We had our last DSO remaining, Eta Carina Nebula and Omega Centauri globular star cluster. We waited for an hour for Eta Carina nebula to rise and once it did, our cameras began clicking.
This trip was one of the many educational yet fun trips that KAS has organized. These trips are arranged for the purpose of observational astronomy, photography and of course for enjoyment. Termed as Rutjagas since those who dare stay up the entire night and enjoy the night, they have been welcomed tremendously by people of various ages and interests. KAS started these public Rutjagas in 2010 by taking large groups of people outside city particularly for those who love Astronomy, photography but also those who love travelling and exploration. This one activity that KAS does among others such as seminars, Astronomy short courses, presentations in schools, colleges and universities, public outreach in parks and similar places. KAS participates every year in World Space Week and is the first club in Pakistan to take part in InOMN (International Observe the Moon Night). KAS has its dedicated website on Rutjuga at www.rutjuga.com along with its main website www.KarachiAstronomy.com. KAS has also been doing Solar Astronomy related events and has a dedicated website (www.solar.KarachiAstronomy.com) on this field of Astronomy.
Abubaker Shekhani is a Computer Scientist, Software Engineer by profession and an Amateur Astronomer and Astrophotographer. He is one of the founding members of Karachi Astronomers Society (KAS) and lead of Astronomy trips aka Rutjuga.