Monday, February 1, 2010

My Romance with Sun

With a great new year fun and celebration behind us the focus pretty much shifted to the great eclipse of 2010.Everything about this was unknown considering these facts:

• Last viewed in 1965, among India’s sizable population most of the generations may not even had seen or heard about a concept of annular eclipse.
• Predicted to be millennium’s longest eclipse, in short; once in 1000 years, how lucky our mankind is!
• You will see a ring of fire and not diamond ring, which you are typically taught in school.

Quite a few common interest groups, started putting up plans for what was billed as a biggest spectacle of our generation (at least for crazy amateur astronomers like us).We got head start form travel perspective when i had my close friend/Astro guru Naveen, offering to hitch a drive to Rameshwaram or Kanyakumari.

Naveen’s brand new innova

The only reason Naveen used his new Toyota Innova more prior to our journey, was to make sure his new car clocks at least first 1000Kms, so that he can get his car a first service and then hit the long highway to the tip of India. He pretty much succeeded in doing so and was told by service center that hitting top speed was no issue for his kind of Car . With a service done and a brand new car we were set for our date with sun.

Rameshwaram or Kanyakumari

Few members from BAS who had gone to rameshwaram to carry out some ground work sounded an alert that because of an impending visit of Governor and Maha Amavasya the whole town would be flooded with devotees and hence no accommodation was possible, besides our expensive equipments would probably be run over. The scare put off the Rameshwaram trip and altered our plan to target Kanyakumari.We took a last minute decision on 13th night that we will go to Kanyakumari.

Driving down to Madurai enroot Kanyakumari (450+KMS)

With Naveen assuring the other six(Me and my wife Viji,Sunil and his wife Punita, Astro Sunil and Kiran) of us that he would drive safely during night, even if everyone was asleep, we started our journey. We picked up the remaining friends at silk board and hit the highway at 11.00PM towards Madurai, with some of us sleeping on and off we continued our night journey at a decent phase. Naveen let me drive only the last 120 kms when he felt sleepy, its only after he gave me his car to drive, I told him i was driving Innova for the first time and also another important fact that, this was my first night drive on a highway. It pretty much scared all of the members in the car, but slowly as they gain confidence each one of them slept off again one by one. When Naveen fell off to sleep I broke the promise of 80kms speed limit and hit the pedal to 110 to 120kms per hour speed. It was personally fun for me and a very responsible drive considering 6 more lives were in my hand, also the beautiful night sky, I felt all alone that night, but enjoyed every moment. With quick drive we reached outskirts of Madurai at about 5.00 AM. I found a nearest petrol station we parked and put up some sleep before we could wake up an uncle in Madurai who was to host us.

We woke up the uncle and reached his house at 8:30AM, everyone freshened up and we discussed our plans to Kanyakumari, settled with a nice breakfast quickly followed by a lunch we were again set for a further 250 Kms drive to Kanyakumari.

Evening, Sunset, Night & UFO @ Kanyakumari

We reached Kanyakumari just in time to make sure that we don’t miss out the famous sunset .Having reached the famous sun set point we settled down on few rocks to unwind ourselves setting up our equipments ranging from telescope to camera.

Eclipse Hunters Group (Me, Astro Sunil, Kiran, Naveen (BAS VP), Sunil G R, Punita, Viji)

My first thought when I looked at the sea was an emotional one ,having travelled 750+kms here I was looking at a place where 3 seas meet ,a horizon that gives a sense of earth’s shape ,a tall Swami Vivekanda, and Mary. One place where you see nature, history and religion meet, it shows a unique cultural diversity of this wonderful nation called INDIA.

While Sunset put an everlasting impression on me, there were new things in store for us.

Sunset @ Kanyakumari

Just after sunset my next curiosity shifted to waiting for a night sky so that I can look out on stars and checkout on few constellations .Just in a middle of Blue and Red sky after sunset as I looked into sky, saw a bright white object having lost a geographical and analytical sense. I asked my friends if that was Venus or Jupiter. Blunt came the answer when Naveen said its neither Star nor Planet, in simple terms he said I don’t know at that time of the day neither was a planet or a star was supposed to be there at that place in the sky. We quickly pointed our telescope and cameras to check out what I was on close observation we ruled out Planet, Star, Satellite, experimental balloon and Space station.

An unidentified object had a black band and a conical shape and the bottom eventually after some time it changed its colour to red and finally disappeared into sky, the object remained mystery for all of us. We called it UFO simply because we could not account for it.
UFO @ Kanyakumari

Having gone through a strange unexplained phenomena I got my senses right and pointed my camera to the real Jupiter which was rising, I captured the moment with Sea and Mary in the background.

3 Seas, Mary & Jupiter

With time running out we had to head back to Nagercoil, one more Uncle and Aunty were to host us for a night stay , I stole few moments to shoot a clear night sky milky way which was clearly visible ,we saw Orion Nebula through our binoculars.

Night Sky @ Kanyakumari

At the risk of not sounding racist and with all due respect to my fellow Tamilians finding our night stay destination turned out to be one of the funniest experience. I had deep pain in my jaws simply because I laughed so much, I thought a little more, I would end up learning Tamil.

It so happened when we started asking for directions of a particular place, every soul we met, ended up saying “Nera po” I mean every soul said the same words, nera po, nera po. We went so much nera, that we took about an hour and half to reach the destination. Nera po became the most used word; even we started to advice the same to others. We realized later we were in a place where except Tamil no language was known. Tired we, reached our host place and hit the bed. Our next race was to get Kanyakumari back early morning before 5:30AM to catch the sun rise.

Early morning @ Kanyakumari

With everyone eager to see sunrise we got up early at 4.00 AM had a quick bath and headed to kanyakumari.The sight of devotees dipping in seas and heading to temple was one of the finest view I could sum up early morning before sun rise.

Just before Sunrise @ Kanyakumari

With the sun taking more than expected time we realized that nature denied us the exact time of sunrise still when cloud broke away we got the view of the sun that left us spell bound and speech less

Finally catching a glimpse of sunrise

With a sunrise behind us, we decided to unwind ourselves on the rocks, for a moment I forgot I was grown up and went back to childhood days pulling each other’s legs it was some great fun to remember

4 idiots a warmup before serious astrophotopraphy

Equipment calibration

Let the show begin-time for serious observation

It was time for us to have a quick breakfast and settle our equipments in time for observations, accordingly our group split into 2 groups one who wanted to reach Vivekananda rock and carry out observations, the other hold on to a solid and undisturbed place to setup telescope and cameras on a tripod.

9.45AM to 10:15AM

Naveen signals to run back to car, parked at sunset point to setup our equipment for some strange reason, we thought first touch on sun will happen at 10.15 AM, so we started our walk back from Kanyakumari Temple to avoid huge crowd we took the longest route possible, last few 100 meters Naveen literally starts running, me and my wife walked, still both of us reached the spot on time at around 10:15 AM

10:15AM to 11:14AM Equipment setup and Mylar filter

After realizing that we had about an hour to setup gears we sat down on the task to setup, 3 cameras and a telescope. We had to protect our lenses, Naveen who was carrying a Mylar filter sheet made a first move to cut them onto 4 pieces. Our effort to put filters on to our equipments showed us just how un prepared we were in a run up to the eclipse ,here we were having reached the tip of India and were above to witness an event of lifetime and in spite of all the technology enhancements we were exposed with total un preparedness. What we did over next one hour was innovation at its best, and a big thanks to my wife who showed a wonderful presence of mind to come up with innovative ideas to fix filter sheet to our cameras and telescope. What she essentially did was find a used ice cream cups, cut them and used one end to paste the filter and the other just plug to camera lens ,she used her lip gloss as a sticker initially and a car driver nearby finally gave a feviquick which finally sealed the filter. One by one all the cameras and telescopes finally had a protected eyes to them in form of filter.

The first test of my Mylar cap which my wife was holding on to my camera worked well

Mylar Filter Test
11:14 AM first contact

Our tired legs meant that we chose to relax a bit after getting our filters going; we gave a first contact a miss and aimed a little later to come with a shot which boosted my confidence to get going on the rest of the eclipse.

From this point onwards I let my camera and images do the talking,

Naveen warns and says to get ready and focus, we are almost close and failure is not an option at this stage. I freeze briefly at the moment and the gravity of the whole situation, my camera simply refuses to focus the sun rightly, my heart beat shoots up.

I let go a deep breath, a passing cloud a big one threatens to ruin a show ever further ,I close my eyes and pray to god and nature, to spare the sun for next few minutes ,as I closed my eyes I had my eyes fully moist ,I just hope I never miss this event.

As I opened my eyes the monster cloud passed by, I had few more seconds left to get my focus on my camera, once more, god seemed to have answered both of my wishes by clearing cloud and getting my camera focused. I was now on my own to shoot (my wife still holding Mylar filter on my camera lens in a hot sunlight).

Faint touch to ring of fire

Again from here on let my camera and its images do the talking

Next 10 minutes of nirvana

After this shot I was pretty much resigned to a fact that nice things in life do come to an end after all.I stopped taking further shots and started looking around on the ground.

I stopped by to take a snap to capture our own setup

Naveen came very close of burning his retina when accidently a heavy blow of wind blew the filter on the telescope to expose his eyes to magnified direct sunlight.

A curious family came visiting us and trying to learn what we were upto.

My tired legs gave away finally

                                                                             Naveen & Viji
My final thoughts

About 3 PM where things finally came to an end my mind pretty much recalled what I went through, I consider myself very lucky to have been born at this moment of my time ,I recall my facts

Kanyakumari’ s date with next annular eclipse will be 3048 I am not even sure if humanity would exist around that time, the totality lasted for a full 10min allowing an amateur like me to experiment and keep shooting with various settings on my camera ,those 10min gave me enough time to learn the art of annular photography, I was blessed, god gave me full 10min to learn from my mistakes and get it right, next time anyone wants 10min they need to wait at least 1000 years . Am I not lucky to be in right year within a span on 1000years?

I keep repeating all over again, I am privileged to look at eclipse from the southernmost tip of India and that too at a point where 3 seas meet.

I prepared to windup my equipments very well knowing I may not be around next time to witness an event of such a magnitude, would personally thank Naveen my friend and astro guru for pushing me to undertake this journey, My wife who not only accompanied me but stood there for a good 4 hours during the eclipse to hold my camera filter. Looks like she has developed an interest in astronomy.

What I also gained immensely was apart from my good friend Naveen, i found few more like minded friends in form of Sunil, Punita, Astro Sunil, and Kiran.

On our return we almost had a withdrawal syndrome of sorts when the entire group was missing each other, we now call ourselves “Eclipse Hunters Group”, and I personally hope to carry our close group to newer heights in amateur astronomy, we catch each other on chat.

Special thanks to Bharath my HR who taught me basics of photography.

BAS (Bangalore Astronomical Society) has in a sense giving a whole new meaning to my hobbies that I used to keep it for myself being explored out in the open with fellow mates.

Lastly thanks Byju who finally said me one day that I was better off to join BAS. I know you would always be there to keep my interests in science and astronomy in particular alive.

God I am sounding like I am giving a thanks giving acceptance speech at the award ceremony ……

Bye for now ……….


Kiran Tikare said...

Wonderful account of the whole event, couldn't stop recalling every moment of it :).

"Happy Palindrome day"(01022010) for the Eclipse Hunters group.


Sunil said...

What a nice trip was this :-) Even though it was for 3 days, it seemed to be like 30 days of enjoyment. Still i have not yet come out fully from this trip mood.
Nice blog Sharanu and thanks for driving safely :-))

Meenakshi said...

MY God...sharanu..the pics are absolutely breathtaking!!! I actually had goosebumps!!! I ca only imagine how humblin/fantastic that exp was for u...good one!!

Sathish Mon said...

it is absolutely amazing and there are no words to explain..
You are really lucky Sharanu to have got such a winderful oppurtunity to witness the rarest of such events and cherish the memories over and over...
It is a eery nice peice of write up with breath taking snapshots...
it is fantabulous

astrosunilnomy said...

Amazing write up, i could really feel living it again, this trip was so unusual than normal trips that i felt my weekend extended which generally seems to fly away quickly, although we were out for 3 or 4 days, i felt we were together for a week or so, you have lot of patience to recall every moment in detail. nice snaps, Kanyakumari's Sun - rising sun & setting sun & annular eclipsed sun...will miss you a lot !

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