Moonless night between Dec 4 and 5 at 3000 feet
- Following is a long account. Actual observation is at the end.
First Words on amastropak yahoogroup
When I first read Zain's email about Karachi peoples' plan to go to Badro Jabal (Bud-ro Jabal = big mountain. BJ for short) I felt happy for them. I thought that we people in Lahore too should go to some really dark place and do a few sessions just for ourselves.
Seed by Mr. Maroof
A few days later I got a sms from Mr. Maroof Mian. He wrote, "I'm thinking of going to Badro Jabal. Is anyone interested?" I didn't reply immediately but started thinking and a faint smile developed. Will my boss give me off for the trip as my Saturday and Sunday were work days? Not fearing the hurdles, I replied the next day, "I'm interested." Not much later Maroof Sb called and told about bad road conditions south of Sukhur. I asked him about location of BJ and he said it was a few miles south of Sehwan.
Ahsan Khursheed jumps in
Not much later Ahsan informed me that he too was interested in going and asked about train booking offices. He did some energetic running around. First Railway Headquarters then Secretariat Booking Office etc. We communicated with Zain also. He advised us not to use train, given its habit of 6 hours delay. Idea of Daewoo bus was floated and soon Ahsan bought 3 tickets (Rs 2160 each) on 1pm departure bus leaving on Friday 3rd. After some coaxing and explaining I got my leave from office.
I took Zain's request for warm clothes seriously. I Packed 2 pairs of socks, three leggings, two jackets, two caps, gloves, three layers under shirt etc. Also took two mufflers. Mom wanted me to wear jeans but I decided on Shalwar Kameez as it would hide my extra layers. I even had a mouth cover but didn't use it as I could not find it in the bag at BJ in the dark. I missed using it. I would have loved to leave on Thursday evening and make full use of my Friday leave. Mom packed some delicious food.
First one to arrive at bus stand was Maroof. When I found this out I grabbed my bags and was out. At one point I ran after a bus with my bags. The running lowered my socks at each stride. My bus overshot Daewoo and I had to walk back a third of a kilometer. I found Maroof Sb sitting there studying his book. I grabbed a drink to cool myself. Ahsan joined us soon afterwards. It was a very interesting book really which Maroof had.
Maroof Sb placed some of his telescope stuff in the cargo hold. Our seats were 28, 29, 30 or there about. Two seats on top of rear wheel bulge. We started at 1pm. Got lunch boxes containing potato chips, two biscuits and a wet towel. Then water, pepsi and 7 up were the liquids. This was repeatedly served to us throughout. Umair said that had he known earlier he would have joined us on the bus. His plane took off at 1:30 pm. When we stopped at Sahiwal he reached Karachi.
Journey to Hyderabad
The journey was smooth and uneventful. At one point the oxygen inside got low and people went to sleep or started yawning. Then air improved. At each stop we got off to straighten our legs. At Khanewal or thereabout we dug into the rations my Mom had packed. We had 15 minutes and we enjoyed the food. Before sundown I looked at the book again. After sun down the air outside got chilly and it was more bearable inside the bus. The person left of me started a conversation based on the book I was reading. He was a young Medical Doctor from Multan and going to Bahawalpur for his study at Victoria Hospital. He said he was from Urdu medium. He first saw ABC at age 11 and yet he faired well in his career. We reached Sukkur at 2:30 am. My brother was there to meet us. He gave me fresh rations. Road from Moro onwards was not good for about an hour or less. Sleep was difficult due to our cramped position. Maroof and Ahsan saw Saturn, Venus and Moon before dawn. I got an hour of sleep or more. At about 7:30 am we got off at Hyderabad. The bus was right on schedule. 18 hrs 25 min travel time was the target from start.
At Daewoo terminal Hyderabad
A shuttle van took us to Latifabad terminal where we had breakfast and waited. Ahsan went to buy return tickets from railway station. Our seats were booked, economy class, Karakoram 6 pm departure 5th. It was Rs 950 without berth, just window seats in coach ten. Zain started from Karachi at ten. Bilal arrived and we had a nice meeting with him. Then he took us to Jamshoro Gate (Railway lines) and handed us over to Zain and group at 12:30 pm. There were many people in the Karachi party there with whom we shook hands. Umair was already on his way to BJ.
Food at highway before BJ
We started off to North towards Sehwan. Aqeel, the driver of our car, had Garmin installed and it showed our progress on a map in real time. We stopped at a filling station cum hotel. Food was ordered. A train passed us. Prayers were offered in the mosque. Aqeel went off in search of CNG but returned with just petrol.
Off to BJ top
Zain was our guide and the car progressed upwards in low gears but a steady difficult gradient. The surrounding was lifeless except for bushes and short trees. We saw a motorcyclist coming down and we were surprised to see him after so much of nothingness. We passed a water tanker, then a group of people and then some goats. A sign said that deer could be hunted here. Zain had a wonderful field book with him. It contained details of each constellation and much more. We reached the top not much before sun down. We got off and climbed on to the roof top of an unfinished rest house.
The roof top
While climbing up I called out for Umair and he responded. We met Khalid Marwat Sahib, Naveed Merchant Sahib and saw scopes already set up while the sun was still not down. Obsession 18", Meade 10" SCT, two Meade 8" SCT and Orion 5" were set up. I walked around the 18" and looked at it in awe. There were two sleeping tents and lot of spare warm clothes for everyone to use. Umair and I pulled on extra layers. Khalid Sahib had Sky and Telescope Top. I felt ready to brave the chill. Only my face was unprotected.
This was an interesting activity. We all stood in a 3 to 4 m dia circle and introduced ourselves. Name, age, interest in astronomy since etc. Maroof sb was senior most, followed closely by Pakwheel creator and then either Naveed Sb or Khalid Sb. Then we dispersed and waited for darkness. Aqeel, Masroor, Adnan, Abbas, Imran .. these are some other names which I remember from the Karachi group, although I remember more faces than names. The person who went for chicken, the person who rode across Pakistan on motorcycle Suzuki 150 cc, the person who was very busy with his camera and tripod and so on.
I spotted a bino bag and thought Umair had brought them so I took them out and flung them around my neck. They were Nikon 10x50 sport with 6 degree field of vision. It was a sharp flat field. I later found that they belonged to Khalid Sb. Ahsan had brought his 10-70x50 Bushnell set on 50x all the time. Zain had his time tested lightweight 7x35. Jupiter, as expected, was the first to appear. The sunset was amazing with breathtaking orange glows. Someone pointed out Mercury and it was so bright and a few degrees above horizon. Soon stars came out and not much later, the milky-way, in all its glory, was above us. Zain pointed out the Zodiacal lights which was a distinct band of light, only slightly less bright than milky-way and coming up from the western horizon at almost 90 degrees. Cygnus, the summer triangle, Lyra. The sky was studded with stars. There was not a patch without them. Maroof Sb said that as the entire little bear was visible so it was a mag 6 sky. Chicken was served and then came tea. Khalid Sb showed me the constellation of Capricorn which took me some time to recognize but then the sofa shape was so apparent. Ecliptic, the path of Moon and planets, went right across it. I had never seen Capricorn, Aquarius or Pisces and his laser pointer showed me all of them. The head of Pisces, Aries, first point of Aaries which was somewhere in Pisces and not Aries due to Earth's precession. Persius, alpha Persius or Algol the variable with a few day period, Cassiopia, double cluster, M31 Andromeda galaxy ( 2 or 3 spirals were visible in obsession ), M33 triangulum galaxy. The square of Pegasus was filled with at least 4 or 5 stars, which is blank area from cities. This was time for intense activity all around us. Ring nebula in Lyra M57. We tried to split Double double with 8 inch but couldn't. Saw some smaller constellations around Cygnus. The milky-way, M31, double cluster, M44 all were a treat to watch through 10x50 binos. Soon Orion rose above the eastern horizon. Later I saw Sirius almost at the moment it appeared above the hills. M45 Pleiades was another favourite bino target. Saw Aldebaran and Capella come up. On laptop covered with red plastic sheet, Khalid Sb hunted Uranus and took us to it. Umair took a few 2 minute videos and showed us how to do processing. The resulting images were far far better than any one frame. Umair tried taking video from obsession but it was too difficult to bring Jupiter in view and keep it there so 8" with tracking was used. Later the same 8", which had a camera in piggy back position, took beautiful wide angle pictures of Orion with Hyades and M45. The roof was prone to slightest of vibrations even with people walking so the zoom up did not show pin point stars. We saw a few southernmost stars also, hardly a few degrees up towards south. Khalid Sb showed beautiful things in big dog. M42 M43 came alive in 18". Also saw flame nebula, faint horse head area and even saw running man through the 18". Khalid Sb said that the telrad circles are much better than any kind of finder. They were an instant hit when they came out and everyone took to them like fish to water and wondered why they were not invented earlier. Maroof Sb and Ahsan went to mosque for a little shut-eye. The chill was getting to all of us. The mosque was fairly cosy inside as it was closed up leaving no place for the chilly air to enter. From there Maroof Sb reported after a nap that the Big dipper stars looked like 1000 watt bulbs. Ahsan said that starlight came in through cracks and it looked very bright compared to interior darkness. Naveed Sb said he wanted to see galaxies, faint fuzzies. Zain, whom everyone rightly labeled a human `goto', took control of 18" and using his field book, red light from 10" autostar controller and his 7x35 which were permanently fixed around his neck, he took us on a ride of our lives. No M or NGC object was missed. Cigar galaxy, needle galaxy, pinwheel, black eye, whirlpool, somberero just to name a few of the ones we saw. Big dipper area was totally covered. Belly of Leo too. Some NGC galaxies were much brighter than M ones and Zain commented that Messier missed these easy targets. A thin edge on was so neatly and delicately split in two by dark lane it took our breath away. Then almost everyone took a nap. I looked around and so many telescopes were calling me but I went to 18", the biggest of them all. Moving it was so easy. Telrad was such a delight and took the big light bucket right to the photon source effortlessly and naturally. Maroof Sb commented later that dob or alt azi mount is naturally suited to point anywhere with greatest of ease. Sometimes one gets into a tangle with equatorial setup. I went deep inside M45. Then Zain joined me and showed me the galaxies I had missed earlier during the imaging and processing session of Umair. He showed me what I might never see again. He combed through his field book. Fuzzy after fuzzy after fuzzy we bagged. Spiral, oval, edge on, face on, tilted, double, triple, we saw them all. OMG. Then Khalid Sb woke up and looked visible refreshed and active. He attacked the Merkarian (sp) chain in Virgo and completed the chain. The way he switched positions from telrad to eyepiece was authoritative and energetic followed by deeply appreciative and admiring sounds. Naveed Sb also took turns looking and expressed deep admiration. Sometimes we kneeled, sometimes sat or stood on stool. The folding chair was nice too. Then Naveed Sb wanted globs so Zain switched gears. Vivid resolution till the core. Some globs were dim even for 18". When Saturn was up, everyone was up. In 18" it was washed out, even the rings were so bright. 4 moons were so beautifully arranged in an arc to its right. 8" did justice. The disk and rings were better visible. Cassini division was seen. All night Zain caught meteors. One was a fireball with a hiss sound. It was a flash. Venus cast shadows. Noone tried it through 18" but used 8" or amaller to view its too bright crescent. Earlier I projected Jupiter on my hand through 18" and Ahsan and myself we had fun. Foot of Gemini, cluster chain in Auriga we saw them all. Zain also saw the rosette nebula left of Orion. One glob in Big dog was odd in that it contained such a lovely planetary. He showed us ghost of Jupiter, an oval green nebula. He showed us a big globular far south through binos. The biggest. Centaurus was it? Umair said he needed photocopies of Zain in Lahore. On M45, his 35mm and Khalid Sb's 50 mm had one difference. Stars which could be seen directly in 50 were visible in averted vision in 35. Zain said that he discovered averted vision by himself on M31 and it surprised him. M31 almost filled bino field. Its baby galaxies and dust lanes were easily seen in 18". M31 was too big for 18". Half of it filled the fov. The morning Zodiacal lights were even brighter and went higher right into Leo's head and out and joined with the milky-way. At one point, when only a few stars like Big dipper and polaris for example were visible, people said that this was how Karachi night sky looked. I tried in vain to hunt for moon with 7x35 right till sunrise. Venus bravely put up a battle with the brilliant sun.