A Sky Full of Stars

A Sky Full of Stars
Amateur stargazing is a common hobby, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

An insight into the star gazing experience at Alwar Bagh in Rajasthan

Gandharv Kamala
July 31 , 2019
05 Min Read

The afterglow of a heavy shower clung to the grass, its blades glistening with dew. It had been some time since sunrise, and there was still a nip in the air. “Get close to grass and you’ll see a star”, wrote Dejan Stojanovic in The Sun Watches the Sun. While I’m not sure about the kind he was refer­ring to, I had arrived at Alwar Bagh by Aamod—a luxury retreat, and home to the second Stargate Observatory after the original in Kausani—for a date with the stars. More specifically, I wanted a glimpse of the Alpha Canis Majoris, better known as Sirius. The neighbour­ing Aravalis were guaranteed to be a spectacular backdrop.

Dressed in a white tee and blue denims, I waited past twilight for their usual appearance. But clouds played the third wheel. No star, no Sirius. Walking up to a traditional cot on the lawn—one eye on my wristwatch—I lay down for a bit, trying not to doze off. As the minute hand inched closer and closer to eight, the first star showed up. More slowly emerged, and I began trotting up the stairs to reach the ob­servatory, located on the third level of the building.

The celestial formations of the Horsehead Nebula

Atish Aman, the leading astropho­tographer at Stargate, greeted me on arrival. As he took us through the observatory’s gallery, a picture of the Horsehead Nebula caught my eye. The interstellar cocktail of dust, hydrogen and helium, with a horse’s muzzle rest­ing above maroon gas clouds, seemed a fitting source of inspiration for its ter­rifyingly fascinating Marvel namesake.

Once the customary tour was com­­plete, we made it to the telescope area. Atish came into his own here, with a lively briefing on the stratosphere, how constellations are viewed according to the hemisphere we live in, and how star alignments appear in the sky.

The Greeks were one of the first to gather a gargantuan amount of infor­mation on the stars; the poet Aratus records the world’s oldest description (from 270 BCE) of the constellations, in his poem Phaenomena. It’s evident that Hellenic society deeply vener­ated these flickering lights—demigods, mythological creatures, even the mighty Titans share their name.

Arabs were fascinated by the stars too,” said Atish suddenly, as if I’d voiced my cosmic monologue. “Ze­nith—the highest point in the celestial sphere—is derived from Arabic”. Point­ing a powerful laser towards the sky, he continued explaining: “Cassiopeia is a permanent member of the northern hemisphere, she helps us with naviga­tion. The constellation is named after the Greek queen Kassiope, whose infa­mous vanity led to her downfall.”

Moments later, he sensed the inevitable question. “Yes, Indians named some stars too, but the Greeks had crazier stories.” Before he could continue the lesson, I interrupted: “When do you think we’ll see Sirius?” I had recently learned that what we call ‘the brightest star’ is just Sirius A. There’s also Sirius B—a white dwarf that classifies the duo into a binary star system.

“Sirius A is not difficult to spot, but she takes precious time to reveal herself. As of now, the star is yet to appear” Atish replied. It was quarter to nine, and an astronomical test of my patience. “To locate Sirius, we must first line up Orion’s Belt,” said Atish. Within seconds, he drew an imaginary line with his laser across three stars. “To the left of the last star lies Sirius.”

As time went by, more stars began to appear. What had been a bare sky hours ago, was now enveloped with glittering nomads. It was only after nine that Sirius finally showed up. Checking a handheld device, Atish requested his colleague to adjust the Stargate tele­scope to certain coordi­nates. He peered through the lens for a second, before signalling that I come over.

At half past nine, my eyes finally met Sirius. Dressed in blue and white (we matched!) with flecks of purple around the edges, I was in awe at this fleeting glance of the star’s powerful radiance.

As a young boy in Salem, my quiet haven from growing pains had been the water tank atop the third floor of our house. Once the neighbours discovered my secret, it was no longer a sanctuary for stargazing—they were afraid I’d roll off and prematurely meet my maker. As I changed cities, apart­ments and skylines, it became increas­ingly difficult to recreate the starry asylum that Salem had offered. The Stargate Observatory, though, came dangerously close.

Jaigarh at Alwar Bagh by Aamod

This Stargate Observatory is situated at Alwar Bagh by Aamod in Sariska. It’s one of the best places when it comes to observing the night skies. The 8” robotic goto telescope offers views of galaxies, star clusters, planets and the moon. With prices starting from `300, the Observatory gives enthusiasts an opportunity for deep-sky observations and the moon and plan­etary watch. Stargate also organises scientific observations, astronomy and astrophotography workshops. For more: stargateindia.com.


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