Sunday, October 03, 2010

The skies above

A few days ago, NASA announced that we were going to get to see a 'Harvest Moon'. A 'Harvest Moon', comes only once every four years and a 'Super Harvest Moon' comes only once in a decade. Filled with excitement, I took out my little telescope and aimed it at our bright satellite - It took my breath away! I have seen the moon through a telescope - many times, I have even sat down observing, for hours the moon's contours and compared them with the maps I had. But till that night, I had never seen the moon so bright and so gorgeously luminous. The harvest moon revived, two of my dormant passions in a single night - that for star gazing and that for photography. The former more rewarding than the latter. 


[Image used under license agreements from - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/78/Harvest_moon.jpg]


As I sat on the floor of my balcony, blackening my peripherals and breathing evenly to calibrate my instrument, I realized just how much I loved my little telescope. At the time I'd bought it, I had just finished my 10th grade exams, and had saved that entire year's pocket money in the hopes of buying myself a telescope. Finally when the money brimmed enough, I emptied the deposits and bought myself a starter refracting telescope. With the money left, I bought myself tickets to an astronomy show at the Nehru Planetarium and as always, astronomy mesmerized me and lifted my imagination to soaring heights.  

There is something so marvelous and so magical about watching celestial objects through a telescope - that in all honesty, I can not hope to capture it in words. If you have never seen the craters of the moon, or the rings of Saturn through a telescope - I beg you to take the time out and try it - just once, it will not fail to enthrall you! 

The first time I saw our Moon through my new telescope, it was the monsoon of '98. I had camped for the better part of an hour on the sheltered stairs of our building's terrace in the hope that the rains would stop - and I would get a chance to try out my new toy. Every now and then, I ventured out into the open and impatiently gazed at the sky to check if the cloud cover was dispersing. I hadn't been able to see the Moon - except find a bright spot in the sky veiling the shiny ball. 

At last when the rains stopped, I dashed out and dried myself a patch of ground and began to set up my telescope. My sister - a covert optimist - who had been waiting for my word, had already ran up the stairs many times trying to asses the success of my experiment - and along the way - had communicated as many reprimands from my parents for staying up that late.  I tried to ignore her while focussing my line of sight on the brightest spot I could find. Every now and then an edge would appear - giving me hopes that I might be able to get a clear window in the clouds  - just long enough to fine tune my focal length and render a sharp image. 

After a few persevering minutes, the wind finally picked up and the clouds started to dart faster. Every time I got a peek at the moon, I would adjust my telescope a bit more. My sister  - realizing that I hadn't heard a word she said, sensed that I was onto something and decided to wait until I erupted with shouts of success. 

And then  - at last the skies heard my prayers and I found a clearing in the clouds - long enough to follow the moon and explore its surface. It was a crescent moon. While a full moon has its own beauty, it is the crescent moon that gives the best opportunity to see its craters.  The view through my eye piece was quite simply magnificent! I played with all the lenses available to me and finally settled on the one giving me the sharpest image. I hurriedly called my sister to take a peek. She was suitably impressed. Then, adopting a big brotherly, knowing tone, I told her to hold steady and study every crater she could feast her eyes on. "Never forget what an amazing site you are getting to see, it was that shadow on the moon that taught us that the world was round" 

The night of the Harvest Moon, I realized just how much of that passion had been eroded in the course of normal life! I had forgotten how - just a tiny glimpse of the night sky had the capacity to tell profound stories. 

A simple glimpse of the moon has the power to take us millions of years backward in time - and show us how it accumulated the craters on its face. It is also the single most practical image that can give us an appreciation of how big the earth is and it also serves to remind us that while our feet may be planted strongly on the ground - the planet on which we stand - is itself suspended in space like all other heavenly bodies we see. 


[Image used from - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a8/NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-Earthrise.jpg]

The night sky has, for thousands of years - inspired us to dream, it has compelled us to face who we are and judge our place in the Universe. It has led our ancestors to associate stellar patterns with the events of our lives. It has guided lost travelers across vast deserts to their destinations - as surely as it has guided human destiny toward science. In a world so twisted with deliberations over GOD and marred with whose GOD is right , it is actually the closest one can get to the divine. 

It reminds us just how infinitesimal we are - and how short-lived are our lives. It reminds us to be grateful for the home we are given and implores us to own our planet.  Our little blue planet, our beloved Earth, precious and fragile, beautiful and one of a kind. A marble of dream in a rather violent sky!

- Sanket

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think its the same equinox moon that I saw...we were on a casual walk by the harbor when i saw this!! it was amazingly beautiful....i only wish i could have captured a picture but neither my photography skills nor my point and shoot could do it!
-Neha

Preethi said...

lovely post.. makes me all excited to look up at the sky again! :)

aydiv said...

lovely post, I do love star gazing, makes me realize how small we are, its a humbling experience....

sometimes we do get so busy with our life that we forget what was really important to us .

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