Maria Montero

Eye in the sky

Stargazing session in progress.

As the sun set, the wide open field on the outskirts of Umbroli village, located opposite Panvel in Thane, Mumbai, witnessed a number of activities. Research students Virendra Yadav, 30, and Chintamani Pai, 32, who formed Space Geeks Mumbai with their friend Ankush Bhaskar, 31, set up two telescopes each measuring five and eight inches in diameter.

As the duo prepared for the night to come, star gazing, a group of space enthusiasts were busy pitching tents, laying out mats and sleeping bags in the field. Some others alternately kept looking at their phones and the sky above them. “We have an application called the International Space Station (ISS) Detector that tells us when and where the ISS will pass over us. According to this, the ISS will pass us by at 7:33 pm and we should see it with the naked eye, “Yadav said. Minutes later, they watched in amazement as the ISS passed at a speed of 28,000 km / h.

The winter sky is clearer compared to other months of the year. Still, the group had to travel far from the city, pollution-free, to enjoy clear skies. Pointing up with powerful green lasers, Pai said, “First, I look at Mars and then I discover the location of other planets. Once you have about two planets in view, you will know where the plane of the solar system is. The orbits of the planets are more or less in the same plane. “

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The session began with a presentation on astronomy followed by the observation of planets like Saturn and Mars; some groups of stars, lunar craters, nebulae and the Andromeda galaxy. The group also learned to identify prominent constellations in the sky, such as Cassiopeia, Perseus, Orion, and Ursa Major. As the night wore on, the participants watched meteorites pass by. Saturn and its rings became visible through the telescope. The session ended in the early hours, shortly after the group discovered Venus. In December, Space Geeks Mumbai organized a camp to see the Geminid meteor showers.

Bhaskar, Yadav, and Pai completed their Masters in Physics from the University of Mumbai in 2010. For almost a decade, they have been making observations in the sky together. They even jointly studied the solar eclipse in India and China in 2009. “One team covered it from Varanasi in India and the other from Shanghai, China. For this, we created an instrument with which we could study the atmosphere of the sun, “said Pai. While Bhaskar pursued his post-doctoral studies at NASA in the US, Yadav completed his PhD in ionosphere at the Indian Institute of Geo- Magnetism Pai is pursuing her PhD in the field of magnetic nanoparticles from the University of Mumbai.

The founders of Space Geeks Mumbai believe that it is the duty of researchers to share their research. “We have had conversations in bars and corporate buildings,” Pai added. The group plans to hold larger sessions in remote areas of the country.

“Spreading misinformation on social media represents the biggest challenge for us and we believe it is our duty to rectify that,” Yadav added. During the off-season, the group continues to hold talks related to astronomy. In the last week of February, stargazing sessions were planned in Jaisalmer and Wayanad, among others, in addition to holding more talks by eminent researchers in Mumbai. “We hope to launch our own satellite one day, but we can’t reveal too many details from now on,” Pai said.