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|Subject : KaAS's Hingol I Rutjuga (May 2010)
The Karachi Astronomers' Society calls its dark sky trips Rutjuga. This, as you probably know, is the transliteration of the Urdu word for "staying awake at night". Now, May didn't seem like the ideal time for such a trip, because transparency is usually mediocre and the cloud-cover unpredictable. Moreover, day-time temperatures can soar in the semi-desert terrain. But the forecast for a clear new Moon weekend was too much to resist, so off we went for an evaluation trip on 15 May 2010. Along the way, we found that the dry, dusty winds had obscured the roadside land formations. Naturally, we were worried about the transparency at night. Moreover, the wind was very high. Although we had been mentally prepared for it, it was still disheartening to realize that our destination was a place surrounded by cliffs in all directions that obscured large swaths of the sky. The air was dusty but dead-calm in the valley-like place. After some moments of hesitation, the owner of the 10" telescope suddenly made his mind, so we set the scope up and ran the alignment routine. Once the Goto was up and running, we slewed the scope towards Saturn. The rings' shadow on the disk was pretty obvious. The first timers were definitely excited.
A while later our host announced dinner was ready. Everyone left the field but even though I was hungry as a bear, my greed for photons took the better of me and I stayed glued to the eyepiece. After dinner was over and the guys were back in the field, someone asked: "Is it the dust getting settled or is it our eyes getting better adapted?" It was both. Now the sky began to really shine. The host told his man to prepare tea. The Milky Way was very bright and highly structured. With no artificial lights around, we were genuinely surprised at how easily we could see our surroundings. Was it really starlight? If it was, starlight must be mighty bright stuff.
Hanif bhai was busy in photography, but the rest of us lay down on a large floor mat. The constellation of Cygnus was directly overhead and the Milky Way arched from horizon to horizon. What a wonderful feeling it was, exploring the intricate dust lanes in the galactic plane, stopping here and there to pick up bejewelled clusters and chasing the sporadic meteors. The old 7X35 showed so many faint stars that familiar patterns like the Coat Hanger almost seemed to be camouflaged. Presently my eyes fell on the region near the bright star Deneb. There was the North American nebula in plain view without optical aid!
Brilliant Jupiter slowly made an appearance followed by Neptune and Uranus. I had my first telescopic look at the ice giants. Both sported pretty lively hues. Soon M31 had just cleared the cliffs too at an altitude of about 30 degrees. It was visible without optical aid using peripheral vision. Then the first signs of dawn began to appear and a while later the memorable night had become a thing of the past. It had been clear throughout. What's more, there had been no mosquitoes.
Once the sun had risen, we set off to explore the terrain. We were driving slowly on the winding dust roads near the Hingol river when Hanif bhai caught sight of a herd of about twenty ibexes. There are leopards too in the national park as well as crocodiles in the river, but we did not see any. Back on the coastal highway, we went about 25km further west to see the Kund Malir beach and the rock formations before we turned around. After having breakfast near a bridge on the river, we drove to the Chandra Gup mud volcano field before heading back to Karachi.
This was one memorable trip.
Karachi Astronomers' Society