Reaching for the Stars
Here on earth, perhaps the first toy that fascinates us as we learn to crawl, is a ball. As we grow up, the love for it grows too. Many of the outdoor games we play while growing up are ball-centric. Most of the men get hooked on to one or the other. Just think of how the world is crazy about football, rugby, basketball and cricket? Tennis, Golf, Billiards, Volleyball, Hockey, there are hundreds of them that are no less popular and one thing is common in them all- the ball. Maybe it all started with the man’s curiosity about the two celestial objects around which his life revolved, the cycle of the day, the seasons depended. He learnt about those slowly and more he learnt, more enigmatic it all became. He learnt that the earth too was a ball, one of those millions of giant balls out there in the space. We yet do not know the end, the extent to which the Brahmand spreads. Is it infinite or there is any end to it? Here on earth we feel great if we have a small patch to our name and we often hear about the deadly fights over the disputes over ownerships of small pieces left as legacy by the parents who didn’t make the Will before dying or when some people forcibly acquire the land or get it transferred to their names. We hear about the nations fighting over the disputed territories because of the differences in interpretations of the lines drawn over the maps. We fight and we fight for that what is eternal while we know that we are not. While, we know that all that we think belongs to us, doesn’t and our whole perception is upside down. In reality it is the other way round. It is us who belong to the earth than it belonging to us. Genesis 3:19 For dust you are and to dust you will return.
Taken in 1990 by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, the “pale blue dot” photo shows what our planet looks like from 4 billion miles away. Earth is the tiny speck of light indicated by the arrow and enlarged in the upper left-hand corner. The pale streak over Earth is an artifact of sunlight scattering in the camera’s optics.
Candice Hansen-Koharcheck became the first person to ever see that speck, sitting in front of a computer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California.
“I was all alone, actually, that afternoon, in my office,” she said after noticing the speck and realizing what it was.
Earth seen as a tiny speck of dust
Her office was dark. The window shades were drawn. She was searching through a database of images sent home by the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which at the time was nearly 4 billion miles away. “I knew the data was coming back,” she says, “and I wanted to see how it had turned out.”
Finally, she found it.
“It was just a little dot, about two pixels big, three pixels big,” she says. “So not very large.”
But this was the Earth — seen as no human had ever seen it before.
अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ता: शरीरिण: |
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत || 18||
Bhagwat Gita 2.18: Only the material body is perishable; the embodied soul within is indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal. Therefore, fight, O descendent of Bharat…
And dust is all that will remain and dust was from where you and me and seven billion of us living on this planet that itself appears to be a speck of dust from 4 Billion Miles away. In comparison to the giants that exist in this Cosmos, comparing earth to a speck of dust will be a kind of over rating it and if you think that 4 billion miles is a lot of distance then I would like to put it down here that in context of the size of the universe to the extent to which we have been able to gather the knowledge of, there are stars which are billions of light-years away, 4 billions of miles is not a great distance because the light can travel that distance in about six hours. So in terms of light years the distance of 4 billion miles is 0.0006804 Light Years. For the benefit of readers who haven’t studied science in high school let me add that-
Light travels at a speed of 186,000 miles (or 300,000 km) per second. This seems really fast, but objects in space are so far away that it takes a lot of time for their light to reach us. The farther an object is, the farther in the past we see it.
Our Sun is the closest star to us. It is about 93 million miles away. So, the Sun’s light takes about 8.3 minutes to reach us. This means that we always see the Sun as it was about 8.3 minutes ago and stretching it a little let me tell you that most of what we are seeing in the sky today is what that existed hundreds of thousands of years ago. What an illusion it is. No wonder, our ancestors called it “Maya”-the grand illusion is ‘Prabhu Ki Maya”
Icarus, whose official name is MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1, is the farthest individual star ever seen. It is only visible because it is being magnified by the gravity of a massive galaxy cluster, located about 5 billion light-years from Earth. That means for a ray of light originating from it if it is a sun, will take 5 billion earth years to reach us. So obviously, what we are seeing of it today is what was happening to it 5 billion years ago. We do not know even if it exists today or not. For us to know about that, we will have to wait for 5 billions years counting from today.
But while we are here, the curiosity of who we are, where from we have come, and where do we go after death has been there with us ever since, the man came on this earth. Let me call him ‘he” though so far we are not sure of that.
The oldest hominid fossil so far dug out is that of a female and it was named Lucy, though there is no reason for me to believe that the one they found was the first born on earth. The Bible says that God created Adam first and if Lucy is the fossil of the Eve then what we call as the Garden of Eden should be called the garden of Hadar in Ethiopia and we really haven’t yet found the fossil that we may claim to be that of the Eve.
I am reminded of one Bhajan our father used to sing after recitation of a few couplet from Ramayana every day. It goes like this:-
जय जय पिता परम आनन्द दाता
जगदादिकारण, मुक्ति प्रदाता
अनंत और अनादी विशेषण हैं तेरे
तू सृष्टि का स्रष्टा, तू धरता संहर्ता
Hail you father, the giver of extreme joy
The Cause of the creation and the giver of Salvation ( from this bondage of cycle of birth and death).
Limitless an Eternal are two adjectives to describe you
You are the creator of this Universe, You are the Creator and the Destroyer.
I have posted the link for the full song and I feel blessed because today, I can search for anything that I want to write about on the internet- but my father remembered them all and he would sing from his heart with a deep embedded love for the Creator.
It’s not a sudden thought of Him that has brought me to write this piece but it is a small discussion on our family group on Whatsapp, between my cousin and my son. Some days, ago we read of a celestial even of Saturn and Jupiter coming closest together than they have been in some four hundred years. Because we are now living in quite highly developed world, we get to hear about these happenings more often and since there is better equipment available in the market, people can pursue the hobbies like astronomy and astro-photography, with more keenness. I didn’t know that my cousin was so deeply in love with it until he posted these pictures. I also didn’t know that my own son was so attracted to it until they interacted on the family chat group.
When I had just joined college, I too was attracted to those mysterious worlds a yonder and I read a few books about astronomy. I could recognize a few stars and star constellations. I could recognize, the planets Venus, Mercury and Mars, but somewhere during my pursuit for an Engineering degree, my curiosity waned and my interest in those stars remained confined to my poetry. In the days when I joined Merchant Navy, the course plotting was still done by old conventional methods of taking positions of the sun and some stars and using the sextant. The Second Mate used to calculate the ship’s position using the bearings of the Sun while the Chief Mate calculated the ship’s position using the positions of the stars as bearings. It’s a common knowledge that the Pole Star got its name because the sailors in the ancient times had learnt that the position of this star remained unchanged throughout the night and throughout the year. I would say that it was remarkable observation by the sailors even before the Magnetic Compass had been invented, because out at sea, the whole sky the firmament keeps swaying like it be a giant sequinned Chunni of mother nature being swung across the horizon like a pendulum and Pole Star is not a very bright star. Moreover, depending upon the geographical location of the ship the canvas that you see above is different. But curiosity and dare together with a strong belief in God has been the driving force behind man’s insatiable desire for exploration, inventions and discoveries.
My thoughts take me back to those days when astrology developed in India or did it all come to us from the Greeks? While in China, I learned that they too follow the old almanacs based on stellar positions in the sky for knowing the auspicious and the inauspicious times before undertaking important projects and these beliefs run so deep in them that despite the national ideology being antithetically Marxist, the advice of the astrologer can’t be overlooked. In India of course as far as the Hindus are concerned, no important work is undertaken without consulting the astrologers. I do not know how close are the almanacs that the Chinese fortune tellers consult to those that are used by the Indian astrologers but all of their festivals are based on the positions of the Sun and the Moon in the Zodiac as they are with the Hindus. To think, that all these traditions, the theories about the good and evil influences of the planets sitting in the charts drawn on the basis of the birth of a person, for happiness and grief, prosperity and misfortune that will befall him as he journeys through his life on this planet may be doubted by some, but for the believer they are as close to truth about the unknown as one can get. And before chuckling at it and junking those theories about influence of celestial objects on our thinking, on life as a hogwash we must keep in mind that even for creating a fantasy, a clear picture of it has to be drawn on the canvas of the mind. Whether they are a result of pure imagination or a result of some keen observations, depends on the degree of one’s belief but they are there, true for some and blasphemous for someone else. Even if we don’t believe in all this, we can’t deny that the knowledge of the existence of the planetary bodies in the cosmos, their effect on us, was understood by our ancestors much before the scientific aids could bring to us the truth of their existence. But science is slow to catch up with the reach of the mind that can travel through the cosmos faster than light and now we know that even the speed of light is not good enough to know about the extent of this universe.
I just wanted to write a short piece to go with the pictures and the interaction my cousin and my son shared on our Whatsapp group, but short piece, What is that? I have never written a short piece. Once the thoughts start flowing through my mind they go on and on…
[5:18 AM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: 🌲☃️🌻
[5:14 PM, 12/26/2020] Tarun Bakshi: 😮 is this a real picture?
Children of my Cousin…have stars in their eyes…literally
[6:33 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: Thank you Tarun…Yes…taken at 30 times magnification through the telescope using a ZWO camera…You are looking at a glimpse of what you see through the telescope. I like to observe…do not have the time for astrophotography…it is a great hobby but requires a tremendous time commitment.
[6:40 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: A couple of pics of the Milky Way I had clicked a while back…just long exposure at high ISO…no tracking. Clicking the Milky Way is a rewarding hobby and makes you crave dark skies. Last one captures the majestic Orion Nebula and first one the incomparable Andromeda Galaxy…
[6:48 PM, 12/26/2020] Behanji Chander Kiran: Thanks for sharing ,Sonam ..a great job done 😊
[6:55 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: My pleasure Tarun and thanks again!… I got started with a simple 20 times magnification binocular (20×80)…and I was able to see Andromeda Galaxy…Orion. Nebula, Pleiades…Heart and Soul Nebula…lots of open clusters…
It is easy to fall in love with the tremendous mystery that surrounds us…
Sonam, My Cousin with his friend who introduced him to Star gazing
[7:01 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: A picture with my guru who taught me everything when it comes to backyard astronomy…here he is teaching me how to use the doublestar mount with a device that rapidly allows you to point to whatever you want observe (Nexus DSC)…If you are interested start with a good binocular…
[7:10 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: Some links to get familiar with the sky…and observe the constant dance of the starts, planets and DSOs…
[7:11 PM, 12/26/2020] Sonam Shishu Bakshi: This is a great Windows-based free software…
Hi Tarun, All you need to get started with taking pics of Milky Way is a tripod (to hold the camera still) and any camera that allows long exposure (10 to 30 seconds)… Rawtherapee is free software that is very easy to use…and it allows to easily augment any photo… You need dark skies on moonless nights with minimal or no light pollution to effectively capture the Milky Way… Photographing the Milky Way is relatively much easier compared to astrophotography, which requires telescopes, equatorial mount, tracking motors (to counter the effect of earths rotation), lots of raw data capture and processing time… I simply enjoy observing the deep sky objects (DSOs)…it is rewarding and awe inspiring…and meditative as it evokes a deep realization that the divine consciousness at the core of our being is the same that illumines all of Existence and the stars, the Sun and the planets…
Best wishes and Happy New Year / Decade to you and our lovely family!!!
Tarun- I am totally mesmerized by space and the universe. Blows my mind how they made this
That is a remarkable video showcasing the unimaginable gravity of the black hole at the center of our galaxy’s galactic center… You can look at the galactic center from Earth in the Summer months… One simple technique to find it is find the star Antares (one of the brightest stars)…and it is in its vicinity…
Note:- All videos and pictures except those taken by Sonam Bakshi are from the internet and have been shared here for the purpose of relevant discussion. I do not have any rights of them.
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