Messier Marathon 2009

Every year towards the end of March, amateur astronomers around the world participate in what is known as the Messier Marathon. The idea is to watch and catalog the maximum number of Messier Catalog objects in one night as possible. 

Hartmut Frommert and Christine Kronberg have been maintaining the SEDS Messier Marathon pages. [Disclaimer: I am the founder and President for SEDS in India]. The Marathon can be called one of the few astronomy related sports and from all the reports that you read on the astronomy mailing lists you can only fathom the joy that you get from doing this Marathon with a difference.

Now a days, people have also been adding to the mix, the spotting of Planets of the Solar System on the same night. This is said to have a challenging effect on the contestants involved. This year, I hope to make a first attempt at the Marathon. I hope you do too.

Here are some SEDS resources to help you and wishing you good luck for the Marathon!

  1. Messier Marathon Homepage
  2. Messier Marathon Results page [you can also contribute your results here – veteran or amateur]
  3. Messier Catalog
  4. Messier Blog

This post has been posted after a kick from a recent Messier blog posting.

An Opportunity to spread Renewable Energy

Today, students in the state of Maharashtra go in for their HSC exams. This is the higher secondary examination whose percentage along with the Common Entrance Test which plays a contribution to a student’s admission into a college of their choice. Newspapers reported that many of the students would have to face trouble because the examination centres at many of the places reportedly don’t have electricity because of the deficit that the state of Maharashtra faced.

While it is easy to sit down and criticise the Government for the lack of planning and implementation of its energy programme, it’s the case of no use of crying over spilt milk. It is now essential to look at stop gap solutions in the interim so that students don’t face trouble and do not curse everyone for their failed future.

I see a possible role for new and renewable energy sources here – one that will also have a long term impact on the next generation of Indians that would probably take India faster on the Renewable Energy track. With a little bit of initiative, schools could have easily collaborated with government agencies like IREDA or MEDA and corporates like Suzlon to install on campus solar or wind energy systems which deliver sufficient power to run fans in school compounds. Better school design would have assured proper ventilation and natural light for writing purposes. Even if that is not possible, meeting the lighting and cooling requirements of a school could easily have been met by a small renewable energy plant. 

This not only would fix the problem for students but would also be a problem that the Government can solve with a longer term solution than with short term fixes. Corporate houses can easily benefit in terms of CSR as well as recognition among students who can spread the word on their work much faster than any ad or PR agency. This will also spread word on programmes and financing made available by IREDA and MEDA.  Also, just think about how dedicated students will be towards renewable energy which helped them write their exam like any other centre in the State. Since this is a win/win for all concerned, I do not understand why this hasn’t been implemented in schools and colleges. Hopefully it will be – next year if not this year!

ISRO/ASI Conference on Low Cost Planetary Missions Conference

The 8th Low Cost Planetary Missions Conference (LCPM8) will be held in Goa, India between August 31, 2009 and September 4, 2009.The Conference is held by the Astronautical Society of India (ASI) with the support of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on behalf of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

The programme of the conference includes: 

  1. Low Cost Planetary Missions: Science, Perspective and Challenges
  2. National and Joint International Programmes in Planetary Exploration
  3. Reduction and optimisation of the cost of Planetary Missions
  4. Recent Low Cost Planetary Missions
  5. New Results and Discoveries in the field of Planetary Exploration
  6. Low Cost Missions currently in Definition or Development Phase
  7. Science Instruments for Low Cost Missions
  8. Utilisation of existing Mini Satellite buses for Planetary Exploration
  9. Advanced Technologies for Future Low Cost Missions
  10. Advanced Concepts for future Low Cost Solar Exploration missions

Here is the first announcement of opportunity to participate [PDF] in the conference.

The contact person for pre-registration is Dr. D Gowrisankar: lcpm2009@isro.gov.in.

For further details on the conference:

  1. Dr. J N Goswami – director@prl.res.in
  2. Dr. M Y S Prasad – mys@shar.gov.in

Hope you can enjoy Goa and participate in this conference!

Purpose of life

This blog post was originally posted on https://pradx.org/blog and was retrieved from the Wayback Machine here.

The purpose of my life is to harmonise Man and Nature.

Well, said like that it sounds pretty lame, eh? But, believe me or not, that statement took 5.5 years to put together. This is a pretty long post and if you want to miss it, feel free to. You would not be missing anything huge. Just some personal stuff.

I think writing this without a full fledged 5.5 year explanation would be leaving it in the air for the reader. So, here it is. Have a pitcher of water by all means. Settle down and start reading.

I was 18 when I started what can be called “The Pradx Project” with the aim of making me an athletic scholar. The name was inspired by the “Blair Witch Project”. The aim here was not to hunt down the Blair Witch, but to hunt down my inner most self and making it to do something – help me become an athletic scholar. 5.5 years down, I’m still fat and pretty a poor front benching student. 5.5 years down the line, one thing is pretty simple – The Pradx Project isn’t successful. There was one part of the project that worked pretty well – reading and writing. The writing section spewed many of the blog posts you read here (now you know why it’s pradx). The reading section was also a great trip starting out with Wodehouse and ending up with some pretty strong stuff.

Take a sip, relax.

Basically, Pradx Project was a self improvement project started by a simple half witted 18 year old. It did some cool things to me that I’m still committed to – reading, writing, SEDS, environment and education. But it ended up doing everything except improving me. The reason for this came to me like it always does during exams in December, 2008 – procrastination. In February 2009, I still have not gotten rid of that demon – procrastination. But, I’ve got lots of stuff in my brain (material) that I can now use in a variety of ways to help me and that way I think the 5.5 years is well spent.

I’m giving you some hope now. Relax. Want to take a sip?

Mom started me on this first. Push. Without starting there is nothing to work on. So, I started to get some very little work done from a sense of total procrastination. If you understand mechanical engineering, this was friction to the motion of the car of procrastination. The breaks have not been applied yet – the foot is going there towards the pedal. Reading and writing were the first agents that provided this friction from a sense of total procrastination. And perhaps, college. So, things look pretty gloomy right now, yeah? Well, its pretty hard to increase this friction without taking the foot and applying the brakes on procrastination and getting to work. This happened in a simple Tweet that Kirk sent me – (to paraphrase) no system would teach you discipline.

Now, drink a long gulp, the next paragraph is going to get long…

Discipline is a sore thumb for me. Krishnamurti and Osho got me worked up on how discipline was wreaking havoc on life. That thought process got on far enough to make me believe that discipline was a bad guy. But, then slowly I began to look at discipline that was being talked about in these lines and realised that they made more sense on external discipline – applied by some external agent (parents, peers, systems, God etc) and not a sense of internal discipline and planning that comes from within. Look at that internal discipline which gets automatically applied in any situation that helps you think it out, relax etc and you see that discipline was not such a bad nut you made him out to be after all. In fact, this ounce of discipline if applied at the beginning of the 5.5 years would have probably changed the 5.5 years entirely. Wow, cool discovery. Nudge it a little more and I found that this system (as spoken of in Zen etc) was already existent in me and I only had to be more aware of it and it automatically adjusted and worked for me. As Ray Bradbury puts it, you only have to get out of the way. Everyone was getting along really well until the I came in between.

Phew. Now, with all of that out of the way let’s get back to the Purpose of Life statement. Yeah, its only starting now.

This whole decade has been one of slowly rising environmental awareness. We’re looking at Nature and acknowledging that we’re not being fair on the Man-Nature relationships. We ought to give more to Nature than we’re taking from it. On the other hand, we’re also constantly improving Man to make him more biologically strong to work on the scarce environment. Hence, we’re working on both Man and Nature and the relationship is created by Engineering. If you have a trouble with that statement, sorry I’m not ready to debate it cause I already spent nearly five years on it and I’m moving on. Spend 5 years and think about it.

The harmonisation of Man-Nature relationship helps me to be fit, to be athletic, to be studious, to be funny, to be a good parent (I’m not yet married – darn I don’t even have a girlfriend yet – applications invitedfor the post of girlfriend), to be a scientist, to be a researcher or even to be a sportsperson. Again, think about it for 5 hours before commenting – I took 5.5 years. The idea is to optimise both Man and Nature as much as possible and when it reaches its optimum to jump to the next planet.

Outer Space provides this huge laboratory to check out Nature which you can look at through a microscope or through a telescope. Since, I really can’t stand up to long names, I prefer to look through telescopes than microscopes. Does that explain my interest in astronomy. A new love is radio astronomy where I hear the heartbeat of the Universe (a whole new world!). So, that’s how I’m checking out Nature.

Energy is a simple and temporary hack for minimising the use of resources created for us by Nature. Think about it.

Primary Education is a way to work on the Man. It’s the best place to work on the future batch of Man-Nature harmonisers, isn’t it?

The Adventurous Untour

I was thinking of doing an untour for a very long time and finally got a chance to do it between January 4 and January 16 2009. This was perhaps the most unorganised trip that I have ever taken. A step ahead of what I did this time could possibly be a group untour where the group decided where to go together. That would be really cool to do. And, cooler still would be if the group is a bunch of strangers! Any takers? This would really amplify the concept of an untour.

Anyway, only two things became certain about four days before the trip. The starting date was to be January 4 and was to be a train to Secunderabad. The last date was to be January 14 and was to be the train back to Mumbai. With these boundaries set, I set out to Secunderabad on January 4. I decided not to push my luck too much and agreed to stay with relatives and friends during the duration of the tour – money saved, parents happy. :)

The train to Secunderabad took me on a  journey via Aurangabad. After Secunderabad, I hung out with Raghunandan in Hyderabad and had a glimpse into his hectic life. It is perhaps the most unorganised life that I have seen anyone lead. I went on a day long Hyderabad tour on a bus, the idea was to have an idea to say something that I did during this trip other than talk about and discuss about space – a sore point with my parents earlier and something I don’t bring up too often now. Anyway, I got a sub-10-degree-celsius-night sky observation junkett thanks to Raghunandan’s friends – Vaibhav and Partha on their cool 8-inch reflector scope. This was perhaps the highlight of the Hyderabad chapter of my trip.

I then moved onto Vellore on a private bus (Kesineni, for the details people). Got down at Vellore in the early morning and moved into a TNSTC bus to Katpadi. From there I took a rickshaw to Vellore Institute of Technology. I spent three days there meeting the teams that work to run the SEDS chapter there(disclosure: I’m the President of SEDS, India), caught the updates on the conference and perhaps for the first time met three members of my Exec Comm face to face. It was a great experience none the less. Here too, thanks to a guy, I found out about a direct bus from Vellore to Trivandrum. We went out and booked a ticket for the 741 kms to Trivandrum.

This part of the journey was largely spoiled by the fact that my stomach was upset with me. For perhaps the first time, I sat with out eating anything solid for about 24 hours. I broke that fast with a good lunch in the afternoon – home cooked food at Varkala. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. I came to Trivandrum Central and saw the famous Baker-style Indian Coffee House. I didn’t take a pic because my stomach was urging me to get home quickly. I took a bus from there to Varkala and covered the 41 kms distance.

A small side adventure on the way back to Mumbai on the large 2048 kms journey back home. I had a small tweetup with @kg86, who’s with the Navy and who rode all the way from his base at Willingdon Island, Cochin to Ernakulam Stn as I passed through. Thank you, man, it was awesome meeting you there.

The most important point of this untour was whether this is possible in India or not. If you’re adventurous enough, anything is possible. I really hope someone tries an all strangers untour of some region of India as suggested in the first paragraph and share their experiences on a blog.

Mumbai Science Tweetup #1

I missed out on posting things asap in January, so trying to cover some lost ground here. This is mostly from memory, so there are bound to be some errors.

A Tweetup is an offline meetup of people who use the service called Twitter, generally organised and publicised on the same service. It is open to everyone using the service. A Science Tweetup is an offline meetup of people who tweet about science or are generally passionate about science and technology. Rather than having the tweetup at a restaraunt or a coffee joint, I thought a science tweetup which is in the scene makes more sense than having tweetups in restaraunts. Thus the  idea of holding the first Mumbai Science Tweetup at the Nehru Science Centre occured and was accordingly held on January 3, 2009.

Having the venue at Nehru Science Centre has it’s short comings. While the Planetarium is too famous, the Science Centre is not that well known. The Science Centre is located about 2-3 odd kms from Worli Naka on the route to the Mahalaxmi Railway Station. The Centre was under renovation for sometime but has come out of it with some pretty cool exhibits and experiments. The idea of the Centre is to allow the general public to understand science not through theory or vague mathematical equations, but actually experimenting with what’s happening and giving a simple description of the same in English and Hindi.

Only two of (@pradx and @deltarx) us turned up for the first tweetup, which is not bad and is much better than a one person tweetup. All that matters is that both of us love and are passionate about science and we had a thoroughly wonderful experience at the Center. I really hope more people join us in the future perhaps after reading this. A big mistake that I made was not to charge up my mobile phone before getting to the Center, which essentially meant that I didn’t get many of the photographs that I thought I would. Well, I can always go back there on a later date :).

The major attraction of this tweetup was to be the newly opened dome theatre at the Center. The theatre is really cool, surrounded by a timeline photo exhibition beginning from the big bang and moving forward in time as we go towards the theatre entry. The seats were simple and comfortable (you don’t expect better seats @ Rs. 40, do you?) and the show was called the Serengetti. The experience was awesome and there were some giggles during the lion-lioness uncensored sex scene. The sound could have been better but overall it was a nice experience. I wouldn’t mind giving the experience a 3/5. As we come out, we catch up on the time line and walk out as human beings begin to populate the continents.

Since there were only two of us and both were aerospace buffs, we decided to spend max time in the Aerospace exhibit in the -1 floor. I just can’t speak enough of this exhibit and the part it played in my early love for engines and rockets. The climax of this exhibit for me was at the Space Mission Control exhibit. They had linked up the computer to the live on-board feed for IRS-P3 (orbit, orbital visualisation, temperature and such parameters).

We subsequently went for lunch in the Centre canteen and then went through the exhibits called Sound, Light, Prehistoric eras, Hair, etc.

I will try and post a link to images as soon as I upload them on Flickr or perhaps somewhere else on this website. Will update this post accordingly.

Midnight Stroll

After completing the required nocturnal duties at my grandparents’ place I prepared for a 2.3 kms night time stroll around 11 pm. To accompany me was my faithful fully charged mobile phone with music loaded. I started off with “Tum Se Hi” from Jab We Met.

Chembur at night is a sight to withhold, nothing like its daytime counter part, a time when you really realise how wide the roads are, how shady the trees and perhaps which street lights blink and which don’t. The stretch was spent on speed walking and therefore I didn’t have much time to think about anything. The street lights were covered by wonderful shady trees. The only thing I can remember now about this stretch which lasted about 5 mins was the cool breeze.

The second section of the walk I slowed down as did the music – “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack played into my ears. I guess I felt some kind of hope in efforts I was making to get myself a job (top priority in any Indian family) and thought to myself that I could even perhaps open a space consultancy firm. The only question arising is whom will I consult with. I think I have an idea or two up my sleave besides consulting (I really doubt if multi nationals will consult with a person fresh out of college) which I still need to work on. Shelve that and immediate concerns come up – getting home, worries about grandpa’s health and my brother’s exam tomorrow balanced out with working on my own study schedule. You really get shaped in an all round manner like never before if you want to in those 4 years that you do engineering with Mumbai University (considered one of the toughest and best universities in the country).

The third section of the walk had me listening to Delhi 6 and the Masakali song. I think it refers to a pigeon. Anyway, there are several interpretations on the meaning of the song, I take it as an adventures of a pigeon song. Kinda fits. After this initial bantering about recent events, I settled down to a steady pace and looked up to the sky for the first time. Reason: No shady trees. That was a breath taking sight to behold. Hardly ever have I seen a sky like this over Mumbai. Thoughts about space naturally creep in. The upcoming SINC 2009, thinking about ideas for activities to do in IYA 2009 and trying to identify constellations (which I’m trying to learn on the sly). Besides Orion (which is perhaps the famous constellation) I also spotted Canis Major. A wonderful sight in all and perhaps a few more stars than you would expect to see here.

As I closed in, Slumdog Millionaire’s Mausam & Escape provided a breath taking back ground music score for the skies above. They should try it in Planetariums perhaps. I was then distracted by the acrid smell from the burning at the nearby Deonar Dumping Grounds and that pretty much spoiled my mood for anything more and I sat down to one more round of twittering, contrary to the “no-gprs-till-Thursday” plea. Sigh.

I guess besides everything, this post tries to give you an insight into my thought structure and how some of the songs affected my thinking. I am planning to do this on my morning stroll to the railway station, where my thoughts always seem to be crowded on the day ahead and I could use some de-stressing. Let’s experiment, I don’t plan to share the results publicly, they’ll be in my notebook.