Spending the 100 Hours in India

This blog post was first posted in the 100 Hours of Astronomy Blog. The content was recovered using Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. I have posted the content here for purposes of keeping record.

This is my first blog post here. I am Pradeep Mohandas, an amateur astronomer from India and also a member of SEDS. The International Year of Astronomy got me back to focus on my amateur astronomy work which was languishing because of several other space related activities that I was participating in and I’m always thankful for that. For my first post, I thought I should talk about the activities happening as part of 100 Hours of Astronomy in India.

Most amateur astronomers in India were excited by the idea of an International Year for Astronomy when the International Astronomical Union presented this idea in 2003. When it was passed by the United Nations and became an event with support from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the excitement grew. Word spread immediately online – through the several mailing lists, newsletters, astronomy clubs initially. In the run up to IYA, prominent Indian newspapers (both English and regional language newspapers) carried extensive articles and spread the word among the non-astronomy community and I’m sure it reminded many people of their own brief stint with astronomy and perhaps even got some to try it out again.Towards the end of 2008 and early 2009, word spread faster through the net, via mailing lists, more press notes (especially from the Indian National Point of Contact – IUCAA) and groups like Astronomers without Borders and Sidewalk Astronomy.

Even before the recent Chandrayaan launch, India has several crazy amateur astronomers who are very dedicated to astronomy. When I looked at online groups around my home in Mumbai in 2004, I found not one but several, who travelled to the outskirts of this city (40-60 Kms) to watch the night skies and follow their passions as amateurs. There were still smaller groups who went on their own, some looked from their building tops and from the online discussions in the groups I have been on, I think this is just scratching the surface when it comes to India. The timing of the 100 Hours is slightly unfortunate here in India, as it comes bang in the middle of exam season (yes, it is a season here), when students hardly venture out or are allowed to venture out of home in the constant desire for grades. But, still at the time of writing there were 29 events registered in India. This is likely to increase keeping in mind that Indians love to do things like registeration etc. at the last minute.

Still, even with 29 events, another thing to look at is turn out. This is expected to be very high and our events are often described by various people as HUGE. I think we can wait for the reports at the end of the 100 Hours for more.

Also, innovation is in the soul of the typical Indian amateur astronomer. This is more or less reflected in the events planned out for 100 Hours here in India. A group of amateurs from the state of Gujarat plan to celebrate “Sun Day” at the Modhera Sun Temple, a 11th century heritage site, popular with tourists. The amateurs here are also being supported by the Tourism Department of Gujarat. This is one of the few Sun Temples found here in India, the famous one being at Konark in Orissa.

Another event is planned at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, a 17th century Indian observatory. They will also project the webcast from the 80 observatories here. Another group will be doing a 100 Hours of Astronomy Van halting at various venues. At each halt they will put banners and posters on astronomy, put up a scope and show celestial objects, while playing famous movie songs on astronomy, moon and the stars. They also offer the songs as ringtones! The group also putting up exhibits of space crafts and astronomical philately.

Many groups are also visiting the village panchayats and government schools to show villagers celestial objects through a scope, that they have never seen before. We could have done with more activities in public institutions like Planetariums and Observatories but the reported 7000 astronomy clubs are taking up the slack.  I hope you enjoyed this sampling of events from India. Best of luck with your own 10 Hours of Astronomy event!

(Thanks to Mr. Manoj Pai, Secretary, CIAA for the details)

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