Jag Venugopal's Blog

August 27, 2011

Finally, success with Andromeda

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jag @ 2:57 pm

My daughter and I took up skywatching, beginning late last winter. The first few months were very interesting… there were many nights when the sky was clear, and sunset was rather early. One could grab an early bite, watch the sky and still go to bed at a sane hour.

Sadly, summer has been a washout with cloudy skies. On the few days the sky was clear, either sunset was late, or the moon was out in full force, overpowering all but the brightest stars.

Last week, we finally got a night to watch the skies, without the moon getting in the way. We were out at about 9:30 PM. The skies were still not completely dark, but the stars were still out in force. We finally located the one object that we were looking for all spring and summer… Andromeda. This galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from us, and is one of the largest in our close vicinity. And, if you were to survive for another 5 billion years, you might just get to witness its collision with the Milky Way. Right now, it is approaching the encounter at a leisurely 140 kilometers per second.

Our implements in this quest were simple… a star chart, a pair of binoculars, a Celestron SkyScout, and a red flashlight. Andromeda resembled a largish smudge in the binoculars. Those breathtaking pictures you see on web sites were all captured with very expensive telescopes by professional astronomers. Nonetheless, the best picture of Andromeda cannot compare with the joy of seeing it with one’s own eyes, and imagining that on a planet somewhere in that galaxy of a trillion stars, there might be a father and daughter similarly searching for the Milky Way from their backyard.

This week, with hurricane Irene about to bear down on us, skywatching seems a remote possibility. But for sure, Prerna and I will be out in the backyard at the first hint of clear, dark skies, to continue indulging in our shared delight.

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