Antares Lunar Graze, Vishnu’s Starlog

Captain’s log, Stardate 31/07/09, Bohemians (read extra galactic nomads) Anindya, Vidur, Vijay and Vishnu gather at Vigyan Bhavan to observe the distant supergiant Antares graze the skyline of that rock of a neighbour of the pale blue dot orbiting a distant sun.

Between 2100 and 2200 hrs, a Konus 130 mm reflector fitted with a Logitech Quickcam 3000 with a CCD sensor viewed on a laptop clicked a video of the entire grazing.

As with that eclipse event that took place in the area marked India on primitive earth, the clouds played spoilsport for a while but as our willpower would fortell, we were successful, a fair statement when viewed on galactic parameters.

All views on

Watch the Video


Open source software has come a long way. Enter Stellarium. Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. It is being used in planetarium projectors. Just set your coordinates and go.

Stellarium is a Free and open source software project that is available for multiple platforms including Windows, Linux and even OS X. The linux download is offered as a source package that needs to be compiled on your computer.

My first impression of Stellarium was pretty good. The graphics quality is just fantastic, it definitely beats the hell out of Winstars or Kstars. I would say that the program inteface is comparable to Imaginova’s Starry Night. I have a copy of Statty Nights Special Edition, and Stellarium just blows it away. By default the program carries a catalogue of 60,000 stars

The first thing to check is how accurate is the program. So I feed in my Location as Patna in Bihar, and the date as 22nd July 2009, around 6:30 am IST. This is the time of totality of a solar eclipse that passed through India recently. See project Sunshine . Stellarium was right on showing totality at the correct moment.

Totality simulated by Stellarium in Patna on July 22nd 2009 at 0630 IST, CLICK image to enlarge

The shading was also smooth with ambient light toning down during totality.

So lets see what the interface looks like. The program has all the typical planetarium program features, changing time/location, toggle DSOs, constellations, constellation asterisms, labels etc. Although I must say that the the constellation art was pretty gaudy.

Screenshot of Stellarium with DSO labels on, CLICK image to enlarge

Another good feature I liked about Stellarium’s is its ability to simulate limiting magnitude, It shows you far fewer stars if the moon is in the field of view, and as soon as you take it out the night sky brightens up

Whats more, Stellarium allows you to set up your own personal planetarium inside a dome. All you need is a computer running Stellarium, a dome, a projector and a spherical security mirror. Now that is really cool!

Stellarium also can take control of your telescope and has been interfaced to Celestron and & Meade controllers. To see a list of compatible scopes CLICK HERE

To visit the Project page visit


A team from Amateur Astronomers Association, Nehru Planetarium, Delhi arrived in the small town of Sasaram, Rohtas (Bihar) to witness the longest Total Solar Eclipse of the century on 22nd July, 2009.

25 enthusiastic astronomers reached Sasaram on 20th of July, 2009 and conducted preparatory eclipse workshop at St. Paul School. Students and faculty were made aware of solar eclipses and safe techniques to view them. Free Solar goggles were distributed among the students.

With the help of school authorities an evening sky observation was
also conducted for the students. The efforts of the team were highly appreciated by the locals. Local media also contributed by giving extensive coverage to the activities of the team.

On 21th of July they explored various possible sites to view the eclipse. On 22nd, astronomers started early, setting up their
equipments at the selected sites.

After the initial hide and seek of clouds, the astronomers were able to observe the eclipse for more than 1 minute 30 seconds and
successfully performed various experiments. Many people including
District Magistrate Mr. M. Sarwanan, along with his family, were
present to witness this rare celestial event. During totality, as the darkness engulfed the skies a few stars and planets such as Venus, Mars and Jupiter became visible, the temperature dropped suddenly and the wind flow increased. All those present gaped at the celestial phenomenon with awe.

Sasaram became the only place in Bihar from where total solar eclipse could be observed.
The team was ecstatic with the experience and are now eagerly waiting to get under eclipse shadow again on Jan 15, 2010.

Raghu kalra
Amateur astronomer

Pitfalls of an Eclipse Flight, Lessons learnt

It’s easy to be wise after the event- Some wise man

Ok, recently you may have heard a couple of space-nuts chartered a B737 jet to chase the July 22nd eclipse from a height of 41000 feet. I guess considering the monsoon, it was a good idea that would guarantee that you atleast got to see the eclipse. Passengers paid approximately Rs 80,000 for “sun side” seats and Rs 29,000 for “earth side” seats. Personally I don’t know why would I pay to see the sun’s shadow on earth.

From that point of view it was a good idea, considering places like Taregna, Patna, Shanghai and most parts of India got clouded or washed out!

However people on board with cameras and photography equipment will be kicking themselves because of some things that got overlooked. When you dig deep into your pocket for an experience like this a little more research should have gone into it

It may me useful to remember that while shooting from a plane’s windows, ( yes.. in case you forgot, you’re inside the plane and you have to take photos from inside the aircraft’s double paned window, both of which usually have thousands of microscratches) two results are inevitable

The image of a bright object may have double reflections from both window surfaces. Unfortunately this will always be there and playing with the camera focus cannot get rid of it. The sun will be at infinity and the extended light path due to reflection does not affect it. The result??, see for yourself

Look at this picture of totality taken from the eclipse flight, if you look carefully, there is a double reflection glaring at you at the bottom edge of the image. This was a specimen frame drawn from video taken by the BBC media crew on board the flight. We checked this with other videos taken by AAJ TAK etc, which also had the same issue.

There is also a second problem. As mentioned earlier, the windows are usually scratchy and not very clean. It is pretty easy to get rid of these scratches out of focus in the image. However with a eclipse, especially the diamond ring a big quality issue arrives.

The microscratches on the window scatter light in all directions completely ruining the photo. Both images above were taken aboard the eclipse flight.

One of the reports we heard from the people conducting photographic experiments onboard had another unforeseen issue, Apparently the plane went off charted course to bypass some clouds, sending their automation software “Eclipse Orchestrator” haywire


If you were careful in reading what I wrote, yes there are CLOUDS at 41000 feet. We got wind of this fact a day before the eclipse. A curious me and Vishnu did ask the Captain of our Spicejet flight to Varanasi when we landed at Babatpur for the eclipse

So if you are serious about taking pictures of totality, you might want to keep these details in mind before swiping that credit card.

The views expressed in this article are by the Author only, and may not be shared by the AAAD as a whole


After the intoxicating cosmic ride, its time to key my thoughts .

Firstly, felicitations to the team including Anindya, Debnath, Puneit, Vidur, Mayank, Himanshu and yours truly!

Varanasi was a special choice to begin with, what with the surreal feel and effervescent life-giving Ganga. The ghats would offer a stunning view should mother nature decide to share our prayers and enthusiasm!

Many thanks to the preliminary group including Anindya, Debnath, Puneit and Himanshu for reaching early and selecting a stunner of a site. The terrace of the Anami Lodge on the Assi Ghat with a panorama of the Ganga and clear horizon across was magnificent. Anindya, our very own banarsi babu deserves special mention for his initmate knowledge annd pulse of the place.

Vidur, thanks for the lovely T-SHIRT design and Raghu, (Team Sasaram), thanks for the execution, both Sasaram and Varanasi had an identity!

The preparation was immense and exhaustive with DSLRs, Video Cameras and “Point and Shoots”. All of us gave our all during the night catching only a few moments of rest. Aside from scouting and selection of the place, our preparations involved elaborate and educated guesswork on the weather (which proved correct!) and timing the set-up of equipment and execution.

21st night provided a clear night sky (who said city skies are bad?) and we spent the time in doing what we love – deep sky observation. We managed good images of the Eagle Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, M6, M7, M45 and other MW objects aside from Jupiter. At 3 a.m., with Venus standing bright and tall, the signs were ominous – we were not going to be denied.

From then on, it was a queer and unadulterated mixture of confidence, hope and hysteria that caracterized the remainder of our solar journey! With the mystic black ((c) Puneit), enveloping the blinding gas ball over sublime grey skies, we all felt enveloped by the power of this magnificent world we inhabit.

Many thanks to Raj mama for his amazing guidance pre-trip (and the polaroid camera (Mayank shot some beauties (no pun intended!)) and Celestron C6 (Sasaram), Wish you were there!

Many thanks to Chinmaya for his enthusiasm pre-trip, Wish you were there too!
Many thanks to Nikhil (friend of CB, great pics!), Sunita, Prof. Ravinder Singh (Univ. of Patiala) and relative (Mirzapur), Amit (TOI) and family, Tushar (and brother and friend), Chitrangada, Tanuj and Manoj (Astronomica) and all others on the terrace for being with us!

Many thanks to Dr. Rathnasree for her untiring efforts for TSE 2009.

Many thanks to Vikrant (@ Patna) for his high pitched super charged voice at 3 a.m., there’s no one quite like you!

Gargantuan felicitations also to the Sasaram team (we are one!) who put in an equal amount of effort if not more!

Lets meet on SUNDAY and rejoice!


PS – Did I mention “divine intervention”

Total Solar Eclipse 2009, Varanasi and Sasaram

In a season when most Eclipse chase sites in India were washed out, the Bohemians had a blast with both sites at Varanasi and Sasaram getting to see totality. We consider ourself extremely fortunate to having witnessed natures most simple but spectacular event inspite of the threat of looming monsoons. My sympathies with all those who got clouded or rained out


Eclipse Report from Varanasi-By Vishnu Rethinam
Eclipse Report from Sasaram-By Raghu Kalra
Eclipse Report from Varanasi-PDF Snapshot
Diamond Ring Animation
Pitfalls of an Eclipse Flight. Lessons Learnt

Sunshine Group Debrief RSVP

Greetings everyone, We’re Meeting this Sunday 26-JULY-09 at 11 am to share our experiences at the Planetarium

Members are advised to bring along all their pictures and videos to the meeting





Image Courtesy: Vidur Parkash

Have you seen a sight more beautiful, We’re pleased to let you know that both AAAD expeditions at Varanasi and Sasaram got to see totality inspite of the looming threat of the monsoons

My heartiest congratulations to all the people who put in almost 6 months of preparations for this celestial delight

More Images coming Soon