ASTRONOMY is not a monopoly of elite mathematicians and physicists. Amateur astronomy -- or 'backyard astronomy' as many people call it, can be your captivating hobby.
All you need primarily as a deep interest in the dark skies. You may join an astronomy club, and there are a few in our country. Bangladesh Astronomical Association is one of them.
Established in 1988, the organisation runs regular observation camps inside Dhaka every Friday, from sunset to around 8pm. Equipped with binoculars and telescopes, you can peek through the outer world, from the planets and stars and galaxies and numerous other baffling celestial bodies. The organisation also sets observation camps outside urban Dhaka, which is even more suited for stargazing.
To become a member, you have to pay an annual fee of just Tk.2000. Bangladesh Astronomical Association also publishes a magazine, 'Mohakash Barta'. Check with your hawker to get a copy. To contact this association, dial 0171 1187 555 or send an email to email@example.com. Find them on Facebook by joining in the group 'Bangladesh Astronomical Association (official)' or visit their website www.astronomybangla.com.
By joining an astronomical association, you start your hobby without any serious outflow from your wallet.
You can also visit National Museum of Science & Technology (NMST) at Sher-e-Bangla, Agargaon where stargazing for general public is open every Saturday and Sunday, from sunset for a period of around one hour, with ticket costing only Tk.10. The sky observation unit of this museum also holds observation camps outside Dhaka for special astronomical events. If you are interested, call 9112084 and visit their website www.nmst.gov.bd.
“Our website will also give you updates regarding astronomical events and highlights, etc,” informed Masudur Rahman, demonstrator, NMST Bangladesh.
Note that observations (in all the organisations) are off in rainy or very cloudy days.
After some sessions of stargazing, if you feel that you still haven't got tired of it and in fact have become even more engrossed in the subject, it might be time for you to buy your first telescope!
Well, not quite. The first tool for stargazing is just your unaided pair of eyes. Look for constellations. Try to spot Venus. Identify the brightest stars and so on.
And then, buy yourself a pair of binoculars. When you think about stargazing, you intend to immediately jump to telescope. “A pair of binoculars gives a wider 'scene' or field of view,” Milan Amin, the founder of Bangladesh Astronomical Association, pointed out. “This is a major advantage over telescope, especially for beginners.”
Also, binoculars are relatively easier to use and handle than a telescope. And don't you underrate binoculars to telescopes. “Today's binoculars are more powerful than Galileo's telescope,” Amin said.
“A pair of binoculars bought with Tk.25000 will give you a better view than a telescope worth Tk.80000,” he further claimed. Although it doesn't mean binoculars below this price range won't be a good buy.
Before you seal the deal, test it first. Go to the market in a late evening, and look at the moon through the binoculars to ensure that you are seeing enough clarity.
Stadium Market and New Market are places from where you can buy binoculars and telescopes. “China and Singapore are two countries where you can get telescopes at very low prices,” informed Milan Amin. If you can access those markets, through relatives, etc. you might want to buy from there.
An astronomical telescope can cost you a lot. “A 4-inch diameter telescope can cost you around Tk.80000 or even more. Buy it from China or Singapore, and it will take you only about Tk.20000.”
Another trick is to visit the shipping-breaking market in Chittagong, where you will get powerful telescopes used at sea -- at charmingly low prices.
Another alternative is to build one! If you are a science buff, or want your child to become one, an interesting project can be embarked upon. For an impressive 10-inch diameter telescope, you can buy parts from abroad by spending around Tk.25000 and assemble it here yourself in Bangladesh. Within Tk.35000, you will make yourself a telescope priced at Tk.3 lakhs. Bangladesh Astronomical Association can help you with what you need to buy and how you can assemble.
Weather and the environment are vital factors that can very well spoil your stargazing fully. Simply put, the sky needs to be clear, where clouds will not block your stargazing; and the lesser the light pollution, the better.
This makes areas outside Dhaka good locations for stargazers. That doesn't mean stargazing from Dhaka is impossible; but it won't be as fulfilling when as done from a village for example. You will also need to give about 20 minutes to your eyes to adjust to the darkness. Prepare yourself for the night by taking a sweater, a flask of tea and a box of snacks to get the most out it – and then look up to the dome of heavens and let that take care of the rest.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Special thanks to Milan Amin, founder, Bangladesh Astronomical Association and Masudur Rahman, demonstrator, National Science & Technology, Bangladesh