Late Night Observing Session

3rd January 2012 was a usual evening. I was sitting at the stairs of my office waiting for the electricity. Suddenly I had  a look at the sky, and I felt happy from inside. I always like the Winter Sky since it is clear like a jewel box. I was thinking to take out my telescope since last many days, but doing it alone is not much enjoyment. So I threw an SMS to my teacher, Mr. Naveed Ghani and inquired him if he wished the same as I did.

NOT surprisingly, he accepted the offer, and we decided to do it at my place. Then I happily got busy in my office work as the electrons started to flow.

Sir Naveed saw me at home and then we checked out the terrace. He opined that the visibility was being blocked by the neighbouring buildings, so we should move to some other place. I too thought the same, it was already over 11 PM and many of the stars we wished to check would soon be hidden behind the walls. Sir Naveed suggested that we go to his home and do an All Night Observing Session.

Wow, do I love that thing? I love it more than any other activity. Thousands of stars, turn your telescope wherever you want, and even more stars are waiting for you.

So I sought permission from my Home Ministry and again, NOT Surprisingly, I got it easily, thus we left for his place. Enjoyed an awesomely amazing foamy Espresso Coffee after I was done setting up the telescope.

We moved to the roof at precisely 2 AM and unleashed the telescope. The first object we observed was the most famous and the most exquisite of all Messier objects, M42, the Orion Nebula.

Messier 42 – The Orion Nebula, a spectacular Star Birth site in the Universe

Orion nebula is a star birth site. Yes, you read that right, it is a Star Birth site. Stars born, stars grow up, stars die, pretty much similar to the living things. Orion nebula is about 1300 light years away from the Earth. The radius of it is about 12 Light Years (1 light year corresponds to nearly 10 trillion kilometres!).

Then I pointed the telescope towards Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), a red super giant star, which is the second brightest star of the Constellation Orion and eighth in the night sky. It is 640 light years away from the Earth.

Betelgeuse imaged in ultraviolet light by the Hubble Space Telescope and subsequently enhanced by NASA.

If you were wondering, what really a super giant is, then you might be amazed to know, that if it were at the center of our Solar System, its surface would extend past the Asteroid Belt near Mars, possibly to the orbit of Jupiter and beyond, wholly engulfing Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

Position of Betelgeuse in Orion

This star has been known since thousands of years. Its color was described by the Greek Astronomer Ptolemy as ruddiness, whereas, it was also mentioned in the Zij i Sultani, an Imperial Star Catalogue maintained by a 14th Century Turk-Mongol ruler, Mirza Ulugh Beig.

Position of Betelgeuse in Orion

Later, we had a look at the Planet Mars. Despite of its nearness to Earth, Mars is barely visible as distinguishing as Jupiter does at same magnification. The reason for it that Mars is very small in size as compared to Jupiter, therefore, Jupiter even though when its Billions of Kilometres far, looks appealing.

Planet Mars is the 4th Planet from the Sun

The orbit of Mars, as said by Johannes Kepler (the man who gave Laws of Planetary Motion), was the most difficult to understand. Mars has a retrograde motion, it means, at sometimes of the year it appears to travel backwards, then it makes a loop, and again travels in a forward direction. Such motion could not be explained by Nicolaus Copernicus’s model of Solar System, in which planets had circular orbits, and it also gave a hard time to Johannes Kepler, when he tried to match Tycho Brahe’s observations of Mars with his model of the Solar System. Finally Johannes Kepler was successful in modelling the Solar System, by stating that the Planets have elliptical orbits rather than circular.

Retrograde Motion of Mars in 2005. Credit: Courtney Seligman

Mars is most associated with myths of Intelligent Extra Terrestrial Life, and dozens of space laboratories have been sent to Mars to investigate it, but no life has been found as of yet. But the rovers have told us very important facts about the geography, topography, and other features of Mars. Mars has valleys, mountains, deserts, polar ice caps. It also has the highest known mountain in the entire Solar System. This mountain is called Olympus Mons and is three times as tall as the Everest.

Surface of Mars from Viking Lander 1 on February 11, 1978

Now we gave a little of our time to Arcturus (Alpha Bootes). It is the brightest star of Constellation Bootes the Herdsman and the fourth brightest star of the night sky. It is a very massive star far bigger than our own Sun.

Arcturus-Sun Comparison

Saturn was rising from the East, I turned the telescope towards the mighty planet, as we discussed about the importance of different geometrical shapes in architecture. We also discussed about pyramids and their usage.

Saturn by Voyager 1, from 5.3 million km, four days after its closest approach

Saturn is the Sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet of the Solar System. It’s volume is about 763 times to that of the Earth.

Saturn by NASA’s Cassini Orbiter

Saturn has 62 Moons, of which Titan is the largest moon. The rings of Saturn were a long standing mystery, but the discoveries have showed that the rings range in size from few metres to size of an average home. The rings extend from 6,630 km to 120,700 km above Saturn’s equator, average approximately 20 meters in thickness and are composed of 93% water ice and 7% amorphous carbon.

Robert Hooke noted the shadows (a and b) cast by both the globe and the rings on each other in this drawing of Saturn in 1666.

Gave a very little time to the Horse and its Rider. The Mizar and Alcor is an optical double star in the Constellation Ursa Major, and it is also known as the Horse and Rider Binary.

Mizar & Alcor in Ursa Major

We now decided to go for the Open Cluster Messier 41 in Constellation Canis Major, the Bigger Dog. This decision was the most easy and sweet to take, but it proved very difficult. We had a really hard time finding the cluster. But at last, Sir Naveed found it and we had a look at the graceful open cluster.

Open Cluster M41 in Canis Major

M41 was discovered by Giovanni Batista Hordiena before 1654. It is now found to be moving away from us at a rate of 23.3 km/s. The diameter of the cluster is between 25 and 26 light years. Its age is estimated at between 190 and 240 million years old. M41 is also referred to as NGC 2287.

Had a final look at Sirius (Alpha Canis Majoris). In a telescope it looks like a bright white bulb. Sirius is the brightest star of the night sky. Naked eye perceives it to be a single star, but infact, it is a binary star system. Its companion was first proposed in 1844 German astronomer Friedrich Bessel and was consequently discovered by Alvan Graham Clarke on January 31, 1862.

A simulated image of Sirius A and B using Celestia

The time was over 4 AM, so we decided to pack up the stuff. Done packing the telescope. I really did not want to leave so early, I wished to stay up at least for an hour more, but since I had to go to University in the morning, I gave up.

Left the home of Sir at 4:24 AM and at 4:33 AM, Sir dropped me back at home. I immediately slipped in the bed so that my father does not get awake and see me up so late.


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  1. Awesomeness. very informative post.keep up the good work.

  2. Loved it man! Wish I could be a part of something like this 🙂
    Very informative as well, keep writing 🙂

      • Astronomer Bilal on January 5, 2012 at 1:23 am
      • Reply

      Buddy , you and Amjad bhai were really missed. But time was so awkward actually, otherwise we would have collected more friends. 😀

  3. I’ve said it before, and I reiterate; your passion for Astronomy is admirable!
    Hats off 🙂

    I found the knowledge about Orion Nebula and Retrogade Motion and the planets, to be very interesting, never knew a thing about it as such!

      • Astronomer Bilal on January 5, 2012 at 1:22 am
      • Reply

      Thank you so much Hafsa 🙂

    • FAHAD on January 5, 2012 at 11:50 am
    • Reply

    it was so informative ,,loved to know about interesting celestial bodies,,the diamter of m41 ,,25 to 26 light years,,whooo its amazing…out of mind than one thinks,,,thumbs up to u n sir naveed,,keep sharing 🙂

    • Aisha on January 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm
    • Reply

    Nicely written, informative post 🙂

    And almost an year since I read the first of your posts, was impressed.. not anymore though 😛

    • Waqas Ahmed on January 25, 2012 at 9:50 pm
    • Reply

    great info…!
    hy friends i try much to make an telescope but bad luck. is there any one who helps me?

      • Astronomer Bilal on January 28, 2012 at 3:05 am
      • Reply

      Sure my dear friend, I can help you out.
      Take a look at this

      Questions? Feel free to ask.


  4. I could look at the Orion nebula for hours even if the telescope is on the tumble dryer lol

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