Celebrate the night: Let’s indulge in some night sky gazing – thank lockdown for it

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Published: May 10, 2020 1:30 AM

The lockdown has led to less pollution and clear skies. So why not indulge in some night sky gazing?

You can also look out for Venus, known as the evening star, which is the brightest planet in the solar system and is typically visible after sunset.

Did you find some ‘unexplained aerial phenomena’ or a bright line of stars moving across the night sky recently? No, it wasn’t one of those flying saucers. It was actually part of the SpaceX launch, where a batch of 60 Starlink satellites appeared into orbit.

But if you need some time off from a stressful day of work-from-home, homeschooling kids or running the household, a starry night could give you some much-needed solace. With slightly reduced light pollution, one can enjoy the intense black velvet night sky accented by hundreds of stars. You can perhaps even see a milky cluster of stars.

Did you know there are about 2,000 satellites currently circling the earth everyday? Of course, all aren’t visible to the naked eye. Clear skies also offer a good chance to observe meteor showers. For instance, the Lyrids meteor shower lights up the sky every year. These are annual meteor showers usually seen around April and were first witnessed over 2,700 years ago, making them the oldest recorded meteor showers.

You can also look out for Venus, known as the evening star, which is the brightest planet in the solar system and is typically visible after sunset. An ideal time to see the planet is a few hours after sunset or before sunrise. You could take binoculars or a good beginner’s telescope to enhance your experience and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view.

Have you ever wondered how to find a constellation in the night sky? Or how cultures around the world, and across time, saw their place in the stars? Recently, Arizona-based International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) organised a worldwide event known as the International Dark Sky Week (IDSW)—the best time to see the new moon when the sky is the darkest and the stars most visible. The annual event aims to inspire people to celebrate the beauty of the night sky, raise awareness about the negative effects of light pollution and embolden citizens to take action. “Right now, families around the globe find themselves spending many hours at home together,” noted Ruskin Hartley, IDA’s executive director. “It’s a perfect time to reconnect with the night sky,” he added.

In order to raise awareness about the negative effects of light pollution which is increasing worldwide at twice the rate of global population growth, IDA works to protect the night from light pollution. “Too often, outdoor electric lighting installations at night are over-lit, left on when not needed, and are harmful to the environment. As a result, light pollution is a growing global issue that can negatively affect our environment and impact our quality of life. Our shared goal is to prevent and reduce light pollution through the proper application of quality outdoor electric lighting,” Hartley said in a media statement.

We need properly designed electric lighting for the night that can help cities look beautiful, healthy, and functional, and not fade away the natural light of the sky and the stars. At the same time, ventures must apply energy-saving and money-saving principles to curb harmful effects and minimise disruption.
Imagery from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite also shows that since mid-February, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) have drastically reduced compared to the same six-week period in 2019. It’s a reason why we can see clear skies and more planetary activities.

Some constellations are visible even from bright skies like Orion. One can watch this star move as the earth moves around the sun. For those fascinated with stars, constellations and bright planets, here are a few terms related to sky-watching: ‘Gibbous’ describes a planet or moon that is more than 50% illuminated; ‘Asterism’ is a striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation; ‘Degrees’ measures distance between objects; and ‘Visual Magnitude’ is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky.

India has a few locations for a spectacular and unhindered view of the sky: Neil Island in Andaman Nicobar Islands, Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, Turuk Village in Nubra Valley, Ladakh, Matheran in Maharashtra, Coorg in Karnataka, Mt Katao in Yumthang Valley, Sikkim, Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh and Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh.

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