Musing over the star studded space from terrace in the quiet of night even half-curiously may have philosophical implications on your life. You didn’t know?
Stargazing as an activity is not very different from other idle pastimes like Trainspotting and Bird-watching. All three are notable for their apparent uselessness, their no particular learning curve and for not demanding any pre-requisites to begin with, something that from a child to the great-granny can do with equal engagement. The other thing that unites gazers, watchers and spotters is how conveniently, and often naturally, they draw a line between casual curiosity and seriousness of academic flavour. In fact, the element of idle-wondering is the most fulfilling aspect of stargazing and, needless to say, contrary to all the negative claims, it does bring you a lot of interesting trivia.
The first philosophers were stargazers, great poets when not writing odes turned to stargazing for inspiration, scientists after a tiring day take repose in the vast starry night to spot a pattern, planet or a constellation (well, sometimes they only get the tail, but yeah!). Incidentally, the father of modern sciences, Galileo Galilei, was a certified stargazer who actually made a career out of it and o, was charged under heretical laws for suggesting it’s the Earth that revolves round the sun. Roman church could not digest this simple truth; he was only using the very first telescopic device for observation. ’nuff said.
Modern cities present few and increasingly fewer opportunities for letting your gaze freely wander across the vast expanse of sky and make note of great many stars and constellations. The reason is quite simple: there is an excess of artificial lights that is not conducive to see a clear sky, let alone star gazing. With naked eyes, it is next to impossible to recognize anything that is known to us in the glare of the scattered light. Which is why if you notice, Stargazers and Astronomy enthusiasts try hiking to the outskirts for a satisfying experience. Excess light can also be avoided by elevation, a trek up the nearest hilltop or the terrace of a monstrosity, all up to you. But even then a telescope is indispensable if your appetite for hobbying is not limited to join dots on just a couple of obvious patterns.
Optimal conditions for stargazing are high altitude, few clouds and no light pollution. Another good time to observe is after rains, which clears the air and makes it easy to pick out shapes. In a clear sky, Big Dipper ‘the plough’ is the most conspicuous constellation and the first shape you start noticing in sky because of the bright stars that form it.
If you’re a starter, it is quite possible to have a soft spot for the star you first found but Vega is almost a universal favourite and every newcomer wants to track it down in the first month. It is one of the brightest stars in northern hemisphere and with a good telescope can be observed in a radiant colour.
Those who have been into stargazing for a while should look to make a new bucket list and let the first item be the southern stars. Southern stars are brighter, and along with star clusters and nebulas, they also hold a lot of other curious celestial bodies including globular clusters and queer galaxies that lie just outside the plane of Milky Way. Only those who are up for a stargasmic experience.
The pure pleasure of discovering a star on your own, a constellation in all its details through the telescope is a joy that can’t be described enough and can only be felt by a curious seeker. In nature, it is like a philosophical activity that is not supposed to bring you riches but a satisfaction of a deeper kind. So, be part of the crew, look for astronomy clubs around and give that starry void a long drawn out stare. Why? Because it deserves.
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Also Read: Into the Void