Star gazing at Kalri Lake, Sind, Pakistan – Starry Skies
Planning a trip to Kalri Lake in the dark skies
It was more than a year I haven’t had a star gazing session in dark skies of Pakistan like I had in 2011 and 2012. Being an active member of Karachi Astronomers Society, people were asking me for a star gazing trip in the dark skies. I went to the KaAStrodome in October for a small session and there we decided to have a whole night star gazing session all organized and arranged by the Karachi Astronomers Society. Our problem was to decide a place. I had been to Kalri Lake twice, once for Geminids meteor shower back in December 2010 and once in mid 2010. I remember that sky was good enough that we can observe planets easily with the telescope, and can see most of the DSOs. Transportation was another difficult task and a headache, but it was finally sorted out and we had a limit of 20 people.
The Journey to Kalri Lake
We gathered around 2pm but left quite late. Lake Kalri is 120kms from Karachi and about 2 hours drive. Since we travelled in coach with a few stops on our way, we reached there after the Sun set. We stopped before Sun set at a place to have lunch. Then we offered asar prayers and magrib prayers in a very well maintained mosque. The surroundings were beautiful and were maintained very well.
First sight of the Kalri Lake night sky
It was dark and the Sun has completely set when we were near the lake and signs of the approaching lake were visible. There was water with stars reflecting in the lake. We stopped at the gate and a few of us took their heads out of the window to have a good sight of the heavens above. One of the passenger said “What is that foggy like thing?” and Zain replied “It is Milky Way boys” and everyone started to look at the lovely sight of the sky. The sky was filled with stars, so many stars that it was a bit difficult to identify the constellations. While we were stopped and were having clearance at the gate, Ramiz got a chance to get a lovely shot of the sky.
After the clearance we went inside and found a spot very near to the lake with proper rooms and path for vehicles. Me and Asim bhai went to the spot to finalize the place and I found a lovely spot for placing Telescopes which had a good view of the lake. The other advantage was that most light from the north was being blocked as we were at a declination to the ground level. We finalized the place and I shouted to everyone “this is the place, come on.”
Setting up the telescope
Zain, Ramiz and Hayyan all of them had their 6 inch Sky Watcher dobsonian with them so they took their scopes and started to assemble them at the spot. We can see the Milky way. The Andromeda Galaxy was marvelous and was a naked eye object. Jupiter was rising from the East and Orion was also about to rise. It was completely dark except for a few lights at the surroundings but they were not disturbing us too much as the Sky was clear and transparent.
It is KaAS tradition that when there is a Rutjaga, before starting the observation all the participants gather in a circle and answer the following
1. Your name, age, and what you do
2. How you got interested into Astronomy
It was quite in our surroundings and so we could hear everyone easily and I recorded the conversation successfully. Here is the recording and to make it interesting, I have compiled a few amazing photos.
While Zain was giving a tour of the night sky, I got a chance to take one of the amazing photos of the Astronomers under Milky way.
The sky tour was interesting and there was lot to tell the new astronomers. The constellations, galaxies, nebulaes, planets, polaris the North star, all was important to tell the new ones and the old fellows also enjoyed refreshing the night sky
The garma garam dinner
While we were having the sky tour and some of us were doing photography, we were informed by Asim bhai that the dinner was ready and so we went to have the garma garam dinner. It was November end and it was a bit cold but not very cold. The water in the lake was very cold though.
Photographing the Milky way galaxy and Andromeda Galaxy
It was the first star gazing session when I had a Canon DSLR with me and a few other photography enthusiasts were with me. Both the other ones had Nikon with them. Some of us were having observation with the three telescopes, some were in the camp and the people with camera were enjoying capturing the Milky way and the lovely night sky.
Whole night photography
Here is a stream of photos that we have taken that whole night. There is a lot of improvement in all my photos as I am a beginner at post editing. The Astrophotos have more to do with post editing.
Hunting the Deep Sky Objects (DSOs)
That night my core objective was the naked-eye astronomy and photography. A few of the fellow astronomers were sleeping by midnight and most of us were awake and enjoying the observation. Zain was constantly viewing different DSOs one by one through his 6″ Dob. telescope and call us to have a look too. Over the night we saw many open and globular star clusters, galaxies such as Andromeda, M81 and M82, and many nebulaes. Like always Orion Nebula was the best for me. I was trying to accommodate the queries about Astronomy and telescopes from participants while capturing the Milky way with different angles.
Star trails have always fascinated most of the the astronomer, photographers and astrophotographers. Being an amateur Astrophotographer, I took a risk to capture the star trails. It was a compromise instead because for star trails one has to keep the shutter in BULB mode for like hours. I had just one battery and half night was still remaining for the photography so I took 8 minute star trail.
Black out showed us the Bortle 1 sky – Milky way and the DSOs
We were enjoying Astronomy and photography and suddenly we felt like the sky is much darker and clearer. I was photographing on the concrete road and so I could see the far way lights went off suddenly. Yes it was a total black out, KESC did it again and it was positive for us. The lights went off and the horizon started to get better and better and the Milky way was even better. Now the we could see each other face because of the star light.
It is our tradition that we take group photos during our trip. And we try to capture the participants under the dark sky without any lights and a great background having stars. It was one hour before Fajr that most of the participants were finally gathered and so I called each and everyone to come and have a group photo under the starry night sky. Here are two photos of the group that was awake at that time. My vision was to capture the people but more importantly the night sky, so I found a good composition and kept Orion the Hunter in the background along with the Canis Major following the “Hunter (Orion)”
The Zodiacal Light
The trip was full of Astronomical stuff. We got to see planets, DSOs, Milky way, telescopes, binoculars, stars reflection in the lake. We got everything in the shortest span of time Alhamdulillah and we got a great group photo. But the fun and surprises didn’t end here. We knew that there was Moon to be rise that late night, but before that we got an awesome Astronomical phenomenon, “Zodiacal Light”. The Moon was about to rise and Zodiacal light was clearly visible and so we tried to capture it with our DSLRs. And this is what I got. What is Zodiacal light? From wikipedia: “Zodiacal light is a faint, roughly triangular, diffuse white glow seen in the night sky that appears to extend up from the vicinity of the Sun along the ecliptic or zodiac. It is best seen just after sunset and before sunrise in spring and autumn when the zodiac is at a steep angle to the horizon.”
The rising crescent Moon and the earth shine
And then suddenly the waning crescent Moon stared to rise and we could see the orangish Moon clearly with our naked eyes. The sky was clear and transparent and so was the Moon. We could see the dark side of the Moon very easily although it was a waning Crescent. What is Earth Shine? From wikipedia: “The phenomenon known as planetshine occurs when reflected sunlight from a planet illuminates the night side of one of its moons. Typically, this results in the moon’s night side being bathed in a soft, faint light.”
The Lord of the Rings is back
We started to enjoy Moon when we saw a star like object near Moon with our Naked eye. And we knew it was Saturn, the Lord of the rings. So over the night we saw Venus, Jupiter, Moon and Saturn from the our Solar System. Outside the Solar system we observed a few galaxies, nebulaes, and star clusters. Most importantly we saw our home galaxy the Milky Way which is not that easy to see in the light polluted cities like Karachi.
A wonderful experience and one of the best star gazing sessions under one of the darkest skies of Sind, Pakistan
Zain Ahmed, our fellow Astronomer friend is an experienced and hard core amateur astronomer who was active part of the trip and was there whole night to guide us and show us the heavens with his telescope. We are really thankful to him and appreciate his efforts towards promoting Astronomy and creating interest about Astronomy in common person. We rate our Dark sky trips after the whole night of observation and collectively as a group we concluded this as one of the best and dark skies that can be considered as bortle 2 skies. Not only the sky was excellent but the whole observation session and a few surprises over the night specially at the midnight made a memorable event and a wonderful Astronomy session what we call as a “Rutjaga”. We heard many appreciations from the participants who joined us first time and we were delighted by our efforts and were thankful to Allah for giving us the great opportunity and great skies in this small country of Pakistan.
I couldn’t do any DSO Astrophotography as the telescopes were not capable of tracking. I wish we had a Meade 8inch or 10inch or 7inch Maksotov with us. They all have tracking in it and I once got a chance to photograph my favorite Orion nebula (m42) using the 7″ Maksotov and once Meade SCT 8inch. Here is the photo
There were few achievements from this event. One of the important one was that our trip photos were featured at the Express tribune website and facebook page under the name “Pakistan’s Starry Skies“. If you don’t have a facebook account, please follow this link.