Driving Things to the Extreme

I liked looking up at the sky since I was a kid. Typically I am afraid of the dark, but the darkness of space had a unique, attractive like feel to it. The attraction factor comes from knowing, that the objects you are looking at are so mysterious and so far away that humans could only one day wish to unravel the mystique surrounding them.

A flame was ignited in me ever since I was able to appreciate the heavenly beauty with my eyes. I wanted to be an astronaut, have my own space-center and all that jazz. However, growing up in Pakistan I soon realized there was anything but an appreciation for this science. In fact, I also realized that in the cities–where majority of the population lies, and goes to educational facilities; light-pollution was devouring the skies faster than a speeding bullet. In fact all that can be seen from my city, Karachi, were the few brightest stars. Plus, the state of Astronomy was not helped by the lack of Govt infrastructure and funds in this regard.

I consider myself a most lucky individual for my father had bought a telescope from U.K when he worked in Jarrow, Newcastle in the 80’s. I wasn’t even born then. When he came back to Pakistan, the scope did too. Unfortunately, (as one would expect) it was relegated to an old closet, unused, for a decade. Finally, my father noticed that I was taking a healthy interest in this subject. It must have been around 2000/01 (the 99 solar eclipse was the final nail in the coffin; a big boost to my interest), that the scope was finally unpacked again. What scope was this you ask? It was nothing more than what one would call, a ‘junk’ 65 mm refractor. So why do I consider myself to be lucky? Because scopes are difficult, if not completely impossible to come by here in Pakistan!

I will spare you details of the many “endeavours” I have undertaken time and again to look for a new scope in the local bazaars.  Let’s just say that a few friends have been a tad bit more luckier than me! Apart from a few classifieds each year in local newspapers or websites where people were selling old scopes (most that never saw the light of the day) at obscenely high prices, the market has been largely h0-hum.

Fast-forward to 2005; I made a few upgrades to my telescope. Bought a sturdy tripod. The existing eyepieces and barlow unit that came with the scope were indeed scrap. It was getting this set of eyepieces that made all the difference in the world (and they are still serving me well). From the moment I saw Saturn’s rings for the first time through the new lenses, that my eyes were truly opened to the heavens. I still remember rushing down the stairs, screaming with joy that I’d seen the Lord of the Rings. It was hard to take your eyes off it once you’d seen it. During the Saturn opposition of 2005/6 it also passed by the Beehive cluster in the sky and for the first time I saw a star-cluster through any telescope. It was just indescribable beauty. And boy was I hooked!

The Beehive Cluster and Saturn (Saturn is the bright star) Picture by Houston Astronomical Society

Professional astrophotography is an expensive avocation, one that only dedicated hobbyists can afford. But I wanted to try my hand at it as I loved photographing things. At that time I only had one camera, and that was in the form of my Sony Ericsson K750i camera cell-phone. I, however, was determined to take it to the extreme. I modded the camera using a few guides I found on the intrawebs that enabled control over shutter time and aperture. How were the results? Here, decide for yourself

(Results of K750i Cell-Phone camera + 65 mm ‘junk’ refractor)

Moon using K750i Cell Phone Camera

Saturn in 2007

Saturn before being occulted by the Moon (2007)

Lunar Eclipse (4 Mar 2007)

Impressive, eh?

In 2010, doing a Google search lead me to the Karachi Astronomers Society website. It was a new project, as a result of collective efforts by several senior Karachi enthusiasts. The aim was to bring this science closer to the masses. I immediately joined in.

And it took off really well too; the first ever dark-sky party of Pakistan was hosted in 2010, one of many to come. Several public sessions followed all over the country, with interest rising exponentially among the public. In the beginning two months of this year alone, 3 dark-sky trips have already culminated successfully. And with enthusiasts attending from all over the country, it seems the gap that has always existed between Pakistanis and this science may finally be closing. And astronomy may well be on its way to finally becoming accessible to everyone.

(I hope you liked the first post on my blog. For a little technical introduction to myself; I am Ramiz Qureshi, a student of computer-sciences from Pakistan. Astronomy has always been my passion. I also like sports and photography. Please leave a comment because feedback is very important to me.)