In Goa? Don’t forget to see the stars

January 9th, 2009 - 12:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Jan 9 (IANS) It started in a small cubbyhole in the dusty attic of a shabby, paint-peeling building housing government offices. But a couple of decades later, the Association of Friends of Astronomy (AFA) in Goa has much to cheer about: 2009 is the International year of Astronomy.”Our ancestors were more aware of the sky than they were about the earth. The map of the earth was first crafted about 400 years ago whereas the sky was mapped nearly 600 years before that,” says AFA secretary Satish Nayak.

This year would see a host of new activities in Goa related to astronomy, ranging from an astro-film festival to astro-photography workshops, Nayak told IANS. “We’re also going to have events to get children interested in astronomy.”

One teenager, an active member of the AFA and one who claims to be possessed by astronomy, is Vishal Khandeparkar, who has devised an almanac aimed at helping an amateur to ascertain and identify the exact position of celestial body or group on any night.

“On any night in 2009 you can look at the sky and identify any object with the help of the almanac. It is to help make astronomy people-friendly,” Khandeparkar says.

“We have an astro-kids club where we expose children up to the age of 15 to astronomy. It is best to catch them young. There are studies to show that till the age of 15, the two things that interest children most are dinosaurs and space,” said Percival Noronha, a septuagenarian and the longest serving friend of AFA.

“The education department has not included a single chapter on astronomy in its curriculum all these years, despite it being acknowledged worldwide as the mother of sciences,” he said.

To take care of this lacuna, the AFA aims to launch the International Year of Astronomy with a ‘Main bhi Galileo’ programme, which involves sketching celestial objects while watching them through a telescope.

“We are the second organisation after the Nehru Planetarium in Delhi to actively pursue this programme,” Nayak said.

Footpath astronomy is another innovation the AFA is experimenting with. It is meant to impress upon the pedestrian, both the lounging and the hustling sorts, about the wonders of astronomy.

Telescopes will be placed at randomly chosen sites throughout Goa and passers-by would be asked to peep through the lens into the night sky, accompanied by some elementary, quick-fire tutorials.

“We have moved away from astronomy. Most people these days even mistake Venus for the North Star. But the relevance of astronomy is much greater. Not for nothing is 2009 being devoted to astronomy,” Nayak said.

An astro film festival will also be held in Goa hosting numerous documentary as well as short films on astronomy from all over Asia and Europe.

“We’ll try and rope in some popular Hollywood films like ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Aliens’, to attract people to this festival,” Nayak said.

As part of the astro-photography camp, renowned photographers from all over India will be invited to capture iconic images of Goa like facades of historic churches and temples against celestial backdrops.

The year 2009 marks the completion of 400 years of the invention of the telescope by renowned scientist philosopher Galileo Galilei and 40 years of the historic moon landing.

“Acknowledgment of astronomy’s importance today can also be gauged by the billions of dollars invested by the US and India respectively, in the Atlantis and Chandrayaan missions,” Nayak said.

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