13 December 2010

Stargazing Bicycle Ride

This was Alex's idea - to go riding north from IISc at night to reach some place pitch back to enjoy watching the Geminid meteor shower.
Every year in December the Earth passes through the trail of an asteroid called 3200 Phaeton. This asteroid left behind dust and particles which is collectively called the Geminids. Between Dec 13 and Dec 17 of this year these particles will glow up in our atmosphere with about 100 meteors per hour. Their origin (from our point of view is in the star sign Gemini between Pollux and Castor. 

So we took off to see how many shooting stars we could spot... We started from IISc at about ten at night (the GPS file has Zulu time stamps) and rode out via Mekhri circle onto NH7 (bellary road). Most of the road was well lit except a few parts where there was some construction going on.
We rode out almost non stop till the yelahanka fork, debating whether to go straight on as per the original plan or go left towards Yelahanka. We went straight anyway, since we were afraid of missing out on the peak intensity of meteors which was expected to be at about 2AM. We rode a reasonably fast pace till Sir MVNIT college, where we turned left off the highway. All roads were deserted. All that we could here was the sound of aircraft from the BIA runways which are not far away; and the sound of trucks and mining equipment from the quarries in the area. The roads were deserted. As we passed though each village the dogs would kick up quite a racket upon detecting 'intruders' - at times they even chased after us - but luckily they did not attack and did not pursue us beyond the ends of their respective territories. Nevertheless those few moments left my heart rate redlining.

For a long time we could not find a place from where we had a sufficiently clear view of the sky towards the east - there was always either too much tree cover, or a hill - or even at times too much street lighting. About midnight we found an acceptable spot, parked the bikes and sat down with eyes skyward expecting a shower of meteors. 

Obviously there was some mistake. There was no shower. More like a trickle from a leaky tap. The few meteors we saw were coming from random directions. After about half an hour and maybe three or four meteors, patience was running thin. Some of us lay down on the road since keeping the head at that angle was becoming a pain in the neck. Plus there was patchy cloud that would cover the sky once in a while. And there was enormous light from the airport, which again happened to be to our east. After a few hours and not any more meteors we started back; returning to Bellary Road via the ITC factory; and back to campus. On the way a police patrol stopped us, asking who we were and what we were doing cycling around at that hour. Luckily Sumanth explained patiently in Kannada, which seemed to satisfy them. 

We got back to campus in the small hours of the morning after an excellent night ride.

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