A night with amateur astronomers

Night sky observation camps, which were canceled due to COVID-19, started with the abatement of the pandemic. Thus, physical events and programs of conducting night camps were started again. As a result, the Astronomical Society of the University of Colombo got the opportunity to conduct the sky observation session in a series of environmental observation programs conducted by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL). Thanks to the driving force and supervision of the advisor of the Astronomical Society, senior professor Chandana Jayaratne and 7 members of the Astronomical Society took part in this glorious event. President of the Astronomical Society Thurunu Chalitha, Assistant secretary Limini Fonseka, Junior treasurer Harshani Pramodya, IT coordinator Kalpa Rashmika and second-year undergraduates Thishanka Alahakoon, Primesh Anjana, and Naveen Irod took part in the star gazing event held at Vidya Chakravarthi Vidyalaya, Karuwalagasweva on 20th of August 2022.

With all the things required for the program, the team started the journey to Karuwalagasweva in the afternoon and managed to reach the destination before nightfall. After getting to know each other, the program started with a lecture that included interesting topics of astronomy. Students got the opportunity to learn about the solar system, asteroids, celestial spheres, and the alt-azimuth coordinate system. Our main goal was to offer an enjoyable learning environment where students can have experiences that are rare in regular school life. Students of the age group 11-15 years got an opportunity to dazzle under the stars with their friends at this extravagant stargazing event. Around 50 astronomy enthusiasts attended the observational astronomy session and took part in hands-on activities and happily spent the rest of the night observing objects that they’d never seen through a telescope. For them, it was all about discovering, learning, and enjoying the starry night.

Then arrived the most awaited moment of the day, the observation session where every student got the opportunity to observe through a telescope for the first time in their lives. It was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these students, where their sparkling eyes spoke volumes about the enchanting view they had just witnessed. After acquainting the students with the sky, they were made aware of the easily identifiable constellations that were visible during the night. As they carried out observations, it became clear that they recognized constellations, including Sagittarius and Scorpius, with the given instructions. They eagerly waited to observe Saturn through the telescope and got mesmerized after seeing the rings of Saturn. Alt樂威壯 hough it was thought to be impossible to observe Jupiter according to the assigned schedule, they were fortunate enough to observe the gas giant through a 12-inch Dobsonian telescope that can differentiate Jupiter’s belts from its surface. During the interactive session, we presented constellation mapping in a playful way where they had to compare the constellations they observed with constellations on a star map and draw the constellations in their way.

Arriving at the last few moments of the event, all the participants received a small gift, which included star maps and files, that would facilitate their future studies. We asked students to give feedback based on their experiences during the night camp. Despite how well-prepared participating members were, some challenges had to be faced. Issues with the telescopes and power cuts had a severe impact on the lecture series. The senior members displayed their experiences well by carefully handling such situations. Finally, another successful program came to an end.

Contribution played a major role in the event being what it was. Members of the FOGSL, senior professor emeritus Sarath Kotagama, senior professor Nihal Dayawansa, and 4th-year undergraduates from the department of zoology and environment sciences gave their immense support to make the event a success.

-Naveen Irod-

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