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Sitaron say aagay…

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let’s have a poll. Raise your hand if you have wanted to own a telescope.

And no, don’t raise your hand if you have wanted to own a telescope for, uh, “spying” on a certain person from your neighbourhood or school or office or wherever you hang out. This poll has nothing to do with your stealthy anthropological studies.

So again, raise your hand if you have wanted to own a telescope. If you haven’t raised your hand, rest of the post might bore you to death. You’ve been warned.

I have always wanted to own a telescope. I don’t exactly remember when I realized that I should have one, but it was probably years ago, when I had read Stephen Hawking‘s A Brief History of Time, particularly the following opening lines of its third chapter:

If one looks at the sky on a clear, moonless night, the brightest objects one sees are likely to be the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

The possibility of seeing another planet with the naked eye (albeit just as a bright spot) had made me excited beyond words. I used to just go to our home’s roof at night, and then stare at the night sky like an idiot. Okay, is that Jupiter or Saturn? Must be Jupiter, it’s very bright. Oh, and what about that one? Mars? No, Mars is supposed to be red, this one’s white. Okay, wait, that spot is red, and it’s blinking! Oh come on, you stupid giraffe, that’s the light of an aeroplane.

Needless to say, it soon became boring. I had no way to confirm whether the Venus I was seeing actually was the Venus. The only success that I’d had was in 2003 when Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. Mars was then the only bright red object in the night sky, and I actually felt happy when I was able to spot it.

Then began my quest for buying a telescope. I surfed through the web, looking for suggestions and reviews, and was eventually very disappointed. A student getting a modest sum of pocket money from his Abbu ji can’t really go and buy a telescope, you see. But there was still hope. I could browse through all those astronomy websites and try to find out using the geographical coordinates of Rawalpindi/Islamabad if or when any planets would be visible. It turned out that that idea was good only in theory; in practice, I was still looking at the sky and trying to figure out if the websites meant that bright object or that one.

Fast forward to last Monday, and meet Stellarium.

Stellarium, as it says on its website, is an open source software that “shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope.” Now if you had raised your hand in the beginning of this post, you must have guessed that Stellarium is now installed on my machine. You might also guess that I have fallen in love with it. (Okay, make that an infatuation.)

Screenshot of Stellarium

If you click on the screenshot above, you’ll know why I am going all ga-ga over this piece of software. The red S indicates that we are facing south. At the top, you’ll notice “Islamabad”, which is the location that I set as default. And in that starry sky, two objects are very visible. One is labelled Moon, the other is labelled Jupiter.

That’s right. I took one look at the view provided by Stellarium, then looked outside my room’s window to spot the Moon, and with it, Jupiter. No fiddling with coordinates given by some website, and no wild guessing. Stellarium just told me that that bright spot on Moon’s right is good old Jupiter. Talk about hitting jackpot.

You might notice that the screenshot also shows Pluto and Neptune, but they are not visible. If you wish to see them, just zoom in. If you wish to see them outside your room’s window, then… well, buy a telescope (sigh).

Of course, that’s not all that there is to Stellarium. It’s still in its beta state and is already loaded with so many features. (See the feature list and screenshots, if you are interested.) I am slowly exploring it, and I am hoping that with its help, I shall finally be able to locate the Northern Star and the “Great Bear” that my middle school science books always talked about but I could never identify.

Though I have to admit, knowing all (or most, or even some of) the starry details of the night sky suddenly makes it look all academic, and all thoughts of taron ki cha’on and chandni raatein vanish temporarily, if not completely. I mean, imagine two lovers sitting on a bench and the female cooing, “Oooh! Look at that star near the moon! It’s so bright!”, and the male replying after a slight pause, “Actually, honey, it’s not a star. It’s a planet called Jupiter.”

I guess not having a telescope does have its advantages.


astronomy, star gazing, stellarium

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Sep 10, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Ah ha *hands raised*. I’ve spent countless nights with my siblings finding BIg Dipper and other constellations on sky. Have you been to Nathia Gali and beyond that towards Abotabad? The starry skies … constellations … tens and tens of them … as if the whole universe is visible through naked eye is just unbelievable. Beyond Explanation.

ps: And I made the history to comment first =P


Sep 11, 2008 at 6:01 am

I want a telescope, aho.

No software. Mujhe telescope chahiye.


Sep 11, 2008 at 8:33 am

What’s a telescope?

Er, is it something like a TELEphone? Like, they must be cousins or something because they have the same first name? Er..

*Pauses… turns and runs for her life because she sees the word ‘murder’ in Saadat’s eye glint*


Sep 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm

can someone raise their hands if they didnt want a telescope because the girl-next-door’s window was real close?? Only just wondering… :D


Sep 11, 2008 at 7:55 pm

For some reason, I have always been more interested in spotting planets than stars. But yes, identifying different constellations sure is fun. I have been to Nathiagali and Abbottabad, but I have never spent a night there, so I guess I have missed. Congratulations on making history. :P

Tusi fikar na karo ji. But until you get a telescope, do try Stellarium.

*takes a deep breath* Actually, telescope is the cousin of microSCOPE, but has a larger vision. TELEvision is also a distant relative; TELEphone, however, is a very distant cousin. *pauses* Now where’s my Beretta?

No, they can’t. That’s another poll. :P


Sep 11, 2008 at 11:01 pm

*both hands raised!* :P
and thanks…i have just installed Stellarium on my system :)


Sep 12, 2008 at 9:35 am

*grins* Glad you like it. Stellar, isn’t it?

Dinky Mind

Sep 12, 2008 at 11:14 am

Arrrrray, I have seen the milky way without a telescope! Some 8-9 years ago I went to this village (now a city) in interior sindh and there was no power at night. And believe me, I saw the milky way without any telescope or binoculars. It was awesome!!! Even now when I ever get a chance to visit that ‘city’ in almost every 3 years, I pray for a power failure at night so I could see the stars. But these generators and UPSs dont let me experience that complete blackout :(

Ordinary Girl

Sep 12, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Me, me, me!! *hand almost touching the ceiling* I remember I had Stellarium on my old machine, when I was doing a computer graphics project..ah, good old days jab hum bhee computer engineer hoa kartay thay! :D

That reminds me I need to download it again :)


Sep 13, 2008 at 3:52 am

*raises hands*

Well, I couldn’t buy a telescope but I did get my hands on a nice powerful pair of binoculars. I’d lie down on the ground and observe the moon for hours. Wanted to find a mountain or a ditch to give a name to… and also to find the old woman with a cradle.

As far as stars are concerned, when I couldn’t figure out which is which ( I got their names from this great encyclopedia which had an astronomy game in it…where one has to navigate a spaceship in the skies to locate constellations.).. yeah, so, when I couldn’t figure out the stars in the real sky, I gave them my own names and always kept track of where in the heaven they were .. :D

I miss those days. =( But.. hey, thanks for bringing back all the nice memories. I’m downloading stellarium. I’ll name a star after you to show my gratitude. lol


Sep 13, 2008 at 9:28 am

Dinky Mind,
Lucky you. I have only seen the Milky Way’s light band in the pictures and it sure looks awesome. And what’s that, you have to pray for a power failure? Why don’t you just gather all your partners-in-crime and make the power go poof yourself?!

Ordinary Girl,
Oh, do download it again. I am sure it has improved a lot since your good old days. By the way, you saying jab hum bhee computer engineer hoa kartay thay makes you seem like an old lady. :P

Wow. I mean, WOW. All I could see through the trashy pair of binoculars that I once had was a misty fog. It never occurred to me that those binoculars had a third-class set of lenses, and I always blamed the fog on my ineptitude.

I want to play that astronomy game too! Is there any online version? And yes, I can clearly imagine you naming the stars for your convenience. Must be fun.

Do download Stellarium. And I totally accept your gratitude! Tell me which star you name after me and I’ll then shamelessly flaunt it, “Hey guys! Look, that’s me up in the sky!” :D


Sep 13, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I have a telescope but I don’t know how to use it. Sigh.
Asalam o alaikum.


Sep 14, 2008 at 12:58 am

Well, the binoculars were from a china bazaar in Singapore. =P

Here’s your encyclopedia

and will get back to you once I’ve located a star for you.. =P

Ordinary Girl

Sep 14, 2008 at 1:29 am

I don’t like being reminded of my age *jabs Saadat with her walking cane*


Sep 14, 2008 at 4:48 pm

WHAT?! You HAVE a telescope and you don’t… *struggles to find words* Ah well. Any chance I can borrow it? Wa-alaikum-us-salam!

China bazaar in Singapore… I’ll remember that. And I’ll need to find a pirated copy of that encyclopedia till you locate that star.

Ordinary Girl,
All right, fine, barri bi. Don’t hurt me!

Wakas Mir

Sep 15, 2008 at 1:08 pm

**Raise hands and legs…**

I saw the milky way too… pointed to the place from our ghar in Lahore to far far away place.. there was a guy milking his cow and hmm there was a trail of milk all the way I am sure that’s what other’s meant too na..

Gonna try the link you suggested.. rock on :)


Sep 15, 2008 at 3:02 pm

God…I could swear that i could have driven my mom crazy with this request…fortunately she knows the ‘ulta seedhas’ of my mind :-) I’d love to install this software on my computer and maybe someday i will but well i watch the night sky anyway…habit habit….
saw the lunar eclipse recenlty (chilling)
cudn’t see tht 2 moon thingy though
My dad tried to make me memorize the names of all those 7 stars in the Orion constellation….I like other tongue twisters better… ;-)


Sep 15, 2008 at 3:03 pm

P.S. to watch the clear starry sky u cud try the deserted, dark beach on a cloudless night…such a brilliant show of jewels on the heavens above :-)


Sep 16, 2008 at 6:13 am

Wakas Mir,
Ahem. Dude, you have some seriously twisted imagination! And sure, do try the link.

R. Sameem,
I am too much of a morning bird and go to bed pretty early, and thus couldn’t see the lunar eclipse. The two moons thing was a hoax though. :) And yes, tongue twisters should be more interesting than star names! Will definitely try your tip if I am near some beach at night.


Sep 17, 2008 at 3:47 am

What about our march to the President House?
Anyone? Anywhere?
*looks around*


Sep 17, 2008 at 6:01 am

Sorry to disappoint you, buddy, but that march has been cancelled due to these reasons. Sucks, I know.


Sep 17, 2008 at 3:40 pm

First of all, roze ki haalat mein, i read ur post title & start singing (ok, in my head,cant sing Junoon at work) “sitaaron se aage jahaan, aur bhi hain (x 2), abhi ishq ke imtehaan, aur…..-u get d drift.
Stellarium sounds gud.definitely worth a try.But u know what?I’ve already seen Saturn- & not on a cumputer screen, but with my eyes buried in this huge telescope at the observatory in Sydney…!*makes faces at Saadat*
see what lack of bloodsugar does to me?!


Sep 18, 2008 at 6:34 am

Chashm-e-ma raushan, dil-e-ma shaad! How are you, old buddy?

But why can’t you sing Junoon at work? Which un-rocking crowd are you hanging out with these days?

And stop making faces at me (lack of bloodsugar or no lack of bloodsugar.) I am now officially jealous of you for spending time in Sydney!


Sep 19, 2008 at 12:01 pm

This should interest you, Saadat:


Sep 22, 2008 at 1:28 am

how much does a telescope cost? i wanted to buy one…but then i didnt find a place where i could get one from! but now i want one!!!!! Hellp!!!


Sep 22, 2008 at 6:13 am

Oh yes, it did. Thanks for sharing. :)

Well, it kinda depends. Prices range from $40 to all the way up to $1000. Check out local electronics or elite toy stores; if they don’t have telescopes, they’ll be able to point you to the right shop. And then there’s always the possibility of shopping on the web.


Sep 22, 2008 at 5:22 pm

thanx :D

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