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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 53,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Have you ever tried going to a dark spot, away from city lights to look at the sky from there? You’ll be amazed at the range of colors and brightness variations of stars in the night sky. Can you guess the number of stars you can see in a very dark sky? Do you think you can see millions of stars? No! At the most you can see about six thousand stars in the sky. That means you probably can’t see more than three thousand stars at any given time! Strange, but true!
When you look up in a dark sky you will see stars of many different hues – bluish white, bright white, bright red, orange, yellow and several other colors in between. Some stars visible to naked eye are extremely bright, while a large number of the stars are faint. But have you wondered if these stars had any names?
Most of the bright stars in the sky, that you can see even from a light-polluted city sky have proper names. In India, many of these stars were named thousands of years ago and the same names are in vogue today. The names of twentyseven asterisms (stars, or groups of stars) starting with Ashwini, ending with Revathi which are part of the twelve constellations in the zodiac have existed for more than four thousand years. By the way, many of the stars from this list of Indian asterisms are not very bright but they were named because they helped ancient Indians to formulate their calendar based on the movement of Sun and the Moon in the background of these stars.
Apart from these, names in Indian languages are available to few other bright stars outside the zodiac as well. The pole star, called ‘Dhruva’ is probably the most well known of such stars. The word ‘Dhruva’ (ध्रुव) in Samskrta means ‘constant’, ‘firm’ etc. This is a very apt name because the position of this star in the sky never changes and stays constant. The Pole star is a not an exceptionally bright star, but is a notable star because of its position it occupies in the sky. All stars in the sky appear as though they rotate around it. The Pole star never rises or sets, nor does it show any kind of movement in the sky. If you were at the North Pole, you would see the Pole star directly overhead, and all other stars go around, never rising or setting. However due to the precession of Earth’s orbit, the Pole star 4000 years ago, is not the same Pole star we have today; but tat is another discussion altogether!
Many of the star names in English are taken from their Roman or Greek names. A large number of star names in English also come from Arabic. For those stars for which there is no native Indian name, Indian stargazers use their international (English) names.
For those stars that don’t have proper names, there is another way of nomenclature. The sky is divided into 88 constellations. Constellations are imaginary star patterns in the sky. Some constellations actually resemble what they are supposed to resemble, and for some constellations, you must have an extremely eccentric imagination to relate a constellation to the figure it is supposed to mean! But that is beside the point. Any star you that you can see, belongs to one constellation or the other. The brightest star in a constellation is normally denoted by the Greek letter alpha, the second brightest beta, the third brightest gamma and so on. Thus, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaur would be called Alpha Centauri; the second brightest star in the constellation Leo would be called Beta Leonis. In this system, the Pole star would be called Alpha Ursa Minoris, because it is the brightest star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. Thus every star that has a proper name also has a name based on the constellation and the brightness of the star within the constellation it belongs to.
This method of naming although very useful has given some incorrect names too. For example, the bright red star Betelgeuse is called Alpha Orionis, meaning it is the brightest star in the constellation Orion. But if you look up the sky now to look at Orion, you will notice there is one more star that is brighter than Betelgeuse! That star is Rigel (or Beta Orionis, as you might have guessed). Betelgeuse is a variable star, meaning its brightness varies over time. There was a time when Betelgeuse might have actually looked brighter to bare eyes than Rigel, and that’s when this name must have come from and it has stayed on.
Using Greek letters as prefixes to stars would only work for a handful of stars in any constellation. When you look at the sky with a telescope, you’d see thousands of new stars, invisible to naked eye. A new problem of naming these arises. Astronomers have a very interesting way of dealing with this problem.
Just like the Earth is divided by imaginary lines called longitudes from North Pole to South Pole, the sky is also divided by imaginary lines going from the north pole of the sky to the South Pole. Just as there is a prime meridian on Earth (0 degree longitude), there is a 0 hours right ascension (RA) line in the sky. The line that goes through the First point of Aries (The point in sky where the Sun would be seen on the spring equinox) is called 0 hours RA. Any star in sky can be located by its co-ordinates – how many hours (and/or minutes) away from the first point of Aries and how far is it from the equator of the sky. This is very similar to locating a place on the Earth knowing the longitude and latitude.
Now you must be guessing how this helps in naming stars! Every star in a constellation is given a number by the order of right ascension. As an example, the star within the area marked for the constellation Virgo and with the least right ascension will be labeled 1 Virginis. The star with next higher right ascension will be 2 Virginis and so on. Here there is no correlation between the number and the brightness of the star.
The winter (in the northern hemisphere) are a treat to star gazers, wherever it is not cloudy or rainy! There are a bunch of bright stars and constellations in the eastern sky. So what are you waiting for? There are many resources on the Internet to help you identify the stars and constellations. Get out and check out those bright constellations like Orion, Taurus, Gemini, Auriga and Perseus in the winter sky. You can start with the three stars from the belt of Orion, which are unmistakable (see figure). I bet you won’t miss the bright stars like Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Aldebaran and the Pleiades cluster if you head out and watch the evening sky!
(This is the text of a Toastmaster’s speech I made a long time ago)
For Earth Day 2013 – Reposting this old post:
Last year, Al Gore was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the year 2007 was announced, for supporting the cause of the environment. His film “An Inconvenient Truth” has won an Academy award as well. Although I haven’t seen that film, I really appreciate Al Gore for the concern he is showing on the Earth’s environment.
What is this ‘Inconvenient Truth’? It is something that most of us know, but not willing to acknowledge. Our tendency is to push the mess under the carpet, unseen until it gets so big, and can not be concealed anymore. Well, the unpleasant, inconvenient truth is that the global warming caused by human activity has harmed the earth’s environment in the last 4 decades, probably more than what had happened in the previous forty centuries. And worse, we are turning a blind eye to that even after knowing the consequences…
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This week is Chitra Poornime – Annual Rathotsava time at my native village, which brings back a host of memories every year ….
ನಾನು ಚಿಕ್ಕವನಾಗಿದ್ದಾಗಿಂದ ಪರೀಕ್ಷೆ ಮುಗಿದು ಬರುವ ಬೇಸಿಗೆ ರಜೆಗೆ ಕಾಯುತ್ತಿರುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆ. ಏಕೆಂದರೆ, ವರ್ಷದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಮ್ಮೆ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ರೈಲ್ವೆ ಪ್ರಯಾಣ ಆಗ ಬರುತ್ತಿತ್ತು. ಎಲ್ಲ ಮಕ್ಕಳಿಗೂ, ರೈಲು ಪ್ರಯಾಣ ಎಂದರೆ ಹೆಚ್ಚೇ ಆಸೆ ಎಂದು ನನ್ನೆಣಿಕೆ. ಆದರೆ, ನನ್ನ ಈ ರೈಲು ಪ್ರಯಾಣ ಮಾತ್ರ ಬಹಳ ದೂರದ್ದಾಗಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಆಗ ನಮ್ಮ ಊರಿಗೆ, (ಎಂದರೆ, ನನ್ನ ಪೂರ್ವಿಕರ ಊರಿಗೆ), ನನ್ನ ಊರಿಂದ (ಎಂದರೆ ಯಾವಾಗಲೂ ಯಾವಾಗಲೂ ನನ್ನ ಊರು ಯಾವುದು ಎಂದು ನಾನೆಂದುಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತೇನೋ) ಇದ್ದದ್ದು ಬರೀ ರೈಲು ಮಾತ್ರ. ಅರಸೀಕೆರೆಯಿಂದ ಮೈಸೂರಿಗೆ ಹೋಗುವ ದಾರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಐದು ಆರು ಮೈಲಿ ದಾಟಿ ಸಿಕ್ಕುತ್ತಿದ್ದಿದ್ದೇ ನಮ್ಮ ಹಳ್ಳಿ. ನಮ್ಮ ಅಜ್ಜ ಅಜ್ಜಿ ವಾಸ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ಮನೆ ಇದೆ ಅಲ್ಲಿ. ನನಗೆ ನೆನಪಿದ್ದಾಗಿನಿಂದ, ಅವರು ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯಲ್ಲೇ ಇದ್ದುದ್ದರಿಂದ, ನನಗೆ ಅದು ಅಜ್ಜ-ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಮನೆ ಅನ್ನಿಸದೇ, ಒಂದು ರಜಾ ಕಾಲದ ಮನೆಯಾಗಿರುತ್ತಿತ್ತು.
ಈ ಹದಿನೈದು ನಿಮಿಷದ ರೈಲು ಪ್ರಯಾಣಕ್ಕೆ ಯಾಕಪ್ಪಾ ಅಷ್ಟು ಉತ್ಸಾಹ ಎಂದಿರಾ? ಇನ್ನೆಲ್ಲಿಗೆ ಹೋಗಬೇಕಾಗಿದ್ದರೂ ಬಸ್ಸನ್ನೇ ಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದ ನಾವು ಇಲ್ಲಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ರೈಲು ಹಿಡಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದಿದ್ದು ಒಂದಾದರೆ, ಹಳ್ಳಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹೋಗಿ ಆರೆಂಟು ದಿನ ಇರುತ್ತೇವಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನುವುದು ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ಕಾರಣ ಇರಬೇಕು. ಮತ್ತೆ ಅದಕ್ಕಿಂತ ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಗೆ, ಊರಿನಲ್ಲಿದ್ದ ನಮ್ಮ ಮನೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ವರ್ಷ ಪೂರ್ತಿ ಯಾರೂ ವಾಸ ಇರುತ್ತಿದ್ದಿಲ್ಲ. ಅದಕ್ಕೆ, ನಾವು ಎಂಟು ದಿನ ಒಂದು ಸಂಸಾರ ನಡೆಸಬೇಕಾದರೆ ಬೇಕಾಗುವಷ್ಟು ವಸ್ತುಗಳೆಲ್ಲ – ಅಂದರೆ ಪಾತ್ರೆ ಪರಟಿ, ದವಸ ದಿನಸಿ, ಉಪ್ಪು ಮೆಣಸು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಂದನ್ನೂ ಕಟ್ಟಿಕೊಂಡು ಹೊರಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದೆವು. ಅದರ ಸಂಭ್ರಮವೇ ಸಂಭ್ರಮ…
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