To put it very simply, Astrophotography is photography of astronomical objects or phenomena. It’s not a very well-known practice in India but it has its share of enthusiasts. I was lucky enough to have grown up in Bangalore, a city with plenty of science junkies who, in spite of the general decline of science-geek culture, can still be found congregating in places like the Indian Institute of Science, the Nehru Planetarium, or the Vishweshwarayya Museum. As a result, I occasionally come across an astronomy or telescope-making workshop happening somewhere (usually at the Planetarium) though most times I am too caught up with other things to attend.
That aside, recent news of an astrophotography workshop in the Himalayas made me curious enough to search online for enthusiasts in India. The results weren’t too encouraging. Nevertheless, I did come across one person whose photographs and videos are simply stunning. His name is Ajay Talwar, one of the workshop’s organisers, and according to a profile, he’s been an astrophotographer since the late 1980s. For a practice that’s not very well known in the country, his passion’s noteworthy.
Since his images are copyrighted, I can’t display any of his work directly in this post. However, I can include some links to his work on The World At Night (TWAN) website. Incidentally, TWAN is an association of astrophotographers who take pictures of the night sky juxtaposed against interesting or important landmarks and landscapes. I can spend hours on TWAN’s website, surfing through their extensive collections of photographs and videos of the night sky.
For example, consider this photograph, titled “Looking Up from 5000 Years Down“. It was taken by Talwar at Rakhi Garh in the state of Haryana. In his own words:
‘In 1963, archaeologists discovered Rakhi Garhi, State of Haryana, India, and found that this place was the site of the largest known city of the Indus Valley civilization, much larger and ancient than Harappa and Mohenjodaro sites. It is situated on the dry bed of the Sarasvati river, which is believed to have once flown through this place and dried up by 2000 BC. There is an entire ancient city buried here. This trench shows layers and artifacts from various times of history of this Indus Valley Civilization Site. More from the photographer: “That night I climbed down 5000 years inside the earth, though it was just 22 metres below the ground level. Just a week before a team at Deccan University dug up this deep section. I was lucky to visit there while the trench was open for a couple of days.”‘
He’s taken another beautiful photograph called “Where the Ganga Begins“. Apart from the photograph itself, his caption briefly talks about that slip of a second where a photographer gets a perfect shot, prompting a moment of urgency.
‘Nightscape view of a bend in the Ganga river. From the photographer: “I drove 333 km from Delhi to a place called Devprayag upstream the Ganga river. Prayag means confluence in Hindi. At Devprayag, the tributaries Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet up to officially form the Ganga River at Devprayag. I had only a short gap of clear skies.”‘
The third and last photograph I’ll talk about is his incredible “Nova in Sagittarius“, showcased by NASA in their ‘Astronomy Picture of the Day‘ series. Rich with life and brimming with the glow of the Milky Way, this photograph talks about the birth of a new nova (an explosion on the surface of a White Dwarf star) in March 2015.
‘It quickly went from obscurity to one of the brighter stars in Sagittarius — but it’s fading. Named Nova Sagittarii 2015 No. 2, the stellar explosion is the brightest nova visible from Earth in over a year. The featured image was captured four days ago from Ranikhet in the Indian Himalayas. Several stars in western Sagittarius make an asterism known as the Teapot, and the nova, indicated by the arrow, now appears like a new emblem on the side of the pot. As of last night, Nova Sag has faded from brighter than visual magnitude 5 to the edge of unaided visibility. Even so, the nova should still be easily findable with binoculars in dark skies before sunrise over the next week.‘
(Quote from: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150325.html)
As always, I find it amazing that such phenomena happen so regularly right above our heads (one of my favourite examples of a cosmic explosion was that of SN 1987A, co-discovered by an amateur astronomer from New Zealand).