All Night Astronomy – RutJaga at Countryside of Sindh

Whenever you are bored and have got ample spare time, what do you do? Read books? Watch TV? Go out with friends to movies or fast food? Well, Astronomers, on first priority make out to a dark sky location in countryside, so we can observe thousands of stars and feel the grandeur of the Universe.

One such program was set up very recently by the Karachi Astronomers Society and PakWheels. We planned to have an all night astronomy session at a small village in Sindh, Pakistan.

Mr. Hanif Bhatti, who happens to be the founder of PakWheels arranged all the matters of stay and eating, and the date was decided to be 1-2 March 2014.

I don’t remember the names of all since there were so many new people, whom I was meeting for the first time. As soon as I arrived at the rendezvous point to leave for the trip, I saw a man dressed up in white. It immediately clicked to me that it must be Umair Rasheed. Well I was right and I had a brief chit-chat with him until others also arrived. Umair Rasheed is a religious scholar and his institution is pioneering in predictions of new moon visibility. I also met a new member named Waqar. Gujarati chit-chat between Umair and Waqar amused me.

Soon I saw Absar Taqvi, Abbas Jafri, Imran Rasheed, Sajjad Ahmed, Muhammad Mehdi Hussain (President), Abubaker Siddiq (General Secretary), Zain Ahmed, Jahanzeb Panjwani, Ramiz Qureshi, and other guys. I introduced myself to Jahanzeb as Astronomer Bilal, and Jahanzeb asked if Astronomer is literally my first name. WOW I didn’t know it had become integrated part of my name.

As we were chatting in the scorching sunlight waiting for others to arrive, a black sedan stopped nearby and a Police guard got off the vehicle. He opened the back door, and an elderly man came out of the car and introduced himself as Zafar Ahmad Farooqi, Former Inspector General of Sindh Police.

Someone joked that if he goes with us, we will have free “Security Protocol”. Former happened, latter didn’t.

His style of asking “Your name please and what do you do” was like that of a true cop. Really impressive. Although he is 60+, but his passion for Astronomy at this age was amazing. He was the most senior astronomer in our group this time.

Wheels Rolling, Moving Finally.

I and Absar decided to sit together. Our coaster also picked Sarang Shaikh (MUET/KHI IEEE Waala), Nofal Khan, and Danish Mughal. During the journey, I and Absar discussed on awful lot many topics which ranged from Poetry to Science and Theology.

Arrived at the village around 2 PM and had lunch. Very sumptuous lunch at local hotel. At the lunch table, Sarang and I told stories of how political the environment is in the universities of Jamshoro, to Nofal and Danish. There was discussion on demographics of Hyderabad as well.

Left the hotel and this time we were moving towards our camp site. The road was too much dusty and those wearing black clothes now had their clothes patterned white.

Soon, the road turned into a narrow path which is called “Pag-Dandi” (Foot Strip) in local language. We started seeing the hut. I was really pleased to see the lush green fields of various crops including yellow-green field of mustard and sunflowers. Got off from the coasters and put our bags inside the hut.

Sunflower Field en route the Camp Site

Sunflower Field en route the Camp Site

Photo Credit: Abubaker Siddiq

Photo Credit: Abubaker Siddiq

It was now time for introduction. On our every all night astronomy session, we assemble in a large circle and introduce ourselves to each other. This helps us to know about each other’s background and their interest that brings them to such far-off places.

By the time we were done with the introduction, I felt excessive need of caffeine boost up. Kept feeling it for 5 more hours. :-/

Went out with Ramiz, Jahanzeb, and other guys to roam around in the fields and appreciate the nature. The walk from hut to the fields was long, and I was darn tired but I kept walking till we reached the end of the long Pag-Dandi. From there, we took a U-Turn and travelled another adjacent path of the same length just to check a small oasis type place at the other end. Took some shots here.

Photographers and Field Panorama Photo by Me

Photographers and Field Panorama
Photo by Me

Now since there was no short cut from that second path to the hut, we again had to travel all the way back, and then take the first path, and then the same distance to the hut. This completely enervated me and I decided to take a short nap so that I could remain up for the night, but there were so many flies that I couldn’t sleep even for a second. So I said “Ah man, alright let’s not try sleeping any more”, and went outside to see what was happening.

Call for Asr prayers was given, offered prayers and the telescope setup was started. At the water pump, I met two guys from Hyderabad, who happened to be friends of my another friend, whom I knew from Twitter through another friend, and that another friend was introduced to me by Ramiz 😀

The Sun was setting, and I and Ramiz along with other friends once again went out in the fields, took the same infinitely long path, just to capture few shots of the setting Sun. Shots taken were really worth the Round Trip.

Tasting the Sun Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Tasting the Sun
Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Pinching the Sun Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Pinching the Sun
Photo Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Oh I forgot to mention, that there was a little trench filled with water between the hut and the telescopes. So we had two options, either to cross the bridge of death every time, or to take a relatively longer path, circling the venue and ending up at the telescopes from other side.

Chose to took the bridge of death for countless times because it was fun and scary. It was a wooden ladder serving as the bridge which scared me for the first time, but crossing it two or three times gave me a great experience, which of course cannot be mentioned on the resume.

Imran Bhai crossing the bridge with his telescope.  Photo and Terminology Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

Imran Bhai crossing the bridge with his telescope.
Photo and Terminology Credit: Ramiz Qureshi

The cloak of darkness wrapped everything as the Sun went down, and we all gathered by the telescopes. Initially there were appetizer type discussions on science, including the famous movie Gravity (2013). We discussed the science behind the movie and the degree of its accuracy.

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Setup and Discussions

Then there were some serious discussions. Some new guys asked me questions on various scientific phenomena such as relativity, Newtonian and Einsteinian Physics, Stephen Hawking, whom I mistakenly uttered as Richard Dawkins (Freudian Slip?) and the night sky. Answered them in detail.

After the darkness, when I raised my head for the first time at the sky, I was literally stunned and my mind whirled for a moment or two. There were so many stars, too much of them, that I couldn’t focus my eyes at any point in the sky. My head twiddled. I took a few minutes to recover from this and started enjoying the night sky.

Had long, very long discussion on theory of evolution with Mehdi Bhai, Sajjad Bhai, Absar, and other guys. The discussion continued in many sessions with small pauses and finally we reached a common conclusion on it.

At around 9 PM, dinner was served. Tight Masaley Wali Biryani which is called “Bhatt” in Sindhi with (Finally) a strong tea with milk, which is called “Kadak Doodh Patti” in local lingo. Now I was all set for spending the night without rest.

By the time we finished dinner and tea, Mars and Arcturus had risen from East, and the two reddish heavenly bodies with nearby blue coloured star Spica was a pleasing sight.

Ramiz, Abubaker, and other photography enthusiasts went away in the fields with their toys to capture some shots of stars. They returned hours later with a treasure of starry visuals in their electronic gadgets.

Meanwhile, I was surrounded with other guys, who were enthusiastic about knowing the night sky, and I was more enthusiastic to tell them about it. In any Astronomy event, and also generally in Astronomy, I like the theory and discussions part more than the observing part. It gives me an immense pleasure to know and to understand the phenomena that make the Universe as it really is.

After observing a few galaxies through 6 inch Dobsonian telescope, I lied down on my back, opened up an Astronomy app in my mobile phone and started tracing constellations. Constellations are patterns of stars in the night sky, which are apparent only when viewed from the Earth in 2-dimensional plane. As the world is divided into countries, the night sky is divided into constellations, and this helps astronomers refer to specific parts in the night sky. There are 88 constellations in the night sky.

Winter Constellations Credit: Starry Skies

Winter Constellations
Credit: Starry Skies

Constellation Hercules

Constellation Hercules

I was lucky enough to trace complete constellations of Gemini (Twins), Canis Major (Big Dog), Hydra (The Sea Serpent), Crater (Cup), and Corvus (Crow), Leo (Lion), Ursa Major (The Big Bear), Bootes (The Herdsman), and Scorpius (The Scorpion). I also taught these constellations to other guys nearby.



As I was lying on the floor, I noticed that near constellation Coma Berenices (Hair of Berenices II) there were small fuzzy dots, closely packed with each other. To this day, I had thought that the only galaxy visible from naked eye is Messier 31 the Andromeda Galaxy, therefore I didn’t give a thought to what could be those dots. Only a few minutes later, Zain Bhai told me that those dots were galaxies in the Coma Cluster of Galaxies.

Oh my God !!! Such dark sky that I could see galaxies millions and millions of light years away with my naked eyes. That is one unforgettable moment and a joy which cannot be expressed in words.

Coma Cluster of Galaxies Image Credit: Adam Block, Mount Lemmon Sky Center

Coma Cluster of Galaxies
Image Credit: Adam Block, Mount Lemmon Sky Center

The Coma Cluster (Abell 1656) is a large cluster of galaxies that contains over 1,000 identified galaxies. Along with the Leo Cluster (Abell 1367), it is one of the two major clusters comprising the Coma Supercluster. It is located in and takes its name from the constellation Coma Berenices. The cluster’s mean distance from Earth is 99 Mega Parsecs (321 million light years). This means that light, being the fastest thing in Universe takes 321 Million Years to reach from Coma Cluster to the Earth.

At around 3 AM, almost everyone went inside the hut to sleep but few people. The telescopes were covered because they had been invaded by dew and the sky had become hazy, rendering us unable to observe anything clearly. This condition forced many astronomers to sleep, but I kept awake and kept roaming here and there.

As the dawn approached, I, Abubaker, Sajjad Bhai, Nofal Khan, and Jahanzeb made it to the fields far away from the hut to get ourselves pictured with the majestic arm of our home galaxy, Milky Way, which had just risen from East, in the constellation of Sagittarius. From a dark location, and sometimes even from light polluted metropolitan skies, you can recognize a cloudy patch, similar to the path between the fields, or Pag-Dandi, runs from constellation Sagittarius to Cygnus and to Orion, even if the sky is crystal clear, this patch will be visible in these constellations. This is the arm of our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Milky Way Galaxy over Alamut Castle, Alborz, Iran Credit: Babak Tafreshi

Milky Way Galaxy over Alamut Castle, Alborz, Iran
Credit: Babak Tafreshi

Milky Way has got several arms (like an Octopus) which are visible towards the direction of different constellations. Our Sun is located in one such arm. The arms are made up of galactic dust and the stars, and our Sun is one of those.

Arms of Milky Way Galaxy

Arms of Milky Way Galaxy

I saw a grand, majestic, extremely beautiful collection of stars in South. Although I was unaware of the pattern of the stars, I could make out that the bright stars would be members of a certain constellation. Someone told me that this was the constellation Centaurus (Centaur). Since then, this constellation has become one of my favourites. Constellation Centaurus is a southern constellation, that is visible only in southern latitudes, and is difficult to observe in the metropolitan areas due to high-rise buildings.

Constellation Centaurus

Constellation Centaurus

Got many a shots with and of Milky Way galaxy. Soon Ramiz joined us in the fields, and he managed to capture some amazing shots.

Meanwhile, the planet Venus had risen to a considerable altitude. The sky was so dark, that for the first time ever, I could feel the light of planet Venus illuminating the venue and our faces. When the haze settled a bit, this illumination increased even more. When you are under such dark skies, you can see each others’ faces even only in starlight. Isn’t that amazing? 🙂

Astronomer Bilal, Nofal Khan, Sajjad Ahmed, Abubaker Siddiq, and Jahanzeb Panjwani, with Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy

Astronomer Bilal, Nofal Khan, Sajjad Ahmed, Abubaker Siddiq, and Jahanzeb Panjwani, with Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy

Back to telescopes. Now we hurried to observe some last objects as the dawn was really close. Saw planet Saturn, planet Venus (half-phase), Messier 57 the Ring Nebula in constellation Lyra (The Harp), and double star Albireo in constellation Cygnus (The Swan). By this time, the light of morning was visible on the horizon.

Messier 57, The Ring Nebula in Constellation Lyra. Leftovers of a dead star which is somewhere in the exact center of the image.

Messier 57, The Ring Nebula in Constellation Lyra. Leftovers of a dead star which is somewhere in the exact center of the image.

The faint light which spreads horizontally in the sky around an hour and half before the sunrise, is called Al-Fajr Al-Sadiq (True Dawn) in Arabic and Subh e Sadiq in Urdu. When it is True Dawn, a creamy milky light is visible in the direction of East and is spread out to several degree from East to North and from East to South, horizontally. As soon as the True Dawn starts, its the time for Morning prayers, and when the Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan or any other time, the True Dawn marks the start of their fast and eating beyond this time voids the fast.

This was my first time to have witnessed Al-Fajr Al-Sadiq and I was really excited for this.

As the Sun rose up, we took some final shots of ourselves with the telescopes, and lined up for the breakfast. A very delicious breakfast was arranged and I ate till my brain gave me a stop signal.

Left the venue at around 9 AM. Took the same coaster and sat with Absar. But this time, there were no discussions because everyone of us was so tired of all day and all night’s exertion. I slept for some 10 minutes while coming back to the port city.

Arrived in Karachi at noon, and at 12:30 PM I was home. For this entire trip, I slept only for 10 minutes in 36 hours. My shoes proved to be rather uneasy, and I had deep marks of penetration on my feet due to them. But I was really happy to have made it to one of the most beautiful nights of my life, an experience which I will never forget. For even today while writing this post, the lovely sight of Constellation Centaur is flashing in front of my eyes 🙂

Group photo of Karachi Astronomers Society. I am in pink shirt, sitting in first row.

Group photo of Karachi Astronomers Society. I am in pink shirt, sitting in first row.


50 paper folds can get you to the Sun !

Really? But a paper is just as thick as a tiny bit of a tiny bit of an inch. How’s it possible that a paper can cover up the distance that is approximately 149 Million Kilometres?

1 AU = ~149 Million Kilometres which is the distance between Sun and the Earth

1 AU = ~149 Million Kilometres which is the distance between Sun and the Earth

Perhaps you should take a minute or two, and think if its possible at all, how many folds will it really require to get there. Maybe billions of papers stacked on one another will be required to bridge the gap between the Earth and the star that sustains life of Earthlings, but we are not talking about stacking the papers, rather, folding the papers on one another.

Here’s how we can do it.

You all are familiar with those printer reams, which are about 2 inches high for 500 inches high. Now, thickness of paper can be only approximated to nearest value, but not accurately, so it is nearly 0.005 inches for a single sheet.

When the sheet is not folded at all, it is 0 folds and 1 times thick: 2^0 = 1

When the sheet is folded first time, it is 1 fold and twice as thick as previous: 2^1 = 2

When the sheet is folded second time, it is 2 folds and four times thicker than original: 2^2 = 4

So you see a pattern here? It is growing up exponentially. When you will finally make it to 2^50, it will be an enormous number and a rather confusing but simple calculation with very large numbers. Summing it up, we have

2^50 =1125899906842624

Multiply it with 0.005: 1125899906842624 times 0.005 inches = 5629499534213.12

The answer is the distance, in inches. Divide it by 12 to convert it into feet.

5629499534213.12 / 12 = 469124961184.427 feet.

Since 3280.84 feet make up one kilometre, we divide it by 3280.84

142989283.6 kilometres.

This means, that a single paper, if folded 50 times, can cover 95% distance between the Sun and the Earth. If we were to fold it 51st time,  it would be double the previous value and will take us way beyond the Sun. That’s the power of exponents. It grows beyond your imaginations.

Image credit:

Image credit:

The catch is, you cannot fold a paper beyond 8 times, no matter how large it is.


Khwaab Martey Nahin / Dreams Don’t Die – Ahmed Faraz

URDU (Original Version)


Khwaab maratay nahiin

Khwaab dil hain,

na aankhen,

na saansen

ke jorezaa, rezaa huwe to bikhar jaayenge

jism kii maut se ye bhii mar jaayenge

Khwaab maratay nahiin

Khwaab to raushanii hain, navaa hain, havaa hain

jo kaalay pahaaron se rukatay nahiin

zulm kii dozaKhon se bhii phukatay nahiin

raushanii aur navaa aur havaa ke aalam

maqtalon men pahunch kar bhii jhukatay nahiin

Khwaab to harf hain

Khwaab to nuur hain

Khwaab suqraat hain

Khwaab mansuur hain






Dreams do not die.

Dreams are not heart,

nor eyes or breath

Which shattered, will scatter

(or)Die with the death of the body.

Dreams do not die.

But dreams are light, voice, wind,

Which cannot be stopped by mountains black,

Which do not perish in the hells of cruelty,

Ensigns of light and voice and wind,

Bow not, even in abattoirs.

But dreams are letters,

But dreams are illumination,

Dreams are Socrates,

Dreams are Mansuur

Raat aur Rail – Asrar ul Haq Majaz

Urdu language has a history which spans over several centuries. A relatively new language as compared to others in Indian sub-continent, Urdu has a poetical asset which mostly comprises of romantic and sad poetry. The primary tool of poets in Urdu, is that of “Tashbeeh and Is’ti’aarah”, which means, finding similarities between two things, called appropriately as “similes”. Poets primarily make use of similes to explain the beauty and characteristics of rather “hypothetical beloved”.

However, some Urdu poets have taken on topics, which are rather uncommon. One such topic is that of a train hurtling through the mountains and valleys towards its destination. The poet is Asrar ul Haq Majaz (19 October 1911 – 5 December 1955). What a beautiful use of similes the poet has made, matching the train’s wobbling, whistling, and turning through sharp bends to dancing and singing, and the curvy body of a snake.

I am really taken aback by the poet’s description of the scene of a train travelling at night. Enjoy… 🙂


Phir chali hai rail, station sey lehraati hui

neem shab ki khaamashi mein zair-e-lab gaati hui

Dagmagaati, jhoomti, seeti bajaati, khelti

waadi-o-kohsaar ki Thandi hawaa khaati hui

Jaisey maujoun kaa tarannum, jaisey jal pariyoun key geet

ik ik laiy mein hazaaron zamzamay gaati hui

Naunaihaaloun ko sunaati meethi meethi loriyaan

naazneenon ko sunehrey khwaab dikhlaati hui

Thokrein khaa kar lachakti, gungunaati, jhoomti

sarkhushi mein ghunghroouon ki taal par gaati hui

Naaz sey har morh par khaati hui sau paich-o-khamm

ik dulhan apni adaa sey aap sharmaati hui

Raat ki taareekiyon mein jhilmilati, kaanpti

patriyoun par duur tak seemab chalkaati hui

Jaisey aadhi raat ko nikli ho aik shaahi baraat

shaadiyaanon ki sadaa sey wajd mein aati hui

Seena-e-kohsaar par charhti hui be-ikhtiyaar

aik naagin jiss tarhan masti mein lahraati hui

Ik pahaari par dikhaati aabshaaron ki jhala

kik beyaabaan mein chiraagh-e-toor dikhlaati hui

Justujoo mein manzil-e-maqsood ki diwaana-waar

apna sar dhunti, fizaa mein baal bikhraati hui

Chairtee aik wajd kay aalam mein saaz-e-sarmadi

ghaiz key aalam mein munh sey aag barsaati hui

Munh mein ghusti hai surangoun ke yakayak dour kar

dandanaati, cheekhti, chinghaarti, gaati hui

Safhaa-e-dil sey mitatti ahad-e-maazi key naqoosh

haal-o-mustaqbil key dilkash khwaab dikhlaati hui

Zad mein koi cheez aa jaye to uss ko pees kar

irtiqaa-e-zindagi kay raaz batlaati hui

ik ik harkat sey andaaz-e-baghaawat aashkaar

azmat-e-insaaniyat kay zamzamay gaati hui

Algharz urtii chali jaati hai bekhauf-o-khatar

shaayar-e-aatish nafs kaa khoon khaulaati hui


Words of wisdom by a father for his son

Mir, my son, take things in their normal course, in their stride. Do not get depressed by a setback and do not get exalted by success. Have your feet always on the ground. Never lose heart. Always learn a lesson from a setback, always be humble in success.Speak with confidence, maintain your point of view couragiously, but not obstinately. Keep an open and objective mind. Always be anxious to learn from others and acquire knowledge. Maintain a sense of balance.

Above all, at no time should you be ashamed of your background or your culture. In upholding your rich heritage, you don’t have to be offensive. Be natural and normal. Do not lose strength of your conviction either by prejudice or by complex. Do not get provoked. Good or bad, your roots are here in a history coming from a thousand years. I think they are good roots.

A manifestation of national pride does not mean the demonstration of chauvinism or arrogance. You do not have to prove that Pakistan is good by proving America is bad. Never be ashamed of your culture, never be ashamed of your background, never apologize for conditions in Asia. Remember, despite all the advances of science and technology, Islam is the last message of God. Try to keep in touch with your religion as much as possible.

Do not smoke cigarettes, but its better to do that than to drink. But cigarettes cause cancer so must not do that either. Students out there will tell you, why don’t you take a PUFF? Its innocent sounding though, but BAM, your life will be over, you will have lost your soul to drugs. Don’t do it son, don’t.

I am sure you will make good friends at Oxford. On my part, I consciously broke most of the links I developed with the friends I made in England and America, of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, I thought my re-integration in the setting of our own country would be speedier if I broke those links because I never wanted to feel nostalgic about America or England when I returned to the village of Naudero.


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s letter to Mir Murtaza Bhutto while he was in Harvard and Oxford Universities.

Excerpts from: Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto.

Why we shout in anger?

A saint who was visiting a river to take bath found a group of family members on the banks, shouting in anger at each other. He turned to his disciples smiled ‘n asked.

‘Why do people shout in anger shout at each other?’

Disciples thought for a while, one of them said, ‘Because we lose our calm, we shout.’

‘But, why should you shout when the other person is just next to you? You can as well tell him what you have to say in a soft manner.’ asked the saint

Disciples gave some other answers but none satisfied the other disciples.
Finally the saint explained, .

‘When two people are angry at each other, their hearts distance a lot. To cover that distance they shout to be able to hear each other. The angrier they are, the stronger they will have to shout to hear each other to cover that great distance.

What happens when two people fall in love? They don’t shout at each other but talk softly, Because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is either non-existent or very small…’

The saint continued, ‘When they love each other even more, what happens? They do not speak, only whisper ‘n they get even closer to each other in their love. Finally they even need not whisper, they only look at each other ‘n that’s all. That is how close two people are when they love each other.’

He looked at his disciples and said.

‘So when you argue do not let your hearts get distant, Do not say words that distance each other more, Or else there will come a day when the distance is so great that you will not find the path to return.’


Couple Shouting

The Poet and the Moon – Giacomo Leopardi

This is the fourth installment in the Poet and the Moon series. Giacomo Leopardi (June 29, 1798 – June 14, 1837) was an Italian poet, essayist, philosopher, and philologist. Although he lived in a secluded town in the ultra-conservative Papal States, he came in touch with the main thoughts of the Enlightenment, and, by his own literary evolution, created a remarkable and renowned poetic work, related to the Romantic era.


Oh gracious moon, now as the year turns,
I remember how, heavy with sorrow,
I climbed this hill to gaze on you,
And then as now you hung above those trees
Illuminating all. But to my eyes
Your face seemed clouded, temulous
From the tears that rose beneath my lids,
So painful was my life: and is, my
Dearest moon; its tenor does not change.
And yet, memory and numbering the epochs
Of my grief is pleasing to me. How welcome
In that youthful time -when hope’s span is long,
And memory short -is the remembrance even of
Past sad things whose pain endures.

Moon behind trees