Astronomy

Anushandhitshu Chokro Science Organization’s Contribution to Bangladesh Amateur Astronomy : A Short History

Anushandhitshu Chokro Science Organization was formed in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1975 by some young college students. The word Anushandhitshu literally means inquisit ive and Chokro means circle. This young inquisitive circle was interested in understanding the various scientific topics of the day as well as promoting scieintific literacy in the country. They were also fascinated by the night sky. The Dhaka sky was not as polluted as it is now and as they used to lie on their rooftops and gaze at the distant stars, they dreamed of unraveling their mysteries. Thus, astronomy became one of the main activities of A. Chokro.

Initially, there were no instruments to look at the sky with. But simple observation without telescopes can be fun and the Chokro members identified the stars and the constellation patterns that can be seen from the Dhaka sky. Dipen Bhattacharya and Supal Dey took initiave in familiarizing themselves with the stellar constellations and helped other members to identify cosmic objects. Later Shahjahan Mridha Benu took initiave in making a wooden sextant and a theodolite to find stellar coordinates. In the meantime, the Chokro members got hold of several Soviet-made binoculars and small telescopes. They made a special stand for the heavy binoculars so that the sky can be observed without the jiggling motion of the hand. Thus, an observer could lie on the ground and could see the sky in a stable manner. They also acquired a slide projector and made special slides depicting stellar constellations. Their astronomical slide presentation at different science fairs may be considered one of the first of its kind in Bangladesh. One of the first science fairs organized by Chokro took place at the Science Museum in 1976. Below we describe some of the major undertakings of A. Chokro in the field of popular astronomy in Bangladesh.

Observation of Halley’s Comet, 1985-86

The observation of Halley’s comet was an event that was of great importance to all amateur observers of the world. It was also the first major event organized by A. Chokro. A telescope was constructed for this occasion from a German Ziess camera lens and salvaged ship parts. The Zeiss lens was used by Hitler Air Troops for aerial photography and was bought in London by Dr. A. R. Khan. The telescope construction was initiated by Shahjahan Mridha Benu and Dipen Bhattacharya and subsequently finished by Sirajul Hossain Cesar and Azaharul Hoque Selim. The observation of Halley’s Comet brought the night sky to the general public in Bangladesh for the first time. The success of this event prompted the Education Ministry in donating a 16” Meade telescope to A. Chokro.

Planetarium : A Basic Mode, 1989 to BSMR Novo Theatre, 2004

Anishandhishu Chokro realized that a planetarium is an ideal educational tool for astronomy. However, due to the lack of funding and space only a very simple model was conceived. Shahjahan Mridha Benu, constructed this mini planetarium from an umbrella, a circular wooden bench and a slide projector. This Mini Planetarium was in use for a number of years at the premise of the Science Museum first in Dhamondi and later in Kakrail where Science Museum moved. Among others Shumon, Ashraf and Reaz were the presenters of the show.

A UNESCO funding was arranged by the then Science Museum director, Dr. Khan Muhammhad Sirajul Islam which made possible a book by Ashraf, Reaz and Shumon called Esho Tarar Rajye (An invitation to the starry realm). The book was one of the first children’s book on astronomy in Bengali.

During this time, A. Chokro members especially Shahjahan Mridha Benu and Supal Dey went to government ministers and officials requesting the construction of a planetarium at the national level with a detailed proposal. The proposal included a plan for Zeiss Company’s Mark 6 projector. The total project cost without the land was 9 crore Taka. After 8 years, Bangladesh Government started to build a Novo Theatre in 1997. However, the theatre design did not include a planetarium, but rather a IMAX-type large-screen movie theatre. The theatre wasinaugurated in 25th September 2004.

The First Observatory, 1985

More people became interested in astronomy and the need for a full-fledged astronomical observatory was felt. For the next few years, A. Chokro visited several sites in Bangladesh that could provide good astronomical viewing conditions. However, in the meantime an observatory was constructed on the roof of the Science Museum in Dhaka under A. Chokro’s guidance. The then Education Secretary, Mr. Kazi Jalal Ahmed, assisted in the buying of this telescope through a 2 lakh Taka UNESCO coupon. Mr. Amanullah, a businessman, helped in bringing this telescope from USA. The permission to build the observatory was given by the then museum director Mr. Khan Mohammed Shirajul Islam. Mr. Shahjahan Mridha Benu took the responsiblity for the design and construction of this observatory to house a 16” Meade telescope.A platform, iron cast, electric drive and tracking system, were made for the observatory. The electrical drive for the roof, made by Mr Sirajul Hossain Cesar, was the first of such a kindin Bangladesh. And thus in 1985, the first astronomical observatory of Bangladesh was established. Unfortunately, due to lack of interest within the Science Museum and insufficient regular upkeep, the observatory currently is not working.

Total Solar Eclipse of 1995

On October 24, 1995 a total eclipse of the Sun was visible from the extreme south-western tip of Bangladesh. The path of the Moon’s umbral shadow began in the Middle East, and swept across India, Southeast Asia, and South China Sea before ending at sunset in the Pacific Ocean. To observe this eclipse, Anushandhitshu Chokro and several other science organizations jointly set up a camp at Hiron Point in the Sundanbans. More than three hundred scientists and enthusiasts partcipated at the camp. The totality at the Hiron Point lasted about 3 minutes and 21 seconds.

Leonid Meteor Shower of 1999

Meteor showers are caused by meteoroids entering the earth’s atmosphere, but the bulk of the meteoroids are smaller than a grain of sand. A significant meteor shower was expected in 1999 when the earth was to cross the dust ejectas of of Comet 55P/Temple-Tuttle. On 17 November, 1997, A. Chokro’s teams observed Leonid meteor shower from Bagerbazar, Shreepur, and Gazipur. They counted, on average, 100 meteors per hour.

Observation Camp, 2002

On 24th November, 2002, Anushandhitshu Chokro used its self constructed refracting telescope (100X magnification) in an observation cam held by the Demra Branch in the village of Sharulia.

Moon Observation Camp 1st May- 5th May, 2003

Moon Observing Camps were setup at different locations in Mirpur, Dhaka for five days. Hundreds of students and general public welcomed this and lined up to look at the moon through a telescope. Chokro members identified and explained structures on the moon to them.

 

Mercury Transit 8th May, 2003

Any transit is a major event in astronomy because of its rarity. Astronomers all over the world wait for such events. From the earth, only transits of Venus and Mercury across the disk of the sun can be observed. On average, there are 13 transits of mercury in every century. The Mercury transit of 8th May, 2003, lasted more than five hours and could be seen from a large portion of Asia, Europe and Africa. On the day of the transit there were several observation points set up throughout Bangladesh, including Sheetalakhsa River, Field’s of Moravian, Demra College etc. Telescopes were set up for the general public to observe this rare event.

Mars Festival 14th August -5th September, 2003

On 27th August, 2003, the closest pass of Mars to the earth (about 56 million kilometers) in about 60,000 years took place. At its closest approach (opposition in the constellation of Aquarius), Mars was 25 arc second in extension and at a magnitude of -2.9 it outshone Sirius and rivaled that of Jupiter. For this special and very rare astronomical event, a Mars festival was organized from 14th August to 5th of September. Anushandhitshu Chokro, Science Popularization Society of Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Astronomical Society jointly organized this large festival for the observation of Mars. This festival included seminars, showing videos of Mars , open discussions and telescope observations. The polar caps and other Mars features were explained to the general public. A major seminar was arranged at BUET (Bangladesh’s leading engineering institute). The seminar was attended by 1200 hundred participants followed by an observation session followed where the number of enthusiasts reached 5000. In spite of cloud-cover till 9:30 PM the audience waited patiently to get a glimpse of this red planet. The Mars festival was carried out throughout Bangladesh at different locations. including Dhaka, Panchagor, Brahmanbaria, Comilla, Chittagong, Narayanganj and Mymensingh. Overall, more than 30 thousand people participated in these camps.

Observing Jupiter 7th March, 2004

During the Opposition of Jupiter of 2004, the apparent size of the planet was almost 46 arc seconds in extension. The colourful planet is one of the gems of the sky (if not the best) and rightfully attracted people’s attention at an observation camp arranged by the combined efforts of A. Chokro and Popularizing Science Committee in Bangladesh in the playing grounds of Bashabo, Dhaka.

Alignment of the Planets in March, 2004

The presence of the five visible planets (Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Mars, Saturn) within one quadtrant the sky allowed the earth-dwellers to see all these planets at the same time. Programs and observations were conducted at various sites in Dhaka. Observations were followed by discussions which tried to dispel any superstitions associated with such occurances.

Moon Observation Camp 1st April, 2004

To continue regular work and popularization of science and astronomy, another Moon observation camp was organized jointly by A. Chokro, Science Popularization Committee and Astronomical Society. It took place at Icchapura High School in a village called Shirajdikha, Munshiganj. At this camp students and other locals were shown the moon along with Saturn and Venus through a telescope. Question-answer session followed after the observation.

Venus Transit 8th June, 2004

Transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating separting each pair. Compared to the solar and lunar eclipses, and the transits of mecury, Venus transits across the face of the sun is a rarer event and should not be missed by any astronomy enthusiasts. The last pair of transits, before 2004, occurred in 1874 and 1882 and the next pair after 2012 will occur in 2117 and 2125. The transit of of 8th June, 2004 is the first Venus transit in a globalized world where the event could be seen through the internet the world over.

A. Chokro celebrated the event across the country. With observations and sicussion sessions. The transit was photographed meticulously.

2005

A sky camp was arranged during the at the Ekushey book Fair, Dhaka in February. where people gather together from all walks of life for entertainment and fun. It was a perfect place for an astrocamp because it was a gathering of booklovers who were attracted to what’s happening in the sky. Throughout 2005, A. Chokro organized camps across the country, including Aliganj, Lal Monir Hat, and various places in Dhaka.

Meteorite at Shingpara 31st December, 2006

On the last day of a cold January, close to the far nothern end of Bangladesh, a ball of fire was seen flashing across the sky. The meteorite finally came to a halt with an explosion in a field near the village of Shingpara. A team from A. Chokro that included Shahjahan Mridha Benu, Naimul Islam Opu and Prof. A. R. Khan, Ifteekhar Ayub, arranged for the iron meteorite to be collected and brought to Dhaka. The Chokro members also collected scientific data at the site. Subsequently, a part of the meteorite was sent to Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad in India. A special video was made on the recovery of the meteorite. http://www.thedailystar.net/magazine/2006/08/03/science.htm

Partial Solar Eclipse, 29th March, 2006

A total solar eclipse was seen across northern Africa, Turkey and central Asia. Only a partial eclipse could be glimpsed from Bangladesh. The observation of the partial eclipse was carried out at M. R. Government College under the supervision of Naimul Islam Opu.

Radhagobinda Chandra’s 128th Birthday, 14th July 2006

Radhagobinda Chandra (1878-1975) is a Bengali astronomer who observed more than 49,000 variable stars and was one of the first people to discover a nova in the constellation of Aquilla in 19918. In commemoration of Radhagobind Chandra’s 128th Birthday a seminar was organized at Dhaka University’s Information and Technology Department. At this function, A. Chokro acknowledged the work of Colin Henshaw, an avid amateur astronomer from UK, who was working at a local school.

Summer Solstice Celebration, 2007

Much is discussed in astronomy about the stars, the sun and moon, the wanderings of the planets that sometimes some of the more simple things and wonders of the sky astronomy are missed. Summer Solstice in one of those very apparent but overlooked cosmic events. On the day of the summer solistice, June 21st, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, the sun passes almost overhead in the sky of Bangladesh. The Tropic of Cancer runs through Bangladesh. This is a circle of most northern latitude where, on the day of the Solstice, the sun will appear at the zenith.

A Summer Solstice celebration was organized at Bishyo Shahityo Kendro in Dhaka to highlight the motion of the sun in the sky and the precession of the earth’s axis. Special scientific presentations were arranged using animations and models to explain the significance of the day. The shadows of simple devices were tracked and photographed to show that the sun was very close to zenith on that day in Dhaka.

International Year of Astronomy, 2009

United Nations declared 2009 as the International Year of Astronomy. Along with 136 other countries Bangladesh also carried out events and programs throughout the year. Keeping in spirit with the years theme by UN, Anushandhishu Chokro also organized majort programs and projects which included designing astronomical postal stamps, celebrating Galileo’s 445th Birthday, and the Total Solar eclipse campaign.

Astronomical Postal Stamp

In order to mark the importance of the year and also to promote astronomy in Bangladesh, Anushandhitshu Chokro proposed to the to Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MoPT) of Bangladesh to issue commemorative stamps for the International Year of Astronomy 2009. The idea was received well and eventually two stamps with envelopes were issued. The stamps were designed by the Astronomy Section of A. Chokro and featured Andromeda Galaxy and Galileo’s telescope. These were the first stamps of Bangladesh dedicated to astronomy or to a scientific theme.

Galileo Galilei’s 445th Birthday, 15th February

Galileo was the first person to look at the heavens with a telescope. He discovered the moons of Jupiter, craters on the moon, phases of Venus and the fact that the Milky Way is made up of stars. It’s his observations that provided the observational and philosophical underpinings to Copernicus’s heliocentric model of the solar system. His persecution by the religious authorities of the day for his scientific work that went against the established dogma shows us how science can be intruded upon by players outside the domain of science.

Galilei’s birthday was celebrated throughout Bangladesh by regularly observing Jupiter’s moons, Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. A day-long event was arranged jointly by A. Chokro and National Museum of Science and Technology at the Museum premise. The program included seminar, exhibitions, video presentations, discussions and Q&A sessions in the auditorium of the museum.

Total Solar Eclipse, July 22nd

The total Solar eclipse of 2009 was the longest of the 21st century and was aptly termed a monster eclipse due to the long durtaion of the totality. The eclipse which started on the Arabian Sea traversed a narrow corridor through India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and China. Even though only a small north-western portion of Bangladesh was within this path, Anushandhitshu Chokro seized on this opportunity and organized a major eclipse observation campaign to promote astronomy and dispel superstitions that are associated with such an event. Altogether 63 schools were involved in the observation and across the country 14 observation sites were setup, which included Panchagar, Chandpur, Thakur Gaon, Dhaka and Narayanganj. Thousands of people showed up at echa of these camps. The event was also telecast by a live feed which reached some 5 million people across the country. A separate paper dedicated to this event is included in this book.

Perseid Shower 12th August, 2009

The Perseid is a strong meteor shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. A camp was organized at the Manda Green Model town. Three TV channels along with Radio stations were also present for this event. But unfortunately cloudy skies prevented people from seeing a good shower. The number of participants was over fifty. Another camp near Maowa near Padma was luckier and there the particpants registetered a few meterors.

Annular Solar Eclipse 15th January, 2010

The path of a rare 300-km annular solar eclipse crossed the very south-eastern section of Bangladesh in January. The event was marked by another big campaign. The main observation camp was set up in Cox’s Bazar. A separate article dedicated to this event is included in this book.

Lunar Eclipse June 15, 2011

On June 15, a lunar eclipse occurred at the moon’s ascending node in southern Ophiuchus about 7 degree west of the Lagoon Nebula (M8). The totality lasted about 100 minutes. Anushandhitshu Chokro organized 12 camps nationwide including Sylhet, Patharghata, Bandorban, and Barisal. The main camp was at the Novo Theatre in Dhaka. Despite the bad weather, the evnt attracted hundreds of enthusiasts. A. Chokro amateur astronomers used an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Meade telescope to observe the event. They also set up radio antennas to provide a glimpse of how radio astronomy can be performed on a short budget. The activities of the A. Chokro camps were highlighted in the Bangladesh media.

School and College Science Fairs

To celebrate its 3rd decade A. Chokro has been organsing a series of 3 months campaign and programs at schools and colleges. As a part of this program on 24th September a science fair took place at Ideal School and College among many others. The fair was a success and the enthusiasm of the student was beyond expectations. This series of fairs is arranged to take science to the student community and help them see the joys of science along with its benefits.

Astronomy Workshop 9th November, 2011

An astronomy workshop was organized at Tarunivheeta in Gazipur to familiarize young people in handling telescopes. A variety of telescopes were in hand provide an hands-on experience. The local children were also invited to the workshop so they could see the sunspots and the moon through a telescope. A Q&A session followed with the distribution of certificates for the completion of this initial training.

Other than the programs mentioned here, A.Chokro conducts regular science workshops and exhibitions. A.Chokro is currently developing a concept of mobile observatory, where a cart or a van loaded with science exhibits travel through villages. The exhibits are designed to provide a glimpse of scientific principles that are at play in our day-to-day life. Rickshaw pullers, farmers, potters, local children etc all become part of this program as they huddle around the cart to see what is happening. This initiative is innovative and unique and really allows us to take science and astronomy to the absolute grass-root level.