Last month, I visited McDonald Observatory, a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin. The observatory of situated in West Texas, an area that experiences some of the darkest night skies in the continent. The location thus makes it perfect for astronomical research and star gazing during night times (along with experiencing the least white pollution due to its location). I attended three events at the observatory – solar viewing, twilight program and star party. The solar viewing program in the afternoon consisted of watching the majestic sun on a huge screen in real time. It was an informatory session that introduced the audience to the concepts of sunspot formation and solar flares. The session concluded with a tour of the 107 inch and the 82 inch telescopes. The twilight program in the evening was about “Modelling the Night Sky”, and was followed by a star party in the night. Many telescopes were set up for the public to view saturn, binary star systems, nebula, moon craters, and other celestial objects up close. It was magical treat for the eyes.
From the wild desert of the south, I travelled up north to the land of the midnight sun – Alaska! For the first time in my life, I saw – caribou, a wolf, moose, grizzly bears, dall sheep, orcas, humpback whales, puffins, murres, sea otters, bald eagles and many other animal species. The abundant and diverse wildlife of Alaska has left me stunned and speechless. Also, during the journey, I developed a deep admiration for the field of Geology. It was interesting to witness all the geographical occurrences that I once briefly learnt back in high school (and so easily forgot). Walking on glaciers and observing braided rivers triggered a sense of appreciation for all the geologists who battle extreme weather conditions to understand our planet better and discover its glorious history.
The last month has been a roller coaster ride across amateur astronomy, ecology, geography and surely lots of biology. I’m now back at school and ready to do some awesome science in the lab with a whole new perspective on the world. Photographs from my Alaskan adventure can be viewed on my photoblog, here.