Cloudy skies prevent astronomy enthusiasts from watching transit of mercury at KU

SRINAGAR: Clouds hovering over sky in Kashmir prevented hundreds of astronomy and physics enthusiasts to watch a rare celestial spectacle—when the tiny inner planet Mercury passed across the Sun (transit) on Monday afternoon. The transit was scheduled between 4:30 pm to 7:30 and many astronomers and science students had gathered to watch the spectacle that would not repeat before the year 2032.

The scientist community had chosen Srinagar for a better view of the spectacle. The University of Kashmir in collaboration with Astronomical Survey of India had organized the event for students, teachers and science enthusiasts.

Astronomers say that it rarely happens that mercury, sun and earth are spotted in such a unique alignment. Last time it was spotted in 2008 and next time it will be spotted in 2032. Although the event will happen fourteen times this century, the next one visible from India will be in 2032.

“The 2016 transit was a great opportunity to watch this mini-eclipse and also for us to utilise for astronomy outreach,” astronomer Niruj Mohan Ramanujan told Kashmir Reader.

The university premises were full of activity throughout the day. Two astronomical telescopes had been fitted in the lawn of the varsity to show the view. Eager students had gathered around the instruments waiting for clouds to disperse. However, the clouds continued to envelope the celestial bodies.

The students were later shown a view from a different location using internet.

“But for the clouds, I could have been witness to the exclusive astronomical event. It was tough luck,” Harmeet Singh, a student at the event said.

Mercury is the smallest and closest planet to the sun in the solar system.

Astronomers who had been invited from across India were answering queries from inquisitive students during the day.

The event had coincided with the 34th Annual Meeting of the Astronomical Society of India (ASI-2016), scheduled to be inaugurated by Governor NN Vohra at the varsity campus on May 10. A number of research papers will be presented in the meeting.

Kashmir has the distinction of being one of the rare places in the world where celestial events have been watched and recorded in the past. Mughal prince Dara Shikoh, who was a keen astronomer, had set up observatories in the Valley to record celestial events. Pari mahal was one of such observatories while another observatory was set up Malshahi Bagh in Ganderbal district.

There are historical evidences that supernova explosion has been witnessed and recorded in ancient Kashmir. The evidences have been traced at archaeological finds at Burzuhama site. A mural at Syed Mohammad Madni shrine at Hawal in old city also depicts a celestial event.