It's finally over. The 100 Hours of Astronomy. The hundred hours went away as if they were a dream. But they were a dream. How else can I explain the immense joy I derived from organising the 100HA events? Now that the 100 hours are over, I'm looking back at the event and penning -- sorry, blogging -- my thoughts about it.
This programme, as you all probably know, is part of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. There's isn't much to comment on this idea as this idea is beyond all superlatives. The idea of holding such an event is nothing less than extraordinary. In the International Year of Astronomy, what else could be better than this? Could there be any other event which allowed us to keep ourselves immersed in astronomy and also to mingle with people continuously for 100 hours? The amount of effort that has gone into making this possible is simply outstanding. The Around the World in 80 Telescopes programme and live webcasts provided a better opportunity to reach out to the people. The blogs on the website allowed us to interact with people from all over the world. Through this forum I came across Lee Pullen, a digital photographer, science communicator and ice-cream taster, as he describes himself. Lee is a very friendly person and he encouraged me a lot.
I am glad to say that I was a part of this great programme. My part might be -- it indeed is -- very little. But the fact that I was the only event organiser from West Bengal (I haven't checked the event page of India for a while. If there were any other organiser from West Bengal, forgive me!) made my task enormous. I had my limitations (see below) but I tried as much as I could. I played my role by showing everybody the films and the live webcast, delivering lectures, replying to queries I received over the phone / through email and, most importantly, holding observation sessions. Only through observation could we break the invisible wall that existed between "Sky & I." (That, by the way, was the name of the event of Day I.) I think that's precisely what my role was -- breaking that barrier.
I am glad to say that I played my role earnestly, but I can never overlook the woeful limitations of the event. And I couldn't overcome them either. I have discussed all these limitations in this post, so won't elaborate further. In short, there was little time to arrange everything. I wish I had got the help of some big organisation to make it really grand-scale. I had only two telescopes to use. I couldn't get a large hall or something to manage the crowd. It'd have been better if any nearby multiplex had shown space films. I can think of few other complaints I had. It didn't happen exactly the way I wanted. But what it eventually turned out to be wasn't bad either.
What I Think I Did Well
I love bragging. So here I am. There are a few things I think I did well. I tried not to alienate my audience with the latest news from the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. That probably worked. I tried to keep it as simple as possible. I used mythological references to explain things about stars and constellations. I tried to get them interested in astronomy. I also think that my explanation of the webcasts, NASA videos and images worked well with them. I thought I was best during the observation session. The email/ phone answers probably satisfied the enquirers. There are a lot more great things about me. Wait, there isn't! I can remember nothing else I did right. Phew!
What I Think I Didn't Do Well
As much as I love bragging, I must stay honest to myself. So here are things I thought I didn't do quite right and could actually improve. My individual explanations may have entertained the audience, but I'm pretty sure that my lectures on some topics were plain boring. My good audience didn't tell me that directly. In fact, I was bored with my own lectures. I can understand the plight of my audience. I think I should have discussed the history of astronomy in a more detailed way. I should have promoted this event more aggressively. It'd have been better if I had invited more schoolchildren. I suppose, I should have allowed my audiences more freedom in handling the telescopes. On second thoughts, that was not really possible, for we had little time. It'd have been so much better if I started showing the webcast two days earlier!
The Favourable Conditions
The most favourable condition for me, undoubtedly, was the schedule of the programme. I was on my holidays after the exams were over. So I could spend my time without thinking of my studies and all. I couldn't have got a better time to organise this programme. Thankfully, I had all my astronomy-related stuff ready. Therefore, it was super-easy to make it happen. The easy access to astronomy blogs (thank FSM they were there!) was great! I could get the schoolchildren (little though the number might be) because they too were on holidays. Otherwise...well, let's not think about that.
The Not-So-Favourable Conditions
When I started writing this post I thought of many obstacles. But now I can remember few. The main dampener for the webcast session was the inconsistency of my Internet connection. I am willing to change my ISP. The waxing Moon didn't help us in observing the sky either. At present, can't think of anything else. Will add later if I remember.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of a Sky Observer in My City
Absence of any kind of tall buildings around where I live (this part of the city is great!) is surely the best advantage for me as a sky observer from Kolkata. The eagerness of people from Kolkata to observe the sky was what made the programme a hit. Now the disadvantages. Firstly, a polluted atmosphere which cuts the enjoyment of watching the night sky in its full glory. Secondly, the lights. My FSM, the lights! It seemed that almost every light in Kolkata was on for no reason. When will people stop wasting the energy? (I smell a post on this topic coming soon.) Light pollution is one of the ugliest enemies of sky-observers. That said, the condition in Kolkata is possibly no worse than in other big cities.
I could include this in the previous passages. But it, in my opinion, deserved a separate mention. It almost managed to ruin the entire programme. This is the hottest April in Kolkata I've seen in many years. Even full-time air-conditioning could hardly comfort the audience. (It's the audience I'm talking about because being an avid sunspot-observer I am impervious to extreme heat.) Had it not been so hot, the audience would have enjoyed themselves better. Then there were the clouds. The night sky remained overcast for the most part. I cursed them all along the observation session. They were indeed the single most annoying thing of all. There's nothing more to write about it, really.
'Nuff said. See these posts: Days I, II, III, IV
The Lessons I Learned
I have been holding SOC events since 2003. But the 100 Hours of Astronomy taught me lessons I will never forget. I learned a great deal more about how I should plan my programmes and carry them out. I learned how to manage a huge crowd. I learned that I should visit the astro-blogs more often. I learned that people don't really like their photos posted on blog because it might harm them. I learned that I should look for sponsorships next time. (I've arranged all the programmes on my own so far.) I learned that I should visit a village for my next session, as I mostly do. This list is long. Let's stop here.
The Final Word on the Event (in general)