Amateur astronomy is an exciting and educational hobby where the amateur astronomers gaze at the sky either with the unaided eye or binoculars and telescopes. In this way a wide abundance of stars, planets and other sky objects can be seen — you can even see a galaxy two and a half million light years away with just your unaided eye and craters on the moon with binoculars. In fact, many sky objects such as comets have been discovered not by high profile NASA scientists but by amateur astronomers. Such activities mostly happen at night when these astronomy enthusiasts view the sky. However, at times even daytime viewing takes place for some special events, such as the solar eclipses or monitoring of sunspots.
Karachi is lucky that some extremely dedicated enthusiasts are working hard to promote amateur astronomy in the city and organising sky gazing events on a regular basis. The Karachi Astronomers’ Society (KaAS), a public group formed in 2008, is open for all astronomy enthusiasts in the city. According to Abubaker Shekhani, the general secretary of the society, their aim is to educate people about astronomy, cosmology and astrophotography using everything from ordinary binoculars to high-end astronomical equipment as well as to coordinate sessions with relevant scholars. Founded in Karachi, the society is now very effectively networking at national and international levels. Shekhani said that the seeds of KaAS were sown when some amateur astronomers met at a partial solar eclipse in 2008 session at the planetarium in Karachi. The founder president was Khalid Marwat, while the society is presently headed by Mehdi Hussain. Since its initiation, the society has grown both in its membership and in terms of the number of events being regularly organised on a not-for-profit basis. Funds are being generated through the collection of membership fees and by selling promotional items such as t-shirts. Currently, the society has over 800 registered members in addition to 3,800 fans following their work on their Facebook page.
The society is effectively using social media to disseminate information about their objectives and work, share national and global news and events and increase its membership base. An interesting activity that has been initiated is known as Ratjaga — where members travel at least a distance of 100 kilometres outside Karachi on weekends, stay up all night and discover the heavenly treasures gazing at the starlit sky. The society also arranges events outside Karachi. For example, events have been organised in the mud volcanoes of Hingol National Park, Kirthar National Park and at Gorakh Hill in Dadu.
Shekhani stresses the importance of disseminating information about astronomical science and the universe to our children and youth.
The society’s website is full of interesting information, graphics, images and trivia on astronomical science. Shekhani is confident that the society will continue to spread its footprint extensively. The society is a member of the International Astronomy Union and Astronomy without Borders. For further details on the membership process and notifications on upcoming events, you can check out their website: http://kaasts.com/
Karachi already carries a huge deficit when it comes to housing spaces and forums for promoting healthy, recreational and educational interactions that can be enjoyed and accessed by all its citizens. This has resulted in creating more segregation and isolation among citizens belonging to various sectors in the society coming from different socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Lack of healthy forms of recreation is also creating an environment that is facilitating our youth to be caught up in non-healthy activities such as crime, drugs etc. As such, ventures such as the Karachi Astronomers Society need to be encouraged and facilitated in spreading their reach and capacity to make a positive difference.
Farhan Anwar is an urban planner and runs a non-profit organization based in Karachi city focusing on urban sustainability issues
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2015.