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Astronomic turnout to watch Venus the ‘star’

Enthusiasts from eight to 80 sacrificed a few hours of sleep on Wednesday to keep a date with Venus. The rare celestial event saw Venus traverse across the solar disc so that it was visible as a tiny black dot on the sun. The phenomenon lasted for around five hours 40 minutes and though cloud cover had threatened to play spoilsport early on, the weather god didn’t disappoint and the sky cleared a little before 7am. Spotting the speck was surely the high point of the day till the welcome showers in the evening. E. Islam, the director of the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum, said the heavy footfall spoke of the scientific enthusiasm among Calcuttans and that people were learning to dispel superstitions.

WHERE: Birla Industrial and Technological Museum

Crowd count: Visitors started trickling in from as early as 5.30am and the first-floor auditorium, venue of a live webcast from the NASA observatory at Mauna Loa, was packed to capacity by 6.30am.

“We sold tickets to 283 people. Add to that students of our summer camp who were allowed without tickets,” said Gautam Seal, the public relations officer of BITM.

Mood: The cloudy morning sky threatened to play spoilsport but the sunrays filtering in through the clouds from around 6.45am for a game of hide-and-seek lifted the spirits of skygazers, who rushed to the fifth-floor terrace of the new museum to catch a glimpse of the black speck. The event was also projected on a white board with the help of a telescope.

First visitor: Knocking at the BITM gate at 5.30am was Class VII student Sayan, who had pulled mother Shrabani out of bed to make his 12th birthday special. “It’s great to have such a rare celestial event coincide with my birthday. Not many can boast of such luck,” said the South Point student, elated that summer vacation had been extended.

Text by Jhinuk Mazumdar

WHERE: Terrace of MP Birla Higher Secondary School in Behala

Crowd count: There was no formal registration as entry was open to all but planetarium officials put the visitor count between 5.30am and 10am at nearly 400.

“We wanted everyone to come and see the spectacle and so there was no entry fee. We provided everyone with the necessary equipment to view the phenomenon. We even publicised it through Facebook,” said D.P. Duari, the director (research and academics) of MP Birla Planetarium. Visitors were served water, tea, samosas and biscuits.

Mood: The cloudy morning sky threatened to spoil the day for skywatchers. The crowd cursed its luck as Duari explained the phenomenon and announced that Venus would be seen clearly against the sun at 7.02am. People kept their eyes fixed on telescopes and filter glasses in sheer hope and just when they thought they were about to miss the action, the sun shone bright at 7am. The crowd erupted in joy. Two officials started projecting the phenomenon on a white board. People gathered around the board and took photographs.

As the day wore on and the sun blazed, the heat became unbearable and most visitors trickled out by 9.30am. Only a handful stayed back to catch the 10.21am show, when the Venus was on its last leg of the journey across the sun.

First visitor: Sanchari Mitra, a resident of Thakurpukur and a Class IX student of Tollygunge Girls’ School, was the first to arrive at 5.30am.

“I just love stargazing and when I heard about Wednesday’s phenomenon being the last one in this century (the next one will be in December 2117, I just could not afford to miss it. So, I woke up one of my friends and a school senior and all of us rushed here. The school gates were still closed when we came, but they let us in and guided us to the terrace within a few minutes,” said Sanchari, who aspires to be a photographer and came armed with a digital SLR, a piece of black glass taped to the lens.

Text by Tamaghna Banerjee
Pictures by Pabitra Das and Tamaghna Banerjee