Econ Mom and a starry, starry night

“I am going to be a scientist.” That was Lil One just back from school, talking very earnestly. They seem to have had some kind of a discussion on career options in school, I thought. “I mean, science is so….exciting, Mom. It really explains everything.”

“True, that. But there are also careers to be made in social sciences like Economics, Psychology, Political Sciences. Give that a thought too. These sciences work for the betterment of the society, they try to enhance the welfare of people in the society through policy making. That is also very important.”

“Yes, Mom, I know. But, end of the day, social sciences only concern themselves with…with.. man-made stuff. Pure sciences explain more fundamental stuff. They explain the basics, the nano particles, the forces….” Lil One was struggling to put something he obviously felt strongly about in words.

Hmmm…Nanotechnology trumps microeconomics, seemed to be the thought of the day for Econ Mom.

“Well, Scientist, you’ll like this piece of news then. We are attending a Meteor Shower night sky session this Sunday night.”

“Does that mean no school Monday? Yyyyaaaaaaaaay!”

Sigh. Quite the wrong tone, there. I wish he’d asked me what meteor showers are. On me remarking that we are attending astronomy events for quite the wrong reasons and did he even know what meteor showers are, pat came the answer.

“But everyone knows that. Meteoroids are those bits of rock that travel through space, Ma. But those that are really tiny fall to Earth and burn off due to the atmospheric friction; those are called meteors or shooting stars.” he told me in a superior tone.

“Those things that you keep crying about in that stupid movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hain are meteors.” Ouch! I bared my teeth at him even as he made an exaggerated action of having seen a shooting star and clasping his hands in prayer, asking for a wish, SRK style. “Mmmmm…mom, I am going to ask for new game CDs” he grinned wickedly. “And there will be hundreds of shooting stars to ask wishes from.” Sigh.

One battle won, I braced myself for the war. As usual, Hubby was on another planet altogether. “What? Sunday night? Why can’t we do this star gazing Saturday night?” he glinted at me teasingly.

“Oh God! Didn’t they call you straight from Gemini asking you if its convenient to do showers Sunday night? I’ll tell the next alien I meet to kindly make sure that all further celestial events are planned Friday or Saturday night, ok?” I answered sarcastically. Hubby and Lil One rolled their eyes at each other. They do that when Econ Mom tries sci-fi humor.

We went to Nasrapur, some 40 kms away from Pune on Sunday night with a local astronomy club, Jyotirvidya Parisansthan. This is the oldest astronomy club in India, and I’ve been a fan for many many years now. When we got out of the bus, I already knew that we were going to have a terrific time. Just a look at the night sky was enough to take my breath away. There  were countless number of stars, literally countless.

“Starry starry nights…” I hummed instinctively, “Paint your palette blue and gray…”

How long has it been since I saw so many stars in Pune? As a kid, I remember Mom teaching me identification of the basic Nakshatras….Ashwini, Bharani, Krittika, Rohini, Mruga, Ardra, Punarvasu…however, I haven’t been really able to pass on this wisdom to Lil One, because the night sky is just so not visible in Pune. It is such a sad commentary on economic growth which has happened in such a haphazard, unsustainable, unplanned fashion that we had to get out 40 kms just to see the night sky. I hummed some more…

“They did not listen, they did not know how.. Perhaps they’ll listen now”

“Now, I am going to put you all through a very basic sky watching course. But frankly, tonight, we are not here to do star gazing. That means no major telescope sighting. We are here to observe the Geminid meteor showers and count the shower sightings,” said our instructor, jerking me out of Don Mclean’s powerful number on Van Gogh.

Every year, around mid-December, the Earth passes through the huge amount of rocky debris left by an object called 3200 Phaethon, which is a rock comet. Annually, at this time of year, the debris from 3200 Phaethon crashes into Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 130,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) per hour, to vaporize as colorful Geminid meteors. The showers peak at around 2:00 a.m. when the radiant point in the Gemini constellation is highest in the sky.

Phaethon-orbit

Just when we were being put through the basic cursory sky watch course, there was a sudden “Ooooooooooh” from the crowd. Our first Geminid. It is so quick, and it doesn’t necessarily originate from the Gemini constellation. Its radiant can be traced backwards to Gemini.

We were then asked to just open up our mattresses and lie down under the stars and watch out for the showers. The volunteers had divided the sky into North, South, East and West and were scientifically recording the numbers and whether the meteor was part of Geminid or just some random show-off rockstar.

We however, had the whole sky to ourselves. A truly amazing feeling. It was a real cold night and to be directly under the meteor showers was quite an experience. Every 2 minutes, another fella would streak across the night sky, drawing “Ooooooooooooohs” and “Aaaaaaaaaaahs” from the crowd. There were a couple of meteors, that were literally fireballs and lit up an entire tree for a few seconds. Is such kind of beauty even possible?

“This world was never meant ,” I continued, “for one as beautiful as you…”

A coffee break at about 1:40 a.m and we were ready to settle to now see the meteors peaking at about 2:00 a.m. The next one hour was a visual treat and it left us delighted and wondrous of all the creations of the Master, which we don’t even bother to watch most of the times.

As I lay below the star studded sky, my mind was filled with thoughts beyond the mundane. The smallness of my being, the insignificance of my existence, the laughability of man-made issues and policies…Lil One was right, I thought suddenly. There is infinitum to be explained in pure sciences.

“Now I understand…, what you tried to say to me…”

As a shooting star went past, I asked of it in the most unscientific, mommy fashion , that my Lil One find his passion correctly. The star winked and fell. Amen.

Epilogue:

Lil One missed school on Monday, we all had to sleep through the day! He came back from school on Tuesday with a definite swagger and giggled, “Today, I had a fight with super-smartie Ankita. She tried to tell me that astronomy is boring.”

“You can’t be fighting girls. NOT ok,” I admonished.

“Chill Mom. I said something she didn’t even understand. Heehee. I told her if she didn’t shut up, I’ll show her Ursa Major in the day.”

So much for Starry, starry nights. Sigh!

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