11 AM. Rains were in plenty as the van broke through unending blankets of dense fog to reach the hills of Coonoor. With hardly any clue of the exact location, and GPS having failed, it was with the locals’ help that the team reached their destination. Upon arrival when they found the sky to be cloudy, it was agreed that an indoor session would be the best option.
After settling in, the kids had an interactive session on the basics of photography with our educator Aasif. This was followed by a discussion on the eclipse with Obuli, an educator who also heads the Mango Astronomy Club. The discussion was a preparation for what was to come the next day.
The night sky did not look good at all. Not a single star was to be spotted, and clouds covered every inch above. Despite the feeling that their journey might end in a failed attempt at watching the eclipse, they harboured some hope, knowing that the weather in the hills was famous for its unpredictability. Having travelled so much, everyone was tired, and after a good dinner, they decided it would be wise to sleep soon, as they had to wake up early the next day.
Obuli decided to fit the solar filters to the telescopes, and when he started, a few kids got up to join and help him. With scissors and hands to tighten the screws, the team set to work. When all the filters had been fixed, the kids went to bed, but Obuli couldn’t sleep. However hard he tried, the anxiety of what would happen the next day kept him awake and restless. Eventually, the fatigue of the day took over.
The next day, everybody was up by 4:30 AM. Filled with anxiety, they stepped out of the cottage, expecting to see a sky covered in clouds, but were overjoyed to find a perfectly clear stretch of blue above.
In the beautiful glow of twilight, right before sunrise, the equipment, including telescopes and tripods, was all set up. At 7:30 AM, with the sky brilliantly clean, they began their live session.
Witnessing the first contact between the moon and the sun was a moment of absolute awe. Even with the fog on and off, being able to watch the eclipse with such extraordinary clarity was an absolute delight. Photographs of the celestial wonder were taken, and though the team was unable to see the end, the kids had a spectacular time clicking pictures and documenting the event.
“During the ring phase, the sky and ambience darkened (foggy dark but no fog or clouds) – effect of a completely overcast sky – and we were in the moon’s shadow. It was a magical sight, and a feeling I cannot describe,” said Obuli, when asked about his experience.
By 10:30 AM the sun was blocked from view, and the eclipse ended at 11:10 AM. The sun wasn’t visible for the rest of the day. At night, a stargazing session was held, and the kids were given tips on astrophotography; they were taught how to process the night sky and Astro images through post-processing.
The next morning, the kids, along with Aasif, went for a nature trail to explore the local flora and fauna. With their cameras at the ready, they learnt landscape and bird photography, while studying the common species of birds found in Coonoor. After a hearty breakfast, and a final Q&A session on the eclipse that they had witnessed the previous day, the group started their return journey, fulfilled with the experience and excited to share it with those back home!