One student asked me for some comments about an Astronomy center in Goa. Here are my comments to her.
In my guide post I had outlined aims of the project and which communities would benefit from the exercise. Based on the answers to the first two, in my subsequent posts on this blog, I outlined activities that could be conducted for school, college and general audiences. Depending upon all these, we would know the physical, electro-mechanical, human and space needs of this project.
We will do this step by step: first work out physical and space needs of this projects. These are most crucial, for astronomy can not be done well from cities, even amateurs gain a world by being in remote, dark locations. No wonder our forefathers were fascinated by stars and we (those who live in light-polluting and claustrophobic cities) miss out on that wonder of stars and the Milky Way Galaxy!
Given that general public, students and teachers are going to observe the sky, the prime importance has to be given to an unhindered access to "dark sky" from all sides. Also, given that one would use academic tools, astronomy instruments and expects amateur crowds of variable numbers, it would desirable to split space into a number of smaller areas of variable sizes, which would be accessible to different populations at times desirable.
- A well-connected set building which should host the following:
- a library: with books in Konkani, Marathi, English. Books such as "Hubble Images" are needed for general audiences, whereas some elementary textbooks from Indira Gandhi Open University would be great for college students. Astronomy and science magazines and newsletters from around the world could be obtained and provided to the interested students.
- Two display halls: poster exhibitions, astronomy and science-game rooms, general information displays (history, geography and ideas in Astronomy), introduction to historical figures, local communities and their small projects can be highlighted.
- Three lecture rooms of variable sizes, say roughly 30, 80, 250, to allow for a large audiences in some interesting demonstrations or lectures. The display halls could doubled up as a lecture room of 200+ capacity, if built with appropriate scale in mind, they could be interconnected using video link, to allow even larger audiences. The lecture halls could be connected to the internet, allowing for video lectures, internet demonstrations, and virtual observations.
- Demonstration labs for electronics and computers. Electronics laboratory would enable students to study, calibrate and use astronomy instruments. The computing laboratory is especially keeping in mind virtual observatory concept (remote observing and online content access).
- Office space for visiting astronomers and lecturers: they could keep their belongings in these spaces, share material with support staff of the center, and keep a regular contact.
- Observatory platform: space for a couple of telescopes. Ideally, one would like a single large telescope (16 inch) for serious amateur work, and perhaps four smaller telescopes for popular amateur demonstrations. The large telescope could be housed in the main building. To maintain light levels and low disturbance from crowds, perhaps this part could be a little away from remaining building.
Given that a large population would use this building frequently, we need to special care about light levels around this building. Careful arrangement of parking, walking space, building interior lighting is required in order to minimise impact on local observers.
- Open flat spaces: preferrably not green lawns, but higher from the ground to avoid stray animals entering. Perhaps we could use the terrace space over the above-mentioned lecture halls? We need to allow space for large crowd to sit outside and lean skywards to watch celestial events. We could build a terrace sloping gently (15 degrees?) towards south. This would align us towards to the Earth's axis, as we keep our feet towards the South. Stars would follow from left to the right. Given the slight tilt, it would be easier to watch the skys using a simple cushions.
One would expect spaces with downward-facing lights, which will emit very little amount of light towards the sky and would be just enough for one to watch where they walk.
Such flat spaces could be divided in multiple different locations, so that students, amateur astronomers, and general public can be segregated depending upon their needs of observations. All could use smaller (8 inch) telescopes and binoculars for their sky gazing.
- Planetarium: A mobile planetarium could have a semi-permanent base in this center. It could visit various localities within Goa with a pre-planned (on demand) schedule.
- Most importantly, we need to plant tall trees all around, so as to cover about 15 degrees altitude. This should cut down glows from large cities, it would also isolate us from oncoming traffic lights and any habitation disturbances. Trees such as jackfruits, Peepal and Neelgiri are good along with dense shrubs found in Goa. They grow fast, so no one needs to tend them much. We would avoid cash-crop trees, such mangoes, not only for obvious reasons, but also to save ourselves from animals, such as monkeys!