BENGALURU: While citizens witnessed Monday’s Mercury transit on TV and the Internet, astronomy freak Santhosh S, among many others, had the privilege of observing the historical event through a telescope.
He took the effort of recording the phenomenon, which only occurs 13 times in a century, by taking photographs and videos.
A science student at Christ University, Santhosh is passionate about astronomy. “Ever since my school days, I have been fascinated by physics, mathematics and the outer space,” he says with a smile.
His parents have encouraged him all along, supporting his dream of witnessing rare celestial phenomena through powerful telescopes. The Mercury transit, he viewed through a Hydrogen Alpha Telescope that his father’s friend from Canada gifted him.
Ask him about the phenomena and his face lights up. “Since Mercury is tiny compared to the sun, it is barely visible. So we cannot call it an eclipse. As it is just traversing across the sun’s disk, we call it a transit,” he explains animatedly.
He clicked images of the phenomena using a monochrome planetary imaging camera, which only captures one colour. It is effective in identifying the different surfaces of the sun — the spots, the umbra and the penumbra and the prominences.
Santhosh used the Hydrogen Alpha Telescope to click several images of the transit. With the help of a free online software, he stacked all these images and created a video of the celestial event.
“The sun is predominantly made of hydrogen and emits four lines onto the spectrum — Hydrogen Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta — in the visible range. The red colour of the Hydrogen Alpha can be filtered to view the surface of the sun,” he explains.
The phenomenon started at 4.40 pm on Monday, with Mercury entering the path of visibility against the sun’s disk, and it was visible till sunset.
The next Mercury transit in November 2019 will be harder to view, Santhosh says. “The Mercury’s orbit is tilted at an angle of 2.11 degrees and since it has a smaller orbit, it transits the sun many times. But it is not visible if the planet is closer to the sun, as the Earth’s and Mercury’s orbital planes are not parallel.”
“So the transit can be viewed clearly only if it happens in May, as Mercury is far away from the sun then,” he says.
While studying at Ramakrishna Ashram in Mysuru, Santhosh was intrigued by their observatory that housed a Celestron telescope. He used to observe the surface of the moon through the instrument. This began his fascination towards astronomy.
When he came back to Bengaluru, he had asked the principal at his school to help the students observe the Venus transit in 2012. “As the school’s telescope did not work well, I took mine so that everyone could watch the phenomenon,” he says.
Santhosh is part of ABAA (Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers) and BAS (Bangalore Astronomical Society), organisations that work towards initiating and sustaining among students passion for Astronomy.
He says, “Texas hosts the biggest star gazing parties and I was a part of one such event, where people from all over the world had come with their telescopes to look at the night sky together.”
Santhosh thanks his parents for their love and support. “My dad has paid for all of my instruments, extra classes and camps. He drops me at my friend’s house whenever we feel like looking at the sky,” he says.
The youngster plans to pursue a career in research after doing his masters in Bengaluru. “I want to teach physics and mathematics later,” he says.