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Winter School on Astronomy and Astrophysics at IIST, Trivandrum

The title pretty much sums up one of the reasons why this blog has been deserted for ~3 weeks. Well atleast there aren't tumble weeds blowing across yet. I will not let the situation get that bad. Anyway, coming back to the point, i had my semester exams from the 19th november and a couple of lab exams before that. And on the day of my final exam - 29th november, i had to catch a train to trivandrum at 7:45PM. Luckily enough the exam got shifted to the morning (9-12 AM) instead of the afternoon (2-5 PM) and i was able to escape chennai. 

The reason why i am going to trivandrum (currently am) is for a winter school on astronomy and astrophysics at IIST, Trivandrum. For those of you who don't know what a winter school is, it is a 10 day fast track course to introduce students to a certain area of science, in this case astronomy and astrophysics. I haven't personally taken any course on astronomy or astrophysics and i've been wondering what we'll be taught since i got selected for the winter school. I was also wondering about the kind of people i'd meet at the winter school. 

The winter school itself started on the 3rd December and the week so far has been one of the best times i've had in the last 4 years. The schedule of the winter school wasn't uploaded until the last minute and even after we went through it, we had doubts as to what exactly we'd be taught. But oh my god has my mind been blown to a million pieces in the last 7 days. The three days before the winter school started were pretty awesome on their own as i'd met a friend after ~3 years and then i met other participants in the workshop, who were working on radio astronomy. I'd completely forgotten how much fun it is to talk about your area of interest and then debating about it! 

And then the winter school started. It took off with lectures on the celestial co-ordinate system by 
Prof. Anandmayee Tej. Though i know about this topic myself and I've heard quite a lot of people talk about it, i haven't seen someone drive the point across as well as Prof. Tej did. Then continued a discussion on interesting celestial and astronomical objects - clouds, rainbows, aurorae, the moon and it's halo, the sun - sun spots, flares & granules, limb darkening, the solar planets, asteroids, comets and meteors, clusters, galaxies and eventually ended with us looking at pretty pictures of nebulae. 
All of this in 2 hours! Mind blown! 

Then the topics such as stellar parallax, luminosity of a star and the flux it emits, the apparent(m) and absolute(M) magnitudes of a star. Then the contributions of the ISM and the atmosphere to the apparent magnitude were added to the m-M-R equation. 
R- distance to star. 

Then came a lab session using VirEO - Virtual Educational Observatory which is a virtual observatory from which we can use data to perform various simple astronomical experiments. The experiment for the day was to study the motion of jupiter's moons and estimate the mass of jupiter. By looking at the apparent motion of the moons around jupiter, we will be able to estimate the radius of their orbits. Once we know this, we can calculate the density of jupiter. Given the radius, we can calculate the mass! 

This may look quite trivial to you now but there are quite a few simplifications are being made in this process. In reality, the orbital planes of the moons of jupiter are at different angles to each other and to the earth. So, the shape of the orbits these planets follow aren't exactly circular. Though the system in reality is a multi-body system, we assume it to be a two body problem for simplicity. Even after this assumption, since jupiter is so massive (~10^3 times M earth), we assume that the reduced mass of the system is the mass of the moon. 

So, all of this happened on the 1st day of the winter school. I've had 4 more days of sheer awesomeness following that blissful day and today has been the best of all as we learnt stellar formation today and we then classified stars by their spectral characteristics in lab. 

The weekend is free and i don't intend to go back to trivandrum (the campus is ~90 mins from the city). I'd better catch on all that's been taught and get used to IRAF. Ohh wait, i didn't tell you what IRAF is, did i?! :D...

Anyway, we have 3 more days for the winter school. And i can't wait to sit for the lectures. Strangely enough the faster the lectures start, the faster they end. And after just 1 week of this place, the weather, the professors, i wish this week didn't end. I wish i could just stay here and learn astronomy and astrophysics. But well, let's see what the next 3 days hold for me. 

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