The Tamil Nadu Science Forum is on a mission to spread awareness about ISON comet among the school children

The hillock in the Chittampatti Village was cynosure of all eyes on Sunday night. When the city’s denizens were busy watching the Karthigai Mahadeepam getting lit or were lighting the clay lamps in their homes, the villagers and school students of Chittampatti, gathered and waited to see a different kind of light. They chose to watch the ISON comet nearing the sun at the crack of dawn.

And before they actually saw the comet, they learnt about it through interesting stories and lec-dems that went on through the night conducted by the district unit of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF). It used the opportunity to educate the villagers about comets.

The resource person raised several queries. “What is a comet?” he asked. “It is a vaal natchathiram (star with a tail),” answered Rama Narayanan, VII Standard student beaming with pride. “Has anybody seen a comet before?” “No. I will not see. It brings ill omen,” replied D. Manoprabha, an anganwadi worker.

Such superstitions still prevail even among the educated. “Accidents are purely incidental and they should not be associated with any celestial occurrence,” says P. Rajamanickam, executive committee member, All India People’s Science Network.

The sun grazing comet has generated a lot of interest among the academicians and also the general public since it was first discovered by Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok of the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON) a year ago.

“Scientists are studying ISON to find clues about how the solar system was formed. They are also looking for some breakthrough in finding the existence of life on planets,” says P. Kumarasamy, TNSF district president.

It is a non periodic comet and it travels at a speed of 35 km per second. When it nears the sun the comet’s velocity increases up to 376 km per second. It is termed as the brightest comet of the Century. “It will look brighter on November 28 when it is in perihelion (closest point to the sun),” he says.

Sometimes the comets have two tails, one formed by the dust particles and another by ionic particles. “We will come to know only when it nears the sun,” says Rajamanickam.

“Coming here I have learnt a lot of things about comet. It is a good initiative by the science forum. They should organise similar events in future,” says K.J. Johnson, ITI instructor.

The comet is visible to the naked eye between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. It can be seen in the eastern direction at an angle of 20 degrees. “Common man can also see the comet. Just stretch your hand in front and fold your fingers. Now open the thumb and little finger. Point your hand to eastern direction. See to it that your little finger touches the horizon and the position of thumb is the point where the comet will be visible,” says Kumarasamy.

It was 10 minutes past five in the morning when the comet peered out on the dark horizon much to the delight of the crowd.

The Forum is organising similar programmes at Don Bosco ITI, K. Pudur today (Thursday) and at Muthupatti, Palkalai Nagar tomorrow (Friday). To spread awareness among the people, a van equipped with telescope, binoculars, LCD projector and campaign materials will be touring the city on November 22. The mobile campaign started from Kanyakumari on November 18 and reached Tirunelveli on November 19 and Thoothukudi on November 20. Today, it will reach Virudhunagar.

“Similar mobile campaign has started from Chennai, Krishnagiri and Nagapattinam. All these vans will assemble in Tiruchi on November 25 for a grand celebration,” says M. Pandiarajan, district secretary, TNSF.