EurAstro 2011/Nepal Mission Report

by Jean-Luc Dighaye
Image credits: Bhattarai, Dighaye, Hagberg, Tomezzoli

1. Summary

From 22 Oct to 06 Nov 2011, a group of EurAstro affiliates comprising Dr Giancarlo Tomezzoli (Mission manager), Åsa Hagberg, Matthias Bernhard, Martina Etten and myself, joined Suresh Bhattarai to carry out observations, astrophotography, ethno-tourism and astronomy popularization in Nepal.

2. Syangboche

The first leg of our mission comprised an overnight stay in Kathmandu, then astronomical activities and some light trekking and sightseeing from Syangboche, a complex of hills at an altitude of at least 3800m on the trek to Mt Everest. We spent 3 nights there. Weather was generally sunny in the morning but foggy in the late afternoon, as orographic clouds formed. Those partly dissipated at night - when we were above the sea of clouds, the night sky was very clear, with a visual magnitude limit of about 6.5 and little light pollution. Temperature dropped below zero during most nights. Some green skyglow is visible in some of the pictures; the same phenomenon was already noticed over the Tibetan Himalayas during the EurAstro 2009/China mission.

Since there is no road from Kathmandu to Syangboche, transfer is effected by a small 15-seater plane from Kathmandu to Lukla, a mountain airport, then by an even smaller 6-seater aircraft from Lukla to the gravel airstrip of Syangboche. Private helicopter companies also operate in the region for emergencies and transportation of the wealthiest tourists. Even though the weather was not perfect during our stay, we were lucky to return to Kathmandu before a spell of really bad weather came, stranding some 3000 tourists in Lukla for one week. It was already the case one year ago, during the expected sunny season, hence the weather patterns might be changing there.

Everest sunrise

Ama Dablam in clouds

Everest sunset

Milky Way after dark

Alpinists' camp and star trails

Jupiter sets

Zodiacal Light and Milky Way

3. Nagarkot

After coming back to Kathmandu for a meeting with NASO's President Dr Rishi Shah, the EurAstro team spent 4 nights in Nagarkot, attending cultural events and meetings, including an extremely well-organised GHOU/GTTP event. More on those acronyms and the event

A list of all meetings we attended is appended below. The weather was generally hazy, with few clear periods suitable for star parties.

Self-made telescope

Star pointer session

Suresh exercising

4. Kathmandu

We then came back to Kathmandu. Weather was generally dry, but the sky quality was even worse than in Nagarkot, with substantial light pollution and air pollution downtown. Daytime activities included a number of well-attended lectures by the EurAstro team, as listed below.

As reported in the following blog, a remarkable event took place:

An unexpected honour was reserved to our team. Takshashila Academy's Bharat Aryal arranged an audience with the President of Nepal Dr Ram Baran Yadav at the Presidential Palace in Kathmandu. We prepared a presidential presentation in which I projected the astrophotos taken at Syangboche, and I invited the President to observe the Moon through our apochromat refractor. The President was happy with the presentation, even though clouds rapidly formed. At the end of the presidential star party, guests could observe the Moon using other instruments including stabilised binoculars. The President invited us to a tea in the Palace. During the reception, he spontaneously mentioned the difficulty of consolidating democracy in his country, and the efforts to develop friendly relations with other countries. Such a honesty is remarkable. The President also asked if we managed to visit the Nagarkot Observatory, which never answered our requests. The President found that situation regrettable.

During our last evening in Kathmandu, we again used the astronomical instruments of the presidential star party, this time to show the Moon to an estimated crowd of 500 in Tokha, a small village of the Newari community just north of Kathmandu - elders hardly speak Nepali, but younger people are well-educated, and fluent both in Nepali and in English , which was obvious during our preceding lectures in English and Nepali. The enthusiasm of the attendees, which seems commonplace whenever a stargazing event is organised in Nepal, is incredible to someone coming from Europe...

The EurAstro team...

...and the President of Nepal

Presidential star party

Press cuttings

Enthusiastic students

5. Epilog

Nepal is developing astronomy-oriented education and activities at a rapid pace. The NASO team appears to be the powerhouse of this expansion. Hence the EurAstro subsidy sent to Suresh Bhattarai and NASO was money well spent. Suresh Bhattarai was proposed as the Chairman of our former Overseas section, now called EurAstro World, with the help of Sri Lanka's Thilina Heenatigala, in close cooperation with Astronomers Without Borders. NASO's Sudeep Neupane, who masterminded most of the meetings, was appointed as EurAstro Executive.

APPENDIX - Lectures

In Nagarkot:
The GTTP/GHOU session was organized at Astronomy Branch, Department of Survery, Ministry of Land Reform and Management of Government of Nepal. ( The Tower we used for observation is also under the same institution.

In Kathmandu:
- On Nov 2, we had a programme at Russian Center of Science and Culture (RCSC), Kamalpokhari, Kathmandu, Nepal. The program was jointly organized by NASO and RCSC.

- On Nov 3, we had a talk masters students at Seminar Hall, Central Department of Physics, Tribhuvan University (TU), Nepal. The programme was jointly organized by NASO and Astrophysics and Cosmology Reseach Group, Nepal led by Dr. Binil Aryal

- On the same day, we had program at Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), Kathmandu, Nepal. The programme was organized jointly by NASO and NTB.

- On Nov 4, we had talk program at Seminar Hall, Xavier International. The program was also jointly organized by Department of Physics, Xavier International and NASO.

- On the same day, we had talk cum Observation session at Tokha, the program was organized jointly organized by different Youth clubs working in Tokha and NASO. We had talk program at Seminar Hall of Village Development Committee (VDC), Tokha. The place where we did the star party is the premises of the VDC building.