Friday, November 30, 2018

All-Nepal Asteroid Search Campaign Concludes in Province One!

All-Nepal Asteroid Search Campaign, September 3-30, 2018 was primarily focused at the province one concluded with sixty-four preliminary discoveries! The discoveries were made by the seventeen teams of the students from six different schools. During the campaign total of ninety preliminary discoveries were made by participants where thirty-three discoveries were done by our members/volunteers at different parts of Nepal!

Photo 1: Students and teacher from the Delhi Public School, Dharan receiving certificates from Mr. Gobinda Thapa, Itahari International College, Morang. 

Photo 2: Nepal Astronomical Society (NASO) and Itahari International College (ICC) officials during the ceremony. 

Ms. Sayari Neupane, one of the participants at the campaign and class XI student at Eureka Secondary School, Dharan shares, "It was really a great experience of mine in participating in all asteroid research campaign. Our team learned many new things. It is really a good platform for those who are interested in astronomy. This program taught me new and unknown things about astronomy. I was unaware that many types of research in astronomy are done through a computer or a laptop. But by participating in this program, I learned the use of technology in astronomy. I recommend this program to everyone who is interested in learning new things".

For more information/updates about our asteroid search campaign, please visit

During the program, Mr. Bijaya Chandra Luitel, absolute winner at the 3rd National Astronomy Olympiad 2016 (NAO2016) and the 4th National Astronomy Olympiad 2017 (NAO2017). He shared his experience participating at the national and international astronomy olympiads. He also provided information on how interested students can prepare for the upcoming 6th National Astronomy Olympiad 2019!

Photo 3: Mr. Bijaya Chandra Luitel, the absolute winner at NAO2016 and NAO2017 and Honorable Mention (HM) holders at IOAA2016 and IOAA2017, sharing his experience among the participants.
Mr. Luitel received two Honorable Mention (HM) awards representing Nepal at the international level. He participated at the 10th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA2016), Bhubaneshwar, India and the 11th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA2017), Phuket, Thailand respectively. 

For more information/updates on our national astronomy olympiad program, please visit

Happy hunting and happy exploring! 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Are you ready to watch NASA's InSight Lander Decending to Mars?

It's not surprising to see how the world has changed since we started doing outreach! We started our outreach efforts in Nepal while Nepal has dominance of dial-up internet service! And most importantly, it was not accessible as it is now and cheap! We have heard of the arrangement for the public to view moon landing during Apolo 11 mission in Kathmandu in the 1960s! Now its time to witness mars landing right from your own space tonight! Isn't it exciting? 

Photo: An artist's concept depicts NASA's InSight lander after it has deployed its instruments on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

***Click here to watch live***

If you are wondering about the estimated timing for different activities during the landing, below is the list prepared for people living in Nepal

InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core. Studying Mars' interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars - more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today. The lander uses cutting-edge instruments, to delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets. It does so by measuring the planet's "vital signs": its "pulse" (seismology), "temperature" (heat flow), and "reflexes" (precision tracking). This mission is a part of NASA's Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.

The InSight Mars lander has two science objectives that support the Mission's science goals:
  • Formation & Evolution: Understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigation of the interior structure and processes of Mars.
  • Tectonic Activity: Determine the present level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rate on Mars.
Interested to learn more about the mission and latest updates? Click here to visit the official site of the mission. 

Happy watching! Let's make history to share with our generations to come! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Webinar with the students at Gaurishankar English Boarding School, Arghakhachi!

Mr. Bijaya Chandra Luitel
Recently, I conducted a webinar for tenth graders at Gaurishankar English Boarding School, Arghakhachi which was conducted with the help of Mr. Sujab Bhusal, one of the associate members of Nepal Astronomical Society (NASO). 

In the webinar, we focused on discussing mainly three things: what Science is and the history of the development of the Scientific method, what futures are possible in the Sciences for a student who will be appearing in the SEE exams soon and finally the possibility of enrichment opportunities like the Olympiads for students in high school. 

Firstly, we discussed what Science is all about. The students had a reverence towards Science and summarized their feelings towards Science thusly: “Science is the deepest form of everything”. However, in order to grasp a future in Science, it is very important for potential students of Science to realize that Science is a method of inquiry, something which I stressed by citing several examples from historical figures. Consequently, we discussed Aristotle and Galileo, focusing on the latter’s experiments with inclined planes which resulted in the understanding that all objects, regardless of their weights, fall to the Earth’s surface when dropped from the same height at the same time, if their densities are sufficient to resist most of the drag caused due to Earth’s atmosphere. 

Next, we talked about future opportunities in the Sciences. There were many students in the audience who wanted non-traditional roles (roles in the context of Nepal) in Science, like becoming educators. We discussed some of these opportunities and the specific skill sets required for such roles. We also chatted about the importance of a clear motivation for studying Science in order to achieve good results in it, discussing the prevalence of practices whereby students are encouraged and even forced to study Science if they have good marks. 

Lastly, we engaged in a session whereby we spoke on matters related to Olympiads, specifically the process of taking part in Olympiads and how to best prepare for them. We focused mainly on the Astronomy Olympiad as that happens to be an area of personal expertise for me. 

In conclusion, the webinar was a good experience for me in interacting with Science enthusiasts in our country. I am hopeful that the experience was equally good for the students participating in the webinar. 

[Mr. Bijaya Chandra Luitel was an absolute winner at the National Astronomy Olympiad held in 2016 and 2017. He received Honorable Mention (HM) at International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) in 2016 and 2017 held in Bhubaneshwar, India and Phuket, Thailand respectively]

Barnard’s Star b: A Second Closest Neighbor in the Family of Exoplanets

Dr. Suman Satyal
More than 3800 exoplanets (planets that are outside our Solar System) have been discovered to date. This number is low compared to the known ~300 billion stars in our home galaxy – Milky Way, where each star has a probability of hosting one or more planets. Nevertheless, given the fact that the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b, was discovered only 23 years ago and the majority of the exoplanets were discovered in the past 10 years, this exponentially growing discovery rate is a great success. So, what triggered this discovery rate? Well, part of this is due to the advancement in the detection technology. The state-of-the-art ground-based and space-based telescopes have gotten bigger and better than ever. The humungous success of Kepler Space Telescope, which is now credited for the discovery of more than 2,600 exoplanets before being put to sleep after 9 years in service, has motivated the community for even more systematic searches. Recently, another space telescope called TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) was launched to search for exoplanets orbiting 200,000 brightest stars in the sky and has already discovered one planet and several other planetary candidates. In addition, here on the Earth, Mauna Kea in Hawaii and the La Silla observatories house some of the best ground-based telescopes.

Two major detection techniques are widely used in the search of exoplanets – Transit and Radial Velocity. In the transit method, a small dip in the stellar flux is measured when an orbiting planet eclipses that star. Therefore, every time a planet orbits around a star, that is once every year, a periodic dip is seen in the light curves, which are then fitted to extract other planetary orbital parameters to confirm its existence. A sample light curve is shown in Fig. 1.

A star-planet system always orbits about their barycenter, the center of mass of one or more bodies. Depending on the size of the planet, the barycenter can be within the stellar diameter or can be well outside of it. In either case, the star orbiting around the barycenter, as seen from the Earth, causes the starlight to get blue-shifted and red-shifted. Blueshift occurs when the star orbits towards the Earth and the redshift occur when it orbits away. By measuring these shifts, which produces a sinusoidal curve, planetary parameters such as its orbital period, the distance from the star and its minimum mass (m.sini) can be calculated. This is called the Radial Velocity method and the curves derived from this method – RV curve. Fig. 2 shows the RV curve of the first exoplanet, 51 Pegasi b. The nomenclature of the exoplanets follows a simple rule: Star name followed by lower case alphabets b, c, d, etc. Hence, 51 Pegasi is the star name and b means the first discovered planet in this system. The next planet (if any) will be named 51 Pegasi c. The not-yet-named stars get their names from the parent telescopes.

Bigger planets that are closer to their host star are easier to detect because they create large and prominent depth in the light curves as well as a large amplitude oscillations in the RV curves. In addition, it is favorable if the inclination angle (i) of the line of sight (as seen from the Earth) is at 90 degrees with the planet-star rotational plane. If this angle and the planetary mass gets smaller, it becomes harder to get the desired signal for the given telescope sensitivity. This seems to be the primary challenge for the recently discovered exoplanet orbiting a nearby star called Barnard’s Star, even after collecting the data for 20 years. Multiple researchers from various international institutes were involved in this search and their finding was published in the Nature Letters [I. Ribas et al. Nature 563, 365-368 (2018)].

Barnard’s star is the second closest star from the Solar System (5.9 light years) following the triple star system of Alpha Centauri (4.3 light years) and lies in the constellation of Ophiuchus. It is an M-type red dwarf star with a mass of 0.163 Solar-mass, a radius of 0.178 Solar-radii and effective temperature 3278 degrees, Kelvin. It is much smaller and less luminescent than the Sun, but much more active due to its unpredictable flare activities. The reported planet candidate in the system, Barnard’s star b (also called GJ 699 b) is a super-earth with a minimum mass of 3.2 Earth-mass, orbital period of 233 days, and orbits at an average distance of 0.404 au from its star. One of the caveats of the RV method is that it only provides the minimum mass (m.sini). Therefore, without knowing the inclination angle (i) discussed earlier, the actual planetary mass cannot be calculated. This angle can be computed by using the transit method or the direct imaging, but neither was applied for this system (probably due to the underlying technical challenges). This means, the actual mass of the Barnard’s Star b can be much bigger than the reported 3.2 Earth-mass. As discussed earlier, the RV method favors large planets; however, the researchers for the first time have managed to use this technique to find such a small planet. This is another breakthrough in the detection techniques in recent years. The RV curve for the planet was obtained using eight different telescopes, which are listed in Fig. 3 along with their respective data points.

So, does the discovery of Barnard’s star b has some significance to our quest of finding life outside the Solar System, or is it just another statistics in the exoplanet family? It is probably the latter. We are closer than ever to find a planet that is similar to the Earth in terms of its size, distance from its host and the host itself being similar the Sun-like star. A list of such potentially habitable exoplanets can be found in The distance of the exoplanets in the list extends from 4 LY to as far as 1200 LY. The near Earth-like exoplanet would be of more value to us because the interstellar travel (in a long shot) would be easier and more practical. Barnard’s star is a better candidate-system for this purpose as this is the second closest planet from the Solar System, which is located only 5.9 LY away. This distance may sound long enough for the travel technology we have, but with respect to the size of the Milky Way galaxy, which has the diameter of 100,000 LY, the planet is our second neighbor (after Proxima Centauri b) at the arm’s length. 

On the other hand, this planet may not be habitable by the Earth’s standard. The criteria for the habitability and the habitable zone is another big topic (for another day), and highly debatable, in the exoplanetary science. Based on the Solar System, a general definition of a habitable zone has been proposed – a region around a star where water can exist in the liquid state. Then, if a planet has a size similar to that of the Earth (hence the right amount of gravity) and orbits within the stellar habitable zone, it is likely to host life, the life as we know on the Earth. For solar-type stars, this distance is about 1 au (the Earth-Sun distance). Barndard’s Star b lies well outside of the habitable zone in the snow line, with a temperature close to -170 degree centigrade and if any water does exist, it should be in the frozen state. Hence, making it a less probable candidate to host life. The other challenge for the life in this planet is the star itself, which is highly active and engulfs the planet with high-energy radiation. This active nature of red dwarf (or M dwarf) stars, in general, creates a challenging and hostile environment for any planets to host life. The insolation from these stars are so low compared to the Sun that the habitable zone lies extremely close to their surface. Thus, any planet in the habitable zone is likely to be tidally locked which results in the extreme variation of temperature in the planetary surface not favoring the Earth-like life. 

It is a very exciting time for those who are interested in astronomy and astrophysics or exoplanets in particular. From not knowing what is beyond our horizon to traveling across the Solar System and looking through the galaxy into the universe and be able to comprehend its vastness is the greatest achievement of the humankind. We may not experience the interstellar travel in our lifetime, but we will definitely have set a foundation stone for it. In the next decade or so, we will have found thousands of exoplanets, some within the stellar habitable zone. We shall also have made a major breakthrough in space technologies and constructing spaceships. Then, we will enter a space era. 

In my personal opinion, we are definitely not alone in the Universe. I believe that life does exist out there. It may take one year, or it may take hundreds of years to find the extra-terrestrial beings. On the other hand, we may not even find it at all due to our limitations in the technology. The life on earth may come to extinction (the asteroid strikes, the climate change, or some other epidemics) years before we could probe deeper into the other habitable worlds. The other possibility is that the terrestrial beings may find us even before we can make it to the Galilean moons. In either case, I believe that life does exist in the Universe. We cannot find it does not mean it is not out there. 

May the force be with us.

(Dr. Suman Satyal is an exoplanetary scientist at the Department of Physics, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX, 76019, USA and a member of the scientific advisory committee at Nepal Astronomical Society-NASO).

Monday, November 19, 2018

Call for 6th National Astronomy Olympiad 2019: Logo Competition!

Are you someone who is good on graphic designing but have not found a platform to showcase your talent? If yes, National Astronomy Olympiad: Logo Competition might be one of the best platforms for you! The best logo will receive a cash prize of NRs. 5,000/- and a certificate during a program to be organized in Kathmandu. Also, the logo will be used as the official logo of the '6th National Astronomy Olympiad to be held in 2019'.

The call for application to our 6th National Astronomy Olympiad 2019: Logo Competition is already active and will accept entries till November 30, 2018! Click here to submit your logo.

This competition is designed to provide an opportunity for more people to get involved with our astronomy Olympiad program. It will also provide the platform to share their creativity at the national, regional and global level! Anyone who wants to share their creativity and wish to get national and international exposure can submit their work. 

Rules and regulations: 
  • The logo must include the following themes: Astronomy, Education & Nepal and should reflect the 6th National Astronomy Olympiad 2019
  • The submission is free of charge and one person can submit only one logo. 
  • Submitted design must contain the original idea/creation of the designer. 
  • The logo should be 600 x 600 pixels in size. 
  • A designer must submit a description of his/her logo in no more than 100 words. Design without description will not be evaluated accepted for competition. 

Submission Deadline is November 30, 2018! Logo submitted after the deadline will not be evaluated.

For more information about national astronomy olympiad program, visit:

Friday, November 16, 2018

Get Ready for the Leonid Meteor Shower Peak on Saturday, November 18, 2018!

Are waiting for a moment to find shooting star at the starry night over Nepal? If yes, then start preparing for your backpack to find one of the dark locations around you for the observation! If you can't move due to several reasons, you can still enjoy the view from your rooftop or nearby open space!


If you are reading this line, we assume you are ready to go further to prepare yourself for the observation! Welcome to the world of meteor astronomy <3

While saying you need to prepare beforehand for the observation, you might be wondering what is supposed to prepare for? Below is the list of things you need to be prepared beforehand if you really into meteor observation, at least for few hours!

Where should we look for those meteors?
Well, the name itself tells us half of the story in this part! As the name suggests, the radiant is located at the Leo, Zodiac Constellation, we are primarily supposed to look at the region around/nearby this constellation!

How do you recognize Leo in the sky?
Leo´s most notable feature is a backward question mark called the Sickle, which forms part of Leo´s mane. At the very bottom of the Sickle is Regulus, a blue-white star. In the easternmost part of Leo, is a triangle of stars, giving form to Leo´s tail and hind legs. The brightest star in this triangle is named Denebola. The rest of the stars in the constellation of Leo form the body of the lion with Regulus depicting the lion´s heart.
How to find Leo in the night sky over Nepal during Shower?
Please refer to the sky map available in this blog for more insight. The map shows the sky over Kathmandu at 1:30 am, Sunday, November 18, 2018. (As per Nepali calendar it is still a Saturday Night-a day is from one sunrise to another sunrise)!

When is the best time to observe?
The best time to observe Leonid Meteor Shower this year is between Saturday Saturday midnight to Sunday morning before sunrise. To be more specific from 12:30 am -5:30 am on Sunday, November 18, 2018!

Does the observation need any equipment?
You don't need any additional equipment! your eyes are enough to enjoy the view! If you are wearing glasses, don't forget to wear it! 

It will be very cold outside during the night, what to do?
Well, this is the reason many people avoid watching this excellent celestial view! You need to keep yourself warm as much as possible. For this, you can wear multiple layers of clothes which keeps you warm. For a better view, you can use chair/s or bed to lay down and enjoy the night sky!

Still did not get an idea of how you could enjoy this spectacular meteor shower? Click on the photo to watch the video.

 Happy Hunting! Feel free to share your experience with us a comment on this post! 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NASO and MECH Engineering Sign MoU for better Astronomy Outreach in Nepal!

We are pleased to announce that we signed a MoU with MECH Engineering and Trading Pvt. Ltd. today at its office to strengthen our astronomy outreach in Nepal for the next three years! MECH Engineering has been selling quality telescopes especially SkyWatcher and Celestron brands in the Nepali market.
Photo: Mr. Suresh Bhattarai, Chairman at Nepal Astronomical Society (NASO) and Er. Arket Raj Maharjan, Managing Director at MECH Engineering and Trading Pvt. Ltd. after the MoU signing ceremony at MECH Engineering office. Credit: Manisha Dwa/NASO

As a part of the MoU, MECH Engineering will be sponsoring 60 mm telescope for the winner of the National Space Art Competition till 2020. The winner of the 2nd National Space Art Competition 2018 will receive the first of three telescopes this year! Excited to know who will receive the telescope? Stay tuned with us!

NASO and MECH Engineering started working together since 2014 beginning of the first National Astronomy Olympiad 2014 (NAO2014) where Er. Maharjan hosted telescope orientation and handling sessions to closed camp students. Click here to know MECH Engineering and its services.

We believe, this event has opened an era of partnership between the astronomical community and business groups in Nepal. Following the preparation for the celebration of IAU100 next year, it is considered as one of the progressive efforts by the Nepali community to be a part of the global celebration.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

5th National Astronomy Olympiad 2018 Conlcudes with two internaional participations!

The 5th National Astronomy Olympiad held this year concluded with two international participation! This year Students qualified for the international Olympiads were facilitated to participate at the 23rd International Astronomy Olympiad 2018 (IAO2018) in Colombo, Sri-Lanka & the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2018 (IOAA2018) in Beijing, China respectively.

Mr. Bishal Baral (6th at NAO2018), Rato Bangala School, Patan and Mr. Hardik Shrestha (8th at NAO2018) at the 23rd International Astronomy Olympiad, October 6-14, 2018, Colombo, Sri-Lanka. Mr. Baral received a special award for the best result among the newly participating countries for Nepal.

Photo 1: Team Nepal at the 23rd International Astronomy Olympiad (XXIII IAO), October 4-14, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka. From left: Mr. Manisha Dwa, Mr. Hardik Shrestha, Mr. Bishal Baral, Mr. Suresh Bhattarai respectively.

Photo 2: Team Nepal during a team parade at the 23rd International Astronomy Olympiad (XXIII IAO), October 6-14, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Top five students at the 5th NAO2018 participated at the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Beijing, China, November 3-11, 2018. Though we could not receive any awards at this Olympiad, our students had their consistent performance. Team Nepal members were Mr. Shronim Tiwari, Capital College and Research Centre (CCRC), Kathmandu; Mr. Bedant Lohani, Rato Bangala School, Patan; Mr. Shubham Sharma, Budhanilkantha School, Kathmandu; Mr. Rubek Poudel, Arniko Higher Secondary School, Biratnagar, and Mr. Pratik Bhandari, The Times International College respectively.

Photo 3: Team Nepal during a team parade at the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA2018), November 3-11, 2018, Beijing, China.

Photo 4: Team Nepal at the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA2018), November 3-11, 2018, Beijing, China. From left: Ms. Manisha Dwa & Mr. Suresh Bhattarai (Front row), Mr. Bedant Lohani, Mr. Pratik Bhandari, Mr. Rubek Poudel, Mr. Shronim Tiwari and Mr. Shubham Sharma respectively.

National Astronomy Olympiad (NAO) program is an early talent hunt program for the high school students of age 14-20 years. It creates a merit list of the students qualified for the two international olympiads: International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA),  International Astronomy Olympiad (IAO) & regional olympiad: Asian-Pacific Astronomy Olympiad (APAO) respectively.

For more information about National Astronomy Olympiad (NAO) program in Nepal, please visit