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Q&A with DarkSky Advocate Abhishek Pawse from Nagpur, India

DarkSky Advocate Abhishek Pawse successfully persuaded his city in India to dim street lights, promoting dark sky conservation and raising awareness about light pollution.

DarkSky Advocate Abhishek Pawse

Each month the DarkSky International features an DarkSky Advocate from the worldwide network of volunteers who are working to protect the night. This month we’re highlighting the work of DarkSky Advocate Abhishek Pawse from Nagpur, India.

In this month’s Advocate Q&A, we sat down with Abhishek Pawse to learn how he was successful in getting his city to dim the street lights to 60 percent after 11:30 pm. We also talked about why the night sky is so important to him. Meet Abhishek below!

Q: What got you interested in protecting dark skies? How long have you been advocating for dark sky conservation?

A: In December of 2018, I got my first camera, the Nikon Coolpix P900, which had a 24-2000mm lens. I photographed the moon and for the first time, and I saw the craters in such high magnification that I was amazed by seeing them. Then, I switched my attention towards the planets. Until then, I had only seen Jupiter and Saturn in books and images. It was the first time I was seeing them in reality. These are the images I captured: 

First Jupiter Image by Abhishek Pawse
First Saturn Image by Abhishek Pawse

I was pleased with them. Then, I read an article about Andromeda Galaxy on the internet. At that time, I realized that there is something other than Moon and planets, and stars. Luckily, it was November, so I knew I could see the Andromeda galaxy in the sky. But, when I went on my terrace, I could not find it in the sky with my eyes (although the article mentioned it is bright enough to see with the naked eyes), but still, I could not find it. Then, I learned about light pollution and its effects on the night sky. I felt so down that I was not able to see the deep sky objects from my home. After that, I asked my dad to take me to a National Park near my town. It was the first time I saw that many stars in the sky. I also saw the Orion Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy with my naked eyes. It brought me to tears. At that moment, I felt that something needed to be done about light pollution. Then, I started talking about it with my friend. They didn’t know much about astronomy, so they weren’t interested in it. Then, I decided to join my local astronomy group, which allowed me to get to know people with similar interests. I felt so good, and the members of the groups encouraged me.  Now around two and half years later, I’m proud to advocate to protect the night sky. 

Abhishek Pawse

Q: You recently had considerable success working with your local city lighting in Nagpur, India (population 2.4 million). Can you tell us about it?

A: I recently had success in convincing my local authorities to dim the street lights of my city from 100% to 60% every night at 11:30 pm. They told me they already had the ability to dim the lights but, they never used it. So to start, they dimmed the lights in the area where my house is located. After that, I asked them if they could dim the lights in the whole city. They said they would try, as it’s not easy and lots of permissions are needed. But, after three days, I got a message from them that they received approval to dim the lights throughout the city. I was thrilled after hearing that news! So, that night at exactly 11:30 pm, I was on my roof waiting for the lights to dim, and when it happened, I literally jumped on the place and celebrated.

Q: How did you make this happen

A: My dad works with an NGO so, he knew the local head of our Nagpur Municipal Corporation, so he introduced me to him. He was very supportive.  When I told him that the main cause of light pollution is street lights, he then asked me how he could help. So, I asked if he can dim the lights. He told me that they have the equipment to dim them, and then they started doing it in my area. After that, they began to do it throughout the entire city. I was very happy when it was happening.

Q: How has that recent change in lighting impacted the quality of the night above you?

A: When it happened, I could not see a significant difference in the number of stars visible to the naked eye. But, when I saw the Lagoon Nebula and Omega Nebula through my binoculars, I was amazed to see them because they were previously invisible to me. So then, I knew that some difference was made.

December 2020 Conjunction
Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in December 2020 by Abhishek Pawse

Q: What can other advocates learn from your recent success?

A: I don’t have much advice, but I can say that I tried, and luckily the people I met were supportive. So, my advice would be that it’s worth it to try. To all the folks in India, you should get in touch with the local authorities. As I mentioned, there is already the technology, so you can ask them to start dimming the lights.

Q: What is it like in India right now with Covid? How have you managed to continue your advocacy efforts?

A: India is one of the worst-hit countries in the world. As of now, when I am writing this, there are more than 1 million active cases. Nearly 10 percent of those are in my city. This year, I lost lots of people I know. On the other hand, many of my friends were positive, although they recovered. Now, the situation is finally getting better. The recovery rate has overtaken the rate of new cases. Actually, I aimed to raise awareness about astronomy as people were stuck in their homes due to full lockdown. I thought that it is the best time to let people know how beautiful the night sky is, as they did not have many things to do. Thus, with the help of my dad, I successfully convinced the authorities to dim the lights. While meeting him, my dad and I followed all the necessary precautions.

The night sky by Abhishek Pawse

Q: Do you have any general advice for working on light pollution issues in big cities?

A: I say that in big cities the main cause is the street lights. So, we need to spread awareness about it. But, I also think it is equally important to educate the locals about it and tell what all the causes of light pollution are. Once, I gave a talk at my school about light pollution and its effects on humans, nature, and wildlife. If we educate the youth, it will be helpful in the future, as light pollution is increasing and today’s youth care about nature. But, in the current time, we should raise awareness about light pollution in cities in every possible way by writing articles in the newspaper, writing blogs on the internet (most youngsters read more on the internet than in newspapers), etc. Last year, the sky got so clear during the full lockdown, and the light pollution was also reduced. I photographed the Milky Way from the city with my P900. It was an amazing experience.

Comet Neowise
Comet Neowise by Abhishek Pawse

Q: What is your favorite part about the night sky? 

A: My favorite part about the night sky is that it unites and doesn’t divide. I remember watching a movie where there was a scene where the actor stops discrimination among people with the help of stars and constellations. He said a very beautiful line. He said,  “If you look at the stars individually, indeed they are beautiful, but they are only stars, but if you look at them together, you can see objects and various designs forming.” I used this trick one time, and I was successful. My other favorite part about the night sky is that you can look at the night sky each night and still be amazed every time.

Q: Most memorable experience being in the dark?

A: My most memorable experience under the dark is still the first time I went and saw the star-filled sky. I remember seeing a smudge in the sky and realized it was the Andromeda Galaxy that I was trying to see in the city sky. I literally cried after seeing it. Then, I saw the Orion Nebula and was able to see its colors.

Orion Nebula
First Orion Nebula image from a dark sky site by Abhishek Pawse

After few nights of frequent visits to the dark sky site, I realized how many things there are to see in the night sky. I still get goosebumps every time I get under the dark sky.

Q: Do you have a funny story to share about dark skies?

A: Once, I was photographing the winter Milky Way from a dark sky site. It was a New Moon, and there was no source of artificial light. It was pitch black. Also, we had forgotten our torch in our hotel room which was far away from where we were. So, our only source of light was the tiny flashlights of our phones, which were strong enough to light an area of about 5ft, but beyond it was dark, and we could not see anything.

Winter Milky Way
Winter sky by Abhishek Pawse

There was a forest nearby, so we were afraid that a tiger would come to check on us. After some time, we heard a noise from the woods. We instantly pointed the flashlight of our phones towards it. But, we saw nothing. The noise continued to repeat after every few minutes. Then, we heard a low growling noise in the distance. At that time, I asked my friend, “Did you hear it?” To which he said, “Yes.” Then, I asked, “Are you scared?” He replied, “Yes.” We both looked at each other’s faces, and we were scared as hell. After that, we panicked, and I remember we packed our things so fast my hand gloves fell. I put my camera in my bag without a lens cap on it. We ran out of there at like 60kmph. After reaching the hotel, when we settled down, there was only a laugh between us. That is one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Learn more about the DarkSky Advocate Network, here.