Wandering through the realms of the cosmos, pondering its huge vastness

Archive for October, 2011

Sunset View from the Gonzales Hall

A view of the majestic sunset last October 6, 2011  taken from a windowpane on the 3rd Floor of the Gonzales Hall in UP Diliman. :) I particularly love the crimson-colored sky during this time. Fortunately, I had the camera with me that time and was able to take this image even without a sturdy tripod.


IAU Gala Night at the NIDO Fortified Science Discovery Center

Last October 21, 2011, I attended the International Astronomical Union (IAU) Formal Gala Dinner  at the Science Discovery Center in SM Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

Fellow members from my org, UP Astronomical Society; professors and students from different universities namely UPLB, RTU, and DLSU; astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers were also attendees of this gathering.

IAU Gala Night – October 21, 2011

The event’s theme was ‘Astronomy for Development’. It aimed to educate and promote awareness of Astronomy among Filipinos. It was also to inform the people about the importance of astronomy and to let them know the latest development and innovation in the field.

Speakers were Dr. Rogel Mari Sese, Head of Astrophysics Lab in the Institute of Mathematical Sciences and Physics, UPLB; and Dr. Kevin Govender, the current Director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development.

Before proceeding with  the talks, a short  planetarium show entitled “New Horizons” was played to entertain the audience. It was an all-dome-video experience that features a majestic journey through our celestial neighborhood.

Dr. Sese was the first one to deliver a talk. He discussed several key ideas in pursuing Astronomy as a profession particularly in the Philippines. He further explained that having a career in astronomy is challenging and highlighted a few important points on what in takes to be an astronomer. These, according to him are the following:

  • Passion – main motivation for one to learn
  • Plan – [Because] the learning journey is long
  • Perseverance – main motivation for one to finish

He finished his talk my leaving this inspiring message: “Be passionate and patient. It’s all worth it in the end.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Govender gave a talk about the importance of astronomy in the society. He also mentioned the current promotional strategies of IAU to  stimulate people in astronomy and to establish Astronomy Education, Research, and Outreach in developing countries such as the Philippines. Moreover, he emphasized several important points about Astronomy and Science:
“Astronomy stretches our imagination.”
“Science is about exploring God’s universe.”
“Astronomy for a better world.”

A short open forum was eventually held after the talks to allow questions from the audience. A lot of curious questions about astrophysics have been asked by several students until after the formal dinner.

All in all, the event was truly a great and memorable experience.

I’m glad that IAU is still taking its commitment in expanding astronomy development programs in areas where astronomy is still an emerging and minor field (such as in the Southeast Asian (SEA) region), even after the successful International Year of Astronomy (IYA 2009) was over. At the same time, I’m also proud that the Philippines is already taking part in holding activities such as this which enable  young astronomers and students in particular, to further develop their interest in the field.

The purpose of this office is to use astronomy to make the world a better place!

I hope that there would be more scientific collaborations such as this one, in the near future  that could stimulate the rapid growth of science among developing societies.

Ad astra per aspera!


Halloween Celebration and Astronomy

IC 2118 (Witch Head Nebula) in Orion. Original image credit: NASA/STScI Digitized Sky Survey

Did you know that Halloween is a significant day on the astronomical calendar?

Surprising, isn’t it? Halloween means more than just a day for spooky stuff, costumes and candy treats. This celebration is actually a cross-quarter day which means it falls approximately half way between the Autumnal Equinox, the astronomical start of fall and Winter Solstice, the astronomical start of winter.

Red crosses mark the year’s cross-quarter dates. Credit: NASA

It’s no coincidence that Halloween has a dark side. Halloween is believed to have originated with the ancient Celtic harvest festival Samhain. Samhain roughly translates to “summer’s end”. It was the date that signaled the start of winter when most plant life is dead. A season where food would be limited and living conditions would be less than favorable. It was a day of celebration and of dread, the line between the living summer and the dead winter.  It was not until middle ages that the day was associated with the Christian holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Days.

This year’s Halloween has  a bit of something for everyone. This is because the eastern sky during late October nights is filled with deep sky treats for stargazers of all types.

For the naked eye observer, the first of the brilliant stars of winter start to peek over the eastern horizon: Capella and Aldebaran. Three of the nearest galactic star clusters are visible to the naked eye: the Pleiades, the Hyades, and the Perseus Moving Cluster.

Halloween Sky Treat — eastern sky on Oct. 31, 2011 (around 9:30 PM)

Want more? Check out these links to see a gallery of eerie and spooky space images:

Happy Halloween! :)


Moon and Mars above the Cityscape

As I prepared to observe the Orionid Meteor Shower last October 22, a nice celestial pairing of the waning crescent Moon (22% full) and the tiny planet Mars greeted my view. These two were roughly 8 degrees apart during this conjunction and were located  just slightly above “the Sickle” in Leo.  Unfortunately, the glow from the light-polluted city  made the 1.2 magnitude Mars (on the upper left of the image) difficult to notice with the naked eye.

Mars appears to be like a plain bright red star right now that rises in the east during the wee hours after midnight. In the months ahead, Mars will brighten and will also rise earlier at night. By December 2011, this planet will climb over the eastern horizon before midnight. In January 2012, it’ll be up by mid-evening, and even sooner on February 2012 evenings.

Mars will come closest to Earth in March 2012. It will be out from dusk till dawn, shining about nine times more brightly than it does at present. Even so, Mars won’t be nearly as bright as the planets Venus or Jupiter.



Bataan Escapade: Observing the Perseid Meteor Shower 2011

Despite the 50% chance of a thunderstorm and a full moon, I and my UP AstroSoc friends braved our way to Bataan last August to observe this year’s Perseid Meteor Shower during its peak event.

Waxing Gibbous Moon – August 12, 2011

We stayed at Stella Maris Beach Resort in Bagac to observe overnight.

The Moon by the beach.

The sky was totally overcast when we came. Nevertheless, we were fortunate that the Full Moon was already low in the west when the eastern sky cleared up around 3:00 to 5:00 AM just in time for the Perseids.

Cassiopeia and Perseus. The radiant of the Perseid Meteor Shower can be found at the region in between these two.
Pleiades, Hyades, and Orion. A few meteors were seen passing by this region

We were able to spot a few fireballs zooming across the region near Perseus and around the Winter Hexagon. The highest meteor count that we had was 23.

We also got to observe Jupiter (with its Galilean Moons!) and the planet Mars though a friend’s Dobsonian telescope which we fondly call Lulin.

Peeking through Lulin

Here are some images of Jupiter taken through afocal method:

Jupiter and its Galilean moons
A closer look at Jupiter

We finished our Perseid viewing at dawn and left the place a couple of hours after to tour around Bataan. Some of the places we visited were the Bagac Friendship Tower, Dunsulan Falls in Pilar, and the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor)  at the summit of Mt. Samat.

The beach resort were we stayed at.

The Bagac Friendship Tower

Dunsulan Falls
Dambana ng Kagitingan and the Memorial Cross on top of Mt. Samat

Mount Samat was the site of the most vicious battle against the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942 during the Battle of Bataan. The shrine there was built as a symbol of courage and gallantry to all Filipino soldiers who shed their blood in defending our beloved country to foreign invaders. I felt honored to have been able to visit this place and pay respect to my fellow Filipinos who died during the war. 

Going at the top of Mount Samat was the best experience ever!  It felt like I can almost touch the clouds with my two bare hands when I was up there. I also love the cool gentle breeze and the nice view (you can see the whole town of Bataan and the Manila Bay from there). My friends and I were very excited as we climbed up the stairs going up the cross. It was a bit tiring though.

Overall, I consider this trip as one of the most memorable trips I ever had. :) Aside from successfully catching the Perseids despite of the bad weather, we were also blessed with a great opportunity to visit some of the historical places in the country and experience nature at its finest. It was truly a sweet escape!

Thanks to Elaine, Kiel, Bea, Josh, Saeed, Ron and Pinyong for being with me in this endeavor. :)

*All images above courtesy of Bea Banzuela


My Article and Images in Practical Astronomy Magazine

An article which I have written, “SHARING THE NIGHT SKY – University of the Philippines AstroSoc Sidewalk Astronomy“, got included in Practical Astronomy Magazine’s July-September 2011 issue.

My image of the Supermoon last March was also in its Readers’ Images and Reports. :)

Meanwhile, my first images of the Milky Way Galaxy that I took during the Messier Marathon last Summer was also featured in its latest issue for October-December 2011.

All issues of the Practical Astronomy Magazine can be downloaded for free. Visit its website and check out its Back Issues’ Section. The primary goals of PA is to encourage amateur astronomers worldwide, to share their observations and astronomical experience. So far, contributors from at least ten countries have been published in the magazine.

Everyone can contribute their own images and astronomy-related articles (that are written based on their own experiences) for publication. To do so, just fill up the form from this link and click on the ‘submit button’. You may also send them to Kevin Brown via email: editor@practicalastronomy.com

Go on and share your own astro-stories and images. :) It’s a great way of sharing your knowledge, passion and experience to a lot of people in the astronomy community.

Ad astra!


Eclipsed Moon and Anticrepuscular Rays Image in EPOD

My image ‘Eclipsed Moon and Anticrepuscular Rays‘ that I took during the Total Lunar Eclipse last June 2011 got featured in Earth Science Picture of the Day (EPOD).

EPOD is a service of NASA’s Earth Science Division and the EOS Project Science Office (at Goddard Space Flight Center) and the Universities Space Research Association. It collects and archives photos, imagery, graphics, and artwork with short explanatory captions and links exemplifying features within the Earth system.

My image could also be found in Astronomy.com’s Online Reader Gallery.


Honorable Mention – 2011 MicroObservatory Photo Contest

Last May, my Lunar Montage received an Honorable Mention in the Astrocreative category of the First MicroObservatory Astrophotography Contest.

My certificate and prizes from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Instead of using my pen name, I used my real name with my entry submission :) 

This contest was held in honor of Global Astronomy Month 2011 last April. Participants used the Observing With NASA portal and MicroObservatoryImage software to create RGB Composite images and Astrocreative images.

MicroObservatory is a network of automated telescopes that anyone can control over the Internet.

The telescopes were developed by scientists and educators at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They are located and maintained at observatories affiliated with the Center for Astrophysics, including the Harvard College Observatory in Cambridge, MA and the Whipple Observatory in Amado, AZ.

Using many of the same technologies that NASA uses to capture astronomical images by controlling telescopes in space, amateur astronomers world-wide can control a sophisticated ground-based telescope from the convenience of any computer. The MicroObservatory remote observing network is composed of several 3-foot-tall reflecting telescopes, each of which has a 6-inch mirror to capture the light from distant objects in space. Instead of an eyepiece, the MicroObservatory telescopes focus the collected light onto a CCD detector (an electronic chip like that in a digital camera) that records the image as a picture file with 650 x 500 pixels.

With these robotic telescopes, people can take images of the Moon, Sun, nearby planets and some deep-sky objects even without having a telescope! :) Cool, isn’t it?

I’ve been using MicroObservatory for over a year now and I have already taken and processed several images using it. Below are some of them:

M42, Orion Nebula (August 15, 2010)
M42, Orion Nebula 
Lagoon Nebula, M8 in Sagittarius
Trifid Nebula, M20 in Sagittarius
Waning Gibbous Moon
Sun

Congratulations to all the winners of the contest and thank you, MicroObservatory! :)


Orionid Meteor Shower 2011 Viewing Guide

Created using Stellarium. Click on image to enlarge.

This year’s Orionids will peak on the evening of October 21/22 . These meteor fragments radiate from the top of Orion’s upraised club, near the Gemini border.

The cometary debris left behind by Comet Halley — bits of ice, dust and rubble — create the Orionid meteor shower. It last visited Earth in 1986. As the comet moves through space, it leaves debris in its wake that strikes Earth’s atmosphere most fully around October 20-22. Around this time every year, Earth is more or less intersecting the comet’s orbit.

Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass averaging a modest 20 per hour under dark skies.  The moonlit glare of the waning crescent Moon, however will probably reduce the numbers somewhat this year.

The best time to view these meteors is usually in the wee hours before dawn. That time holds true no matter what time zone you’re in.

Clear skies to all and happy viewing! :)

References:


The ‘Mini’ Full Moon of 2011

October’s Full Hunter’s Moon nearly coincides with the apogee of the moon’s orbit, or the point at which the moon is farthest from Earth. That makes October’s full moon appear smaller than usual, the opposite of the “supermoon” effect that occurred earlier last March when the moon was full during its closest approach to Earth.

October’s (almost full) Hunter’s Moon surrounded by thick gray clouds. This was the smallest, farthest full moon in 2011.

The moon reached its peak fullness at 2:06 a.m. UT last Oct. 12. Shortly thereafter, the moon was at its farthest point from Earth, which it reaches once a month. The moon’s orbit is elliptical rather than perfectly circular, which is why the distance from Earth to the moon varies by tens of thousands of miles depending on the time of month and year. The moon’s orbit is also always slightly changing because of differing effects of the sun’s gravity.

Though we couldn’t notice with our own eyes, the Moon’s apparent size changes throughout the year and this is because of the phenomenon called Lunar libration, or the wobbling of the Moon.

Below is an animation which demonstrates this effect. It shows the geocentric phase, libration, position angle of the axis, and apparent diameter of the Moon throughout the year 2011, at hourly intervals.

Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Clear skies!


Moon-Jupiter Conjunction Over the UP Sunken Garden

I was walking past  the Diliman Sunken Garden with someone last October 14 when I caught a glimpse of the Waning Gibbous Moon (94.6% full) close to bright Jupiter. Thank God that after several days of continuous rains, the skies have finally cleared that evening :)

Moon, Jupiter and a passing airplane

These two objects which both dominate the night sky this month were just less than 15 degrees apart.

I was lucky to have been able to take a few images of this nice celestial conjunction since I always bring the camera with me. It was a bit challenging though, because I didn’t have my sturdy tripod during then to stabilize and elevate the camera.

The streak of light above Jupiter was just a passing airplane which happened to be included in the frame when I was doing the shot.

More photos below…

Special thanks to that someone who kept me company while I was taking photos that evening at the middle of the Sunken Garden. ;)


Bye bye, Mr. Teapot

Sagittarius (plus a faint apparition of the Milky Way?) over our local suburb. Click on image to enlarge.

 As summer time has already ended, the constellation Sagittarius, along with the other Summer constellations sets earlier during the month of October.

Sagittarius is believed to have originated with the Babylonians. He was their god of War, and he stands with his bow aimed at the heart of Scorpius, the scorpion. Like Centaurus, he is a half man, half beast creature.

We in modern times may not be able to imagine the stars of Sagittarius as a Centaur. Instead, many stargazers know the stars of Sagittarius as a “Teapot”. This asterism is really easy to recognize.

Sagittarius is an important constellation in that it marks the direction of the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. It also contains more Messier objects than any other constellation in the sky.

Earlier this evening, I took the chance to take an image of the “Teapot” before it disappears in the night sky. I was also planning to image Scorpius but it was already too low in the south west. As I looked at the image more closely, I began to noticed something interesting. On the right (just above its lid), there is a faint cloud-like patch that resembles the Milky Way. I got surprised. :)

Could it be really possible to see a faint apparition of the Milky Way in this light-polluted suburb?

Perhaps, yes.


The Draconid Meteor Shower and InOMN 2011 on October 8!

There will be two special events for tonight (October 8 ) — the Draconid Meteor Shower and the celebration of the 2011 International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN).

InOMN is an annual event celebrated world-wide to encourage people to go out and observe Earth’s nearest neighbor in space — the Moon. For more information and resources for planning your own International Observe the Moon Night event, visit: http://observethemoonnight.org/. The website features activities, educational materials, multimedia and much more!

Get involved!

Meanwhile, the meteor activity of the Draconids (or Giacobinids) is also expected to be at maximum tonight, 8 October 2011 between 16h00m and 21h00m Universal Time (UTC)*.  This irregular shower that sometimes produces meteor storms is linked to comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky.

Radiant point for Draconid meteors | image credit: Earthsky.org

The glare of moonlight is sure to interfere with this year’s Draconid shower, but you should try viewing it tonight, anyway, to see if the predicted outburst will occur.

Note:
* The predicted date of maximum is the date when the meteoroid density encountered by the Earth is expected to be maximum. Actual maximum local rate observed from a specific area is likely to happen at a different time, depending on your location. Therefore, it is incorrect to just convert the UTC maximum date to local time, as your local circumstances are likely to be different (for example, the radiant not even being visible at the time of nominal maximum!). In the Philippines, the peak activity is expected to occur on October 9 between 12:00 -5:00 AM PHT. The radiant, however will set around 11:00 PM (which means we cannot observe the peak) so it would be best to observe earlier — between 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM.

Looks like the rain will spoil both of these events :( But let’s all try our luck tonight and see what will happen. Clear skies!


Skywatching Highlights: October 2011

As the nights get longer in the northern hemisphere, the skies are filled with good observing opportunities. 

Meteor showers, a comet, and Jupiter at opposition are the highlights for October.

DATE

EVENT

TIME (PHT)

2 Mars in the Beehive Cluster in Cancer
4 First Quarter Moon 11:15 AM
8 Draconid Meteor Shower (Active from Oct 6-10, ZHR up to storm levels)
8 International Observe the Moon Night 2011
12 Full Moon (Hunter’s Moon) 10:05 AM
13 Jupiter and the waxing gibbous moon is about 5 degrees apart
14 Saturn Conjunction
15 Waxing gibbous moon near the Pleiades
16 Comet Elenin’s closest approach to Earth
20 Last Quarter Moon 11:30 AM
20 Mercury-Venus Conjunction dusk
22 Orionid Meteor Shower (Active from Oct 17-25, ZHR=20)
27 New Moon 04:00 AM
28 Mercury-Venus Moon at minimum separation dusk
29 Jupiter Opposition (closest approach to Earth) 08:40 AM



Two meteor showers: Draconids & Orionids 

*DRACONIDS (Giacobinids)
The Draconids peak will this year on the evening of October 8th with a higher than normal meteor count expected. Periodic (6.6 year orbit) comet 21P/Giacobini/Zinner is the source of these meteors, and this year Earth is predicted to cross a dense debris stream from the comet. Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass as high as 500 per hour, radiating from the northern constellation Draco, near the Dragon’s head. This is not without precedent as the Draconids stormed briefly to 10,000 meteors per hour in 1933!
*ORIONIDS 

The Orionids will peak this year on the evening of October 21/22 . Periodic (76 year orbit) comet 1P/Halley is the source of these meteors. Meteor specialists have meteor counts for this pass averaging a modest 20 per hour, best visible before dawn under dark skies. These meteor fragments radiate from the top of Orion’s upraised club, near the Gemini border. The waning crescent Moon this year should not interfere much with your observing of these shooting stars.

Comet Elenin
Newly discovered comet Elenin will make its closest approach to the Earth on October 16. The comet was discovered on December 10, 2010 by Russian amateur astronomer Leonid Elenin. It is estimated that the comet will reach 6th magnitude as it makes its closest approach. This will make it just barely visible to the naked eye. With a good pair of binoculars and a little determination, you may be able to get a good look at this new comet during mid October.

Jupiter at Opposition
The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons. The giant planet will be a big and bright as it gets in the night sky. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.

Full Hunters Moon
This month’s full moon is called Hunter’s Moon because at this time of year the leaves are falling and the game is fat and ready to hunt. This will also be the smallest full moon of the year because it will be near apogee, its farthest point from the Earth.

Mercury-Venus & Moon at minimum separation
This is a wonderful conjunction of 2 planets, the waxing crescent Moon and the red giant star Antares about 30 minutes after sunset on the nights of October 28 & 29th. You will need an unobstructed view low to the SW. Use binoculars or a small telescope to locate challenging Mercury.

International Observe the Moon Night 2011

Join people from all over the world to celebrate the second annual International Observe the Moon Night on Oct. 8, 2011. InOMN is an annual event celebrated globally to encourage people to go out and observe Earth’s nearest neighbor in space — the Moon.

For more information and resources for planning your own International Observe the Moon Night event, visit: http://observethemoonnight.org/. The website features activities, educational materials, multimedia and much more!

 

Happy skygazing! :)

References:


Orion, Jupiter and the Pleiades

This morning, I went outside again at around 4:30 AM to check the sky condition. I’ve been doing this for about a couple of days now in hopes of  seeing a clear sky despite the continuous rains over the past few weeks.

It’s really creepy out there — wind’s blowing strong & it’s totally dark! But thank God it wasn’t too cloudy and I was able to do some timelapse photography just before the stars start fading away against the blue sky at dawn.

An image of the constellation Orion [The Hunter] as it marched through the zenith at 5:21 AM local time, 2 October 2011 (SJDM, Bulacan)

The planet Jupiter & the star cluster M45 (Pleiades) separated by about 20 degrees in the western sky at 5:02 AM, 2 October 2011  (SJDM, Bulacan)

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the coming weeks. :) Clear skies!


The Longer Nights Are Here!

Hello everyone! :)

It’s been ages since I posted my last entry here. I missed this blog so much.

I’ve been really busy doing and organizing a lot of stuff during the last couple of months that I rarely had time to write. Moreover, the observing conditions were very seldom good because of the rainy season – several typhoons hit the country and it’s too cloudy most of the time.

It is not until towards the end of September that the rainy season in the Philippines will start receding.  Its normal termination usually occurs by the end of October.

Anyhow, the coming of October also marks the coming of longer nights in the Philippines. Just last October 1, the Sun rose at 5:46 AM and set at 5:46 PM (Manila time). This day signaled the transition point in nature when the light changes. The days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere — everyone can feel the shortening of the days and sense, innately, that the changes in daylight and darkness are sudden and surprising.

During the equinox last September 23, the length of night and day across the world is nearly, but not entirely, equal. This is because the day is slightly longer in places that are further away from the equator, and because the sun takes longer to rise and set in these locations. The axial tilt of the earth affects the day/night duty cycle most strongly at the poles and has no effect at all at the equator. Equal day and night usually occurs a few days after the equinox. For simplicity, we may assume that it has actually occurred on October 1. Take note that there is really no equal day and night at the equator.

For amateur astronomers, longer nights mean extra hours of uninterrupted stargazing! :)

The fine meteor showers usually come in by October to December of each year. October 2011 has two meteor showers worth getting outside to see — the Draconid meteor shower on the evenings of October 7 and 8 and the more reliable Orionid meteor shower on the mornings of October 20 and 21.

As the Draconids and Orionids kicks off the meteor shower season, observing the night sky would be more fun and interesting.

 Clear skies to all!


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