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


Moon Meets Jupiter – February 18, 2013

moon and jupiter- feb 18

Avid skywatchers had a chance to witness tonight’s close pairing between Jupiter and the First Quarter Moon — a nice sky event that kicked off the celebration of the National Astronomy Week 2013 in the Philippines. If you look closely at Jupiter in this image, you’ll also see a hint of its 4 Galilean moons.

During the closest approach, Jupiter and the Moon were 0.5 degree apart.  For comparison, the angle covered by the diameter of the full moon is about 31 arcmin or 0.5 degree.

moon angular measurement

Image credit: Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network

Astronomers use angular measurements to describe the apparent size of an object, or the distance between them. Knowing how to measure angular distance is an essential skill to finding your way around the sky.

Clear skies!

Moon, Mars and Antares – October 18, 2012

A few minutes after sunset last October 18, 2012, two reddish objects were found near the waxing crescent Moon (12% illuminated) in the western sky. These two bright red objects were actually the planet Mars, and the bright star Antares in the constellation Scorpius. Mars was about 2 degrees to the upper left from the Moon, and Antares about 4 degrees to the lower left from Mars.

Mars and Antares are often mistaken for each other because of their similarity in appearance. In fact, the name Antares means “Rival of Mars” in Greek.

All photos were taken using Canon Powershot SX40 HS. Some if the images were blurry. My camera got out of focus and i didn’t notice till it was too late! 😦

Click on the images to see larger versions.

The sky was extra clear that night. Amazed by the beauty of the starry night sky, I took my camera out again and snapped this photo while walking home:

Lunar Occultation of Jupiter – August 12, 2012

During the early morning hours of August 12, Philippine sky observers had a great chance of witnessing a relatively rare occultation of Jupiter (and some of its largest satellites) by our Moon. In astronomy, an occultation is an event that occurs when an apparently larger body passes in front of an apparently smaller one. In this case, the moon passed in front of the planet Jupiter; the pair being visible in the morning sky in the Philippines about 5 hours and 53 minutes before the Sun. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon was at mag -11.3, and Jupiter at mag -2.2, both in the constellation Taurus.

Despite the presence of hazy skies and thin clouds, we were lucky to have been able to observed the occultation event. Once I located the moon with my naked eye, I immediately pointed my superzoom camera  to it and took an image. I found Jupiter close to the moon but it was covered with haze. A few minutes later, Jupiter slipped behind the bright lunar limb and was visible no longer. Half an hour later, I tried to capture a video of the reappearance of  Jupiter, but the clouds had thickened to the point where I could no longer find the moon. When the clouds  had finally gone out of sight, Jupiter was already emerging from behind the dark limb.

Still, considering the less-than-ideal conditions, it was quite a successful observation. 🙂

Sky condition: 70-80% cloudy
Camera used: Canon Powershot SX40 HS

I observed this event from Marikina City.

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Crescent Moon, Venus and Jupiter at Predawn on July 15th

Eastern sky at 4:00 am local time. Manila, Philippines. Image: Stellarium

Philippine sky observers will have a great chance to see all of the three  brightest objects of the night sky in close proximity to each other this weekend (weather permitting). On the morning of July 15th, the waning crescent moon will join the very bright “stars” Jupiter (upper) and Venus (lower) to form a nice celestial grouping, along with two prominent open star clusters — the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades —  in the constellation Taurus.

Venus has reached its greatest illuminated extent in Earth’s sky last July 12. Thus, it appears so dazzling now as a “morning star”  in our predawn sky, near Jupiter.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the globe, this celestial grouping event will be viewed as an occultation of Jupiter by the moon. An occultation is an event in which a celestial body covers another, farther away object, such as when the moon covers a star or a planet or when a planet or an asteroid covers a far away star. For this event, the moon will cover Jupiter for about an hour (the exact time and durtaion of the occultation is  dependent on the observer’s location). View the visibility map and timings of this event from IOTA.

Seeing Jupiter’s occultation is possible with the naked eye, but the look through a telescope, even using a small magnification, is marvelous. At first, two of Jupiter’s large moons (Io and Europa) will disappear behind the moon, then Jupiter will disappear and then the other two moons (Ganymede and Callisto).

Places close to the southeast will witness a ‘grazing occulation’ when Jupiter and its moons will skim the edge of the Moon. This will be well worth seeing through a telescope and Jupiter’s moons may be seen blinking in and out of view as they pass behind the lunar mountains. Further north and west a very close conjunction will be seen.

Don’t worry because even though we won’t be seeing this event in the Philippines this weekend, we are still lucky enough to see a very rare version of such an event next month, during the morning of August 12, 2012. That will be surely worth getting up to see!


Moon occulting Jupiter with its moons. Image: Stellarium

Observing occultations can also contribute to science. During the 80’s, Uranus occulated a distant star. Photos of the events showed that just before and after the occultation the star blinked several times. The theory then was developed that Uranus has a set of rings (like Saturn). When Voyager 2 reached Uranus it detected and photographed the predicted rings.

Don’t miss this event. Clear skies!

Related link: List of Notable Celestial Events in 2012

Transit of Venus Map in Many Languages

On 6 June, an event that takes place only four times every two centuries will enthral the world’s astronomers, as it has ever since the 1600s – but now it can provide priceless data in the hunt for habitable planets in deep space and in re-measuring the distance of the sun from Earth.

Venus will appear as a tiny speck on one side of the Sun in a few weeks and will slowly traverse the solar disc for a few hours. The movement of that little black dot may seem insignificant. But it is one of the rarest sights in astronomy, an event known as a transit of Venus. Miss this one and you will have to wait until 2117 for the next.

Image credit: NASA/LMSAL

As seen from Earth, only transits of Mercury and Venus are possible. On average, there are 13 transits of Mercury each century. In contrast, transits of Venus occur in pairs with more than a century separating each pair.

For Northern Hemisphere locations above latitude ~67° north (including the Philippines) all of the transit is visible regardless of the longitude.

A lot of astronomy-enthusiasts globally are preparing for this rare event. Some are even planning to travel in places where the transit will be fully visible.

As part of this preparation, visibility maps of the transit were created by volunteer groups to guide local observers. One of the efforts is called the Transit of Venus Project which is part of the Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) program. AWB is a global collaboration in astronomy.

Aside from providing useful information to the public about this event, the TOV Project also aims to form a collection of translated maps of the 2012 transit of Venus for different languages so that the transit of Venus will be enjoyed by more people around the world. Of course,  some people would appreciate a map in their own native language.

Michael Zeiler of  Eclipse-maps.com (and also one of the curators of the TOV Project website) sent me a message via Twitter asking for help with translating a summary map of the transit of Venus (June 5-6, 2012) into Filipino.

Here is a copy of the map:

These are the phrases to translate: World visibility of the transit of Venus on June 5 & 6, 2012 Venus overhead at transit maximum Entire transit visible Transit not visible Transit starts before sunset and ends after following sunrise Transit starts before sunrise and ends after sunset Transit visible from sunrise until end Transit visible from start until sunset Venus touches Sun’s disk at sunrise Venus within Sun’s disk at sunrise Venus within Sun’s disk at sunset Venus touches Sun’s disk at sunset

I made a draft of the translation in Filipino and consulted some professors from the Filipino Department of UP Diliman. Upon deciding that it the translated words were good enough, I emailed everything to Mr. Zeiler and he produced this map containing the translated phrases.

6 June 2012 Transit of Venus Visibility Map in our local language, Filipino. Credit: (map) Michael Zeiler/(translation) Raven Yu

Please take note that some of the phrases were not translated into its direct meaning but more of its contextual meaning so as not to confuse the map users.

Check out this link to view the translated maps of the 2012 transit of Venus for different languages.

If your language is not provided, you can help add a new map by following the simple instructions at this page.

You can also find local contact times of the transit at http://transitofvenus.nl/wp/where-when/local-transit-times/.

Remember that it is not safe to view the sun directly because it might damage your eyes. Read here for tips on how to safely view and photograph the transit using the right equipment and proper eye protection.

Don’t miss this rare spectacle! 🙂 Clear skies!

Skygazing at Predawn – April 19, 2012

This morning I took the chance to image the close pairing of Mercury and the thin waning crescent Moon.

Mercury an inner or inferior planets like Venus, always appear close to the sun in the sky due to their low elongation (angular separation from the sun as (angular separation from the sun as viewed from earth), hence it’s always interesting to spot this tiny elusive planet near other brighter objects such as the moon.

Neither Mercury or Venus ever appears very far from the sun and consequently never far above the horizon (except Venus at maximum elongation). Both can only appear in the west in the evening and in the east in the morning and only for a short amount of time.

Inferior planet elongation. Image credit: wapi.isu.edu

In the case of Mercury, take note that it will always be located in the sky no more than 28 degrees from the Sun.

After checking Stellarium, I prepared my trusty point-and-shoot camera and tripod and went outside before 4:00 AM.  A view of Scorpius in the southwest greeted me as I set up.

The eastern horizon was fortunately clear that time. In just a little while, a thin golden arc of light began to appear above the horizon. I took my 2-inch Galileoscope out and pointed at the moon.

Thin crescent Moon rising at around 4 AM

It didn’t take long before the twilight began to creep out and push the darkness away. The sky turned blue and soon I noticed the earthshine, the ghostly illumination of the lunar dark side.

Mercury should be located only a few degrees away from the moon. I searched the area just below the lower limb of the moon where this planet was suppose to lie and found its faint shine.

It was barely visible in the images fo it lies above the glow of the rising Sun so I used the dodge tool in Photoshop during the post-editing to make it more visible.

After a few minutes of imaging, the light from the two objects were eventually washed out in the solar glow.

Cosmic Trio: Saturn, Spica and the Moon

The planet Saturn formed a cosmic triangle with the star Spica in Virgo and the Waning Gibbous Moon last night, 7 April 2012.

This image is composed of two images that have been overlapped to create a composite: one underexposed image of the moon to show the lunar features, and one overexposed to make Saturn and Spica more visible. (Sorry for the bad editing. I still lack skills in using Adobe Photoshop).

Hoax Alert: Cosmic Rays from Mars Entering Earth

There have been rumors circulating that cosmic rays from Mars are entering Earth tonight so we need to switch off our phones, or put them away from us.

Tonight 12:30 am to 3:30 am cosmo rays entering earth from mars. So switch off your mobile at night. Don’t keep your cell with you & put it away while you are sleeping because they are too much dangerous rays: NASA informs BBC NEWS. Pls spread this news.

The message above is clearly nothing more than just another HOAX. I don’t know why people are circulating panic messages such as this to disturb the lives of other people. From what I have noticed, this message has been circulating since 2008 and it suddenly reappeared today, 6 April 2012. I also received text messages containing this false information and saw similar Facebook posts.

I did my own research and I have found no credible reports that confirm the claims in the warning message. There are no references to such a threat listed on credible scientific websites. I also checked the NASA and BBC news today to see if they have posted something like this. Fortunately, both have never said such a thing and will never probably produce a similar baseless statement.

Despite the claim in the message, there are several reasons to say that this information is untrue.

First, Mars could not emit harmful radiation because it is not a star. Cosmic rays are emitted by stars. i.e bodies that are undergoing nuclear reactions that is fusion (as occurs in our sun) or fission (as occurs in nuclear reactors). Mars is neither. It is a planet that just reflects sunlight. It cannot emit cosmic radiation.

Next, with regards to these rays the earth’s atmosphere is capable of taking care of them so no need to worry. The magnetosphere absorbs and protects us from the sun’s harmful radiation. Whatever remains is too feeble to affect any thing as far as earth.

The Earth’s magnetosphere prevents most of the particles from the Sun, carried in the solar wind, from hitting the Earth. Image credit: milesmathis.com

Another thing is that we are actually hit by cosmic rays every day — all day (and night too). If it was going to hurt your cell, then it would have already fried it by now.

Sometimes magnetic storms on the sun will fry the electronics of satellites in orbit, and may also blow out the power grid in high latitudes near the Earth’s magnetic poles, but other than static, I don’t see what it might do to your cell phones.

So, to anyone who will receive this kind of message, please think it over and help educate others. 🙂 Spreading dubious and unsubstantiated warnings such as this is counterproductive and is unlikely to help anyone.

Learn more about cosmic rays from this NASA website.

Mars, Regulus and the Waxing Gibbous Moon

Situated well above the 88% illuminated waxing gibbous moon tonight were two bright objects — one is the planet Mars and the other one is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo.

These three formed a nice cosmic triangle in the night sky just like what is shown above. (Please take note that the image was a composite.)

Reddish Mars has been in Leo close to the star Regulus for the past few weeks, and the two will remain companions all April. During May and June, Mars will drift away from Regulus, and will head toward the constellation Virgo where Saturn is currently residing.

Venus and Jupiter – March 16, 2012

Venus and Jupiter are slowly drifting apart after appearing side by side at twilight last week. Venus which now hangs above Jupiter will be climbing higher in our sky over the next three months, while Jupiter continuously sinks into the horizon. Both are in front of the constellation Aries the Ram.

For the past week, I’ve been setting up my camera and tripod after sunset to take photos of these two planets, with weather permitting of course. It was unfortunate however, that the skies were overcast during the time of their closest encounter and I only got the chance to see them again last March 16 when Venus has already glided past Jupiter.

Venus and Jupiter - 16 March 2012 8:33 pm, UP Diliman Sunken Garden

By April 2, Venus, placing about 15 degrees above Jupiter will head toward the Pleiades (M45)  in Taurus and will spend the next few days near the dipper-shaped star cluster. It will be a fantastic photo opportunity for avid skygazers as this event  happens only every 8 years.

APOD (15 April 2004): Venus and the Pleiades. Credit & Copyright: David Cortner

I am hoping that the sky condition will get better on the coming days ahead. Clear skies!