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


#ThrowbackThursday post: June 6, 2012 Transit of Venus

transit of venus copy copy


June 6th last year, stargazers from across the globe gathered together to watch one of the rarest astronomical spectacles.

Many turned their attention to the daytime sky to view the planet Venus passing directly between the Sun and Earth – a transit that won’t occur again for another 105 years.

The transit of Venus happens in pairs eight years apart – but then with more than a century between cycles. During the pass, Venus appeared as a small, dark round spot moving across the face of the sun.

May 10, 2013 Annular Solar Eclipse

An annular solar eclipse will occur on May 9-10, 2013 (depending on your location). During an annular eclipse, the Moon is near its farthest distance from Earth (i.e., near its apogee) so it appears slightly smaller than the Sun’s disk. Since the Moon doesn’t cover the Sun completely, this leaves a bright ring of sunlight surrounding the Moon’s disk, often called the “Ring of Fire” effect. About 95% of the solar disk will be eclipsed by the Moon.

Screenshot from the live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera during the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse.

Screenshot from the live webcast from SLOOH Space Camera during the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse. (via Universe Today)


The path of annularity of the eclipse passes through parts of North Australia, SE Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, provided the weather cooperates. Partial eclipse will be seen in a much broader path, which includes other parts of Australia, Eastern Indonesia, Oceania and Southern Philippines.


Global visibility of the eclipse courtesy of Michael Zeiler of Eclipse-Maps.com

Time table Worldwide

Eclipse circumstances                               UTC             Philippine Time
First location to see partial eclipse begin 9 May, 21:25   10 May, 05:25
First location to see full Eclipse begin 9 May, 22:31   10 May, 06:31
Maximum Eclipse 10 May, 00:23   10 May, 08:23
Last location to see full Eclipse end 10 May, 02:20   10 May, 10:20
Last location to see partial Eclipse end 10 May, 03:25   10 May, 11:25

The eclipse can be observed from 6:08 am until 7:34 am in the Philippines. For local observers, please check the gallery below to give you and idea on how the eclipse would look like for selected localities. Other locations nearby will also see similar views.

Partial eclipse as seen from various locations in the Philippines at maximum eclipse, 6:41 a.m. local time. Simulated in Stellarium. Hover your mouse over an image to view the location.

PAGASA indicated the areas where the eclipse can be observed, including Sorsogon, Masbate, Roxas City, Puerto Princesa City, Cebu, Tacloban, Dumaguete, Surigao, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, Hinatuan, Cotabato, Jolo, Davao, and General Santos. It also created a table of local times for viewing the eclipse for the above-mentioned locations.

Note that the eclipse is not visible in Luzon except in the southern tip.

Eclipse circumstances for selected locations in the southern part of the Philippines courtesy of PAGASA.

Eclipse circumstances for selected locations in the southern part of the Philippines courtesy of PAGASA.

Viewing the Eclipse SAFELY

For observers along the path of the eclipse, astronomers recommend using either a professionally manufactured solar filter in front of a telescope or camera, or eclipse-viewing glasses that sufficiently reduce the sun’s brightness and filter out damaging ultraviolet and infrared radiation. NEVER attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness!

A view of the crescent sun during eclipse maximum of the May 21, 2012 solar eclipse in the Philippines. Image taken using a hand-held Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera on a 2-inch refractor telescope with a Baader 5.0 ND solar filter.

Crescent sun during eclipse maximum of the May 21, 2012 partial solar eclipse in the Philippines. Image taken using a hand-held Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera on a 2-inch refractor telescope with a Baader 5.0 ND solar filter.

To view the eclipse safely, Fred Espenak (www.mreclipse.com) compiled here a  list of the acceptable and non-recommended filters for visual observation.

Acceptable filters for unaided visual observations: aluminized polyester specifically designed for solar viewing, shade 12 and 14 welding filters, black polymer filters (Thousand Oaks Solar Shield 2000 and Rainbow Symphony Polymer), and two layers of fully exposed and developed silver-bearing black and white film negative. For photographic and visual use, particularly with binoculars or telescopes, acceptable filters include: aluminized polyester specifically designed for the purpose, and Questar and Thousand Oaks T1 and T2 glass filters. The Thousand Oaks T3 filter should be used with extreme care for photographic use only.

Not recommended: metal-coated polyester that is not specifically intended for solar observation, smoked glass, floppy disk media, black color transparency (slide) film, floppy disk media, and compact disks (because of the inconsistent quality of the metal coating).”

For those who won’t be able to observe the eclipse from their location, you may still watch via live webstreaming of the event.

Clear skies and happy viewing!

Goodbye 2012. Hello 2013!

happy new year

Fireworks display after the 2012 UP Lantern Parade in Diliman, Quezon City.

Sparkling, warm and heartfelt new year wishes for you and your loved ones. Happy New Year, folks! 😀

last sunset 2012

Last glimpse of the 2012 Sun featuring 2 sunspot groups – AR 1638 (center) and 1640 (right).

2012 has been a huge year for astronomy observing, with some rare and exciting things that took place including the transit of Venus, occultation of Jupiter, solar and lunar eclipses, planetary conjunctions, and many more.

This 2013, a new comet is predicted to blaze brilliantly in the skies and is expected to reach naked eye visibility by early November 2013. If Comet ISON lucks out, we could well be raving about the Great Christmas Comet of 2013 by this time next year. Watch out for it!

Comet McNaught Over New Zealand. Credit & Copyright: Minoru Yonet

Comet McNaught Over New Zealand. Credit & Copyright: Minoru Yonet

Crescent Sun at Sunrise

This morning, a wonderful view of a golden crescent sun was successfully observed  by a lot of skyviewers using appropriate filters for visual observing and photography. The partial solar eclipse began at sunrise at 5:27 am local time and ended at 7:06 am. Fortunately,  the weather cooperated this time despite bad weather forecasts and continuous rains during the past few days.

In some places like China, Japan, and United States, the event was seen as an annular eclipse which looked like a fiery ring in the sky.

I observed this event along with an Astrosoc orgmate in their house at Marikina City. Their location is great for observing events which can be viewed along the eastern sky. Moreover, it is also high enough to give a very good vantage point.

Only a few minutes after sunrise, a big yellowish grin in the east just above a layer of clouds greeted us earthlings who patiently waited even without sleep. Yay!

Below is a composite image that I created using Adobe Photoshop to illustrate how the the sun looked like when it was rising from behind the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Many Filipinos anticipated the event as solar eclipses are not frequently visible in the Philippines. The last one occurred last January 15, 2010, while the next won’t take place until March 9, 2016.

For avid amateur astronomers like me, this event was extra special as it provides a good opportunity for me to practice solar observation in preparation for the upcoming transit of Venus, a very rare phenomenon that won’t be repeated until 2117. I have never done any solar observation before using my own Galileoscope for fear of getting it damaged (its lens and body tube were both made up of plastic which are not great for viewing the sun using solar projection method). Moreover, the danger of having an eye injury also worried me. Hence, I decided not to pursue solar observation unless I get a decent filter that I could safely attach and use with my equipment — be it a camera or my scope.

Months before this event, I was very anxious that I might not be able to observe it having only a cheap plastic scope and a camera. But I was really determined that I’ve read a lot about solar observing and saved some money for it just in case there’d be a need to buy some materials. When the event came nearer, however, financial constraints became a problem, so I just forego the idea of buying a costly filter and chose to buy a #10 welding glass instead. It might not produce nice images but it’s a good and safe alternative.

Nonetheless, God must have heard my thoughts that he made a miracle. Haha! A few days before the solar eclipse, a nice surprise came in when a generous UP AstroSoc orgmate offered me an extra piece of Baader solar filter — for free! Wee!:)

Below were some of the images I took using a hand-held Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera on a 2-inch refractor (Galileoscope) with a Baader 5.0 ND solar filter.

By the way, these photos have been featured several times today in local news programs. They also got featured in front page of spaceweather.com and  in an article by Earthsky.org.

A screencap showing my image in GMA’s 24 Oras. Thanks to my sister who posted this!

I will upload the other photos soon, including a complete observation report. For the meantime, I’d better get some sleep first because I still need to attend some other important conventions outside the city. 🙂

To the stars!

* * *

I created two composite images which show the progression of the partial solar eclipse as we observed the event.

The image above was featured in Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day (AAPOD) last June 24, 2012.  It was my fifth AAPOD image. 🙂

To God be the glory!

Clear skies to all.

May 2012 Solar Eclipse

The first solar eclipse in 2012 will be an annular solar eclipse on May 20–21. The term came from the Latin word “annulus,” meaning “little ring”, because the moon will not completely cover the sun during the totality (unlike in a total solar eclipse), but will leave a fiery ring around its circumference.

A telescopic picture of the Sun taken during the annular eclipse of January 15, 2010 from the city of Kanyakumari at the southern tip of India. Image Credit & Copyright: Mikael Svalgaard

Warning: NEVER look directly at the sun through binoculars, a telescope or with your unaided eye.

At its peak, the moon will block roughly 94 percent of the sun’s light.

This potentially spectacular solar eclipse  will be visible from much of Asia, the Pacific region and North America, provided the weather cooperates.

Time table worldwide

The eclipse starts in one location and ends in another, the times below are for visibility for any location on earth.

Event UTC Time Time in Manila
First location to see partial eclipse begins 20 May, 20:56 21 May, 04:56
First location to see full Eclipse begins 20 May, 22:06 21 May, 06:06
Maximum Eclipse 20 May, 23:54 21 May, 07:54
Last location to see full Eclipse ends 21 May, 01:39 21 May, 09:39
Last location to see partial Eclipse ends 21 May, 02:49 21 May, 10:49

Note to Philippine observers: The fiery ring would not be visible in the Philippines. Instead, a partial solar eclipse beginning at sunrise on May 21 will be visible.

Local circumstances of the partial solar eclipse on Monday (May 21) in the Philippines courtesy of UPLB Astronomical Society. Screenshots were taken using Stellarium.

Remember that this spectacular sight can only be safely observed with approved solar filters or by projecting an image of the eclipsed Sun onto a flat white surface.  Look for pinhole effects on the ground (shadows of trees or bushes) or use some another projection viewing method to safely view the eclipsed sun.

The Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye ONLY during the few brief seconds or minutes of a total solar eclipse.  Even at maximum, the annular eclipse will not cover the brightest parts of the sun. Partial eclipses, annular eclipses, and the partial phases of total eclipses are never safe to watch without taking special precautions. Do not attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye. Failure to use appropriate filtration may result in permanent eye damage or blindness!

Tips on how to view the Sun safely

“Filters for visual and photographic use

Acceptable filters for unaided visual observations include: aluminized polyester specifically designed for solar viewing, shade 12 and 14 welding filters, black polymer filters (Thousand Oaks Solar Shield 2000 and Rainbow Symphony Polymer), and two layers of fully exposed and developed silver-bearing black and white film negative. For photographic and visual use, particularly with binoculars or telescopes, acceptable filters include: aluminized polyester specifically designed for the purpose, and Questar and Thousand Oaks T1 and T2 glass filters. The Thousand Oaks T3 filter should be used with extreme care for photographic use only. Not recommended are: metal-coated polyester that is not specifically intended for solar observation, smoked glass, floppy disk media, black colour transparency (slide) film, floppy disk media, and compact disks (because of the inconsistent quality of the metal coating).”

I reiterate that you must protect your eyes at all times with proper solar filters when looking at the sun. However, do not let the requisite warnings scare you away from witnessing this wonderful phenomenon. 🙂 Clear skies!
Recommended links for further information

For those who won’t be able to observe the eclipse from their location, you may still watch via live webstreaming of the event.

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!

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.

March Equinox 2012

It’s equinox time again, and this year’s March equinox took place today at precisely 5:14 a.m. GMT, or Universal Time (13:14 in Manila). The March equinox was also known as the “spring equinox” in the northern hemisphere and “autumnal (fall) equinox” in the southern hemisphere as this event  marks the change of seasons — the beginning of spring in the northern part of the globe and autumn in the south.

During equinox, night and day are nearly exactly the same length – 12 hours – all over the world. This is the reason it’s called an “equinox”, derived from Latin, meaning “equal night”.

However, even if this is widely accepted, it isn’t entirely true. In reality equinoxes don’t have exactly 12 hours of daylight. A good website for looking at sunrise and sunset times in Manila can be found here. The best one for checking the bearing (direction) of sunrise or sunset anywhere in the world is the US Naval Observatory.

A more appropriate way to define equinox is given by astronomers. According to its astronomical definition, an equinox is the moment when the sun arrives at one of two intersection points of the ecliptic, the sun’s path across the sky, and the celestial equator, earth’s equator projected onto the sky.

Image credit: Chris de Villiers (www.skywatch.co.za)

My plans today were to head on the top of a high place and catch the sun setting due west. Sadly, the weather was not very good and the visibility was terrible.

Had I been able to see the sun it would have set due west.

Everyone always says that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, but if we were really aware of our surroundings and more attuned to the sky we would realize that this is not true. In fact this is only true for two days out of the entire year and those are during equinoxes.

By studying the sun’s position in the sky over the course of a year from the same location, one can notice that its rising and setting positions are changing by more at a particular time of year than at any other time.

The amount of change in the location of the rising and setting of the sun  throughout the year depends upon where your viewpoint is. However, irrespective of where you are on the globe, the Sun will always rise exactly east and set exactly west during equinoxes (on March 20/21 and September 20/21)

On the other hand, near the solstices the sunrise position slows its change to close to a ‘standstill’  (the name ‘solstice’ being derived from the Latin for ‘sun standing still’).

Path of the Sun in the sky at different times of the year. Image copyright: Addison-Wesley

# # #

Seasons Without Borders: Equinox March 2012


Wherever you are on 20 March, 2012, celebrate your season in the cycle of life with Astronomers Without Borders.  Enjoy your own unique Equinox this year—and why not tell others about the experience?  Being mindfully aware of your place on this moving Earth may bring out the storyteller and poet in you.  AWB invites you to share your event reports and poems at the AWB Members’ Blog and AWB Astropoetry Blog. Send your poems to: astropoetry@astronomerswithoutborders.org.

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.

Happy Summer Solstice!

Diagram showing the different positions of the Earth throughout its elliptical orbit around the Sun

According to PAGASA, Philippine nights are at their shortest and daytimes are at their longest around the Summer solstice, which falls on June 22 at 1:16 A.M. (Philippine Standard Time). This is the time when the Sun attains its greatest declination of +23.5 degrees and passes directly overhead at noon for all observers at latitude 23.5 degrees North, which is known as the Tropic of Cancer.

The Sun rises farthest from the east, sets farthest from the west and reaches its northern limit during the summer solstice. Image credit: Andrew Fazekas

Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.

Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Amazed by the great power of the sun, civilizations have for centuries celebrated the first day of summer otherwise known as the Summer Solstice, Midsummer (see Shakespeare), St. John’s Day, or the Wiccan Litha.

Perhaps the most enduring modern ties with Summer Solstice were the Druids’ celebration of the day as the “wedding of Heaven and Earth”, resulting in the present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June.

Today, the day is still celebrated around the world – most notably in England at Stonehenge and Avebury, where thousands gather to welcome the sunrise on the Summer Solstice.

Sunrise over Stonehenge on the summer solstice, 21 June 2005 (image: Wikipedia)

Whatever religious, mystical or spiritual elements were central to Stonehenge, some archaeologists say that its design includes a celestial observatory function, which might have allowed prediction of eclipse, solstice, equinox and other celestial events important to a contemporary religion.

As a matter of fact, when one stands within Stonehenge (facing north-east through the entrance towards the Heel stone or Sun stone one sees the sun rise above the stone at summer solstice.

New Sunspot Groups – March 28, 2011

Sunspots of the active solar regions
March 28, 2011
Taken using MicroObservatory Telescopes
Edited in MS Office Picture Manager and Picasa 3

The visible solar disk now has several visible sunspot regions. The two largest regions are currently Sunspots 1176 and new Sunspot 1183. Both regions have BETA-Gamma magnetic classification and could produce M-Class flares.

More info:

Sunspots are magnetic in nature. They are the places (“active regions”) where the Sun’s magnetic field rises up from below the Sun’s surface and those magnetic regions poke through. Sunspots are darker than the surrounding areas because they are expending less energy and have a lower temperature. Sunspots often have poles (“polarity”) like the south and north poles of magnets.

These are formed continuously as the Sun’s magnetic field actively moves through the Sun. The sunspots have lifetimes of days or perhaps one week or a few weeks. (NASA-SDO)

Sunspots 1164 and 1166 — March 4, 2011


Sunspots 1164 (right) and 1166 (left)
March 4, 2011
Taken using MicroObservatory Telescopes
Exposure Time: 00.25 sec.
Edited in MS Office Picture Manager and Picasa 3

Sunset and the Daylight Crescent Moon – February 7, 2011

While on our ferry boat going back to Cebu last February 7, we were greeted by the majestic colors of the setting Sun. I was too captivated with the beauty of the scene that I almost look directly at the Sun while it was still shining brightly a few degrees above the horizon. 😛 Sunset views truly have never failed to catch my attention.

I’m having problems creating a slideshow here in WordPress so I just used an external application, Slide for my images. This application however made the images appear in lower resolution.

As the Sun sank lower in the horizon, following it was the waning cresent Moon which gradually became visible against an early evening blue sky.

I was a bit difficult task to take these pictures without a tripod while on board  a moving ferryboat. Haha! I have to  zoom in slowly while focusing on the Moon and lean on the wall to get sturdy shots. It’s really fortunate that Canon PowerShot SX20 IS has a good zoom in capacity. 😀

I’m happy that we were gifted with the chance to view these awesome sky delights just before we end our trip.

I will surely miss this place. 🙂


Special thanks to Andre Obidos for letting me use his awesome sunset pictures and his camera. 🙂

Lunar Transit Captured by SDO – March 4, 2011


There is the Moon eating away at the Sun! 🙂 Image credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO


NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellite captured the dark moon creating a partial eclipse of the Sun last March 2-4, 2011.

More still images here.

Watch HD Video.

These images, while unusual and cool to see, also have practical value to the SDO science team. Karel Schrijver of Lockheed-Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Lab explains: “The very sharp edge of the lunar limb allows us to measure the in-orbit characteristics of the telescope e.g., light diffraction on optics and filter support grids. Once these are characterized, we can use that information to correct our data for instrumental effects and sharpen up the images to even more detail.”

On October 7, 2010, SDO observed its first lunar transit when the new Moon passed directly between the spacecraft (in its geosynchronous orbit) and the Sun.

Valentine’s Day Solar Flare

Image: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, [and the Stardust flyby of Comet Tempel 1] the Sun erupted with a massive X-Class flare, the most powerful of all solar events on February 14 at 8:56 p.m. EST . This was the first X-Class flare in Solar Cycle 24 and the most powerful X-ray flare in more than four years.

The gif above shows the flare as imaged by the AIA instrument at 304 Angstroms on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Video caption: The X2 flare of Feb. 15, 2011 seen by SDO (in extreme ultraviolet light) enlarged and superimposed on SOHO’s coronagraph that shows the faint edge of a “halo” coronal mass ejection as it races away from the Sun. The video covers about 11 hours.

A CME hit Earth’s magnetic field at approximately 0100 UT on Feb. 18th (8:00 pm EST on Feb. 17th).  Space weather experts predicted that jets of charged particles smacking into the Earth’s magnetic field could disrupt navigation and communication systems, and spark a bonus of bright northern lights dancing across the ionosphere.

Instead, nothing much happened.

“There were some nice displays of aurora, but you had to live in the northernmost or southernmost part of the globe to see them.

The storm was so weak because the flare’s magnetic field happened to be aligned parallel to the Earth’s. When the sun sends a mass of hot plasma hurtling toward the planet in a coronal mass ejection, the plasma is imprinted with its own magnetic field separate from the sun’s. Astronomers can’t predict the direction of the plasma’s magnetic field until the burst hits Earth.

If the plasma’s magnetic field is parallel to the Earth’s, the incoming charged particles are effectively blocked from entering Earth’s magnetosphere. An identical flare with a perpendicular magnetic field would have triggered a much stronger storm.

“If the magnetic fields are parallel, then the shields are up. We are well protected,” said space weather expert Juha-Pekka Luntama of the European Space Agency Feb. 19 at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC.

But next time we might not be as lucky with alignment, and we can expect up to 1,700 more storms like last week’s in the coming months as the sun wakes back up.


Related Links:

Sunset by the Beach and Moon at Dusk

While spending our short vacation in the lovely island of Panglao in Bohol, we took the chance to reunite ourselves with the beauty and comforting embrace of nature. This island that is very famous for its pristine beach — clear, turquoise waters and dazzling white-sand — is really a perfect tropical sanctuary of natural beauty. 😀

As we were so excited to watch the sunset, we immediately headed toward the beach after our day-long tour on the other part of the island. Luckily, we got there just in time to witness this magnificent scene.

Notice the anvil-shaped cloud near the setting sun in the close-up photos above. Anvil clouds are the icy upper portions of cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds that are caused by a rising of air in the lower portions of the atmosphere. They usually indicate a coming rain. Nevertheless, only a slight drizzle came later in the evening.

A few minutes after sunset, the thin crescent moon became visible as it slowly descended towards the western horizon following the Sun.

These sky displays never fail to make me smile and I was truly glad that I was given the chance to witness all of these during our vacation. God is really so great.

Special thanks to Andre Obidos for letting me use his sunset photos.

I will definitely miss this place a lot. 🙂

Rare Double Eruption on the Sun!


solar eruption
Source: Spaceweather.com | Movie by: NASA-Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

Astronomers have captured an image of the Sun with two large solar eruptions occurring at almost the same time! 🙂 The twin solar blasts  marked an impressive start for the 2011 space weatherseason.

This video recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the two sun storms erupting from opposite sides of Sol last January 28. On the lower left in this image of the sun, a magnetic filament erupted, and on the upper right a departing sunspot produced the strongest solar flare of the year so far, an M1-class event. The double blast may be more than a mere coincidence: Recent research suggests that solar activity is interconnected by magnetism over large distances, and that solar storms can go global.

When aimed at Earth, strong solar storms can damage space-based assets — like satellites and crewed spacecraft — as well as technological infrastructure on Earth, such as communications and power grids.

But none of these effects are expected from this event, NASA officials said.


ISS Solar Transit Observation – Manila, Philippines (Jan. 13, 2011)

Last 13 January 2011, an International Space Station (ISS)  Solar Transit event visible in some parts of Metro Manila occurred at around 8:30 am PHT (Philippine Time). The relative rarity of  ISS Solar and Lunar Transits here in the Philippines plus the fact that I were fortunate enough to be very near the path of visibility of this transit inspired me a lot not to miss this event.

ISS Solar Transit Visibility Path | obtained from http://www.calsky.com courtesy of Anthony Urbano

Along with my UP AstroSoc orgmates and some fellow amateur astronomers from RTU AstroSoc and from the  Philippine Astronomical Society (PAS), we set up our equipment to observe this passage of the ISS in front of the Sun’s disk at the Manila Observatory in Quezon City, Philippines.

Beemi, our "command center", under an umbrella

Setting up our equipment and preparing the Baader solar filters

Our two NERTs -- 6" Newton (black) and 4.5" Datascope (white)

I already have some experience in observing solar eclipses but this was my first time to try timing and capturing a solar transit. Unlike eclipses, ISS transits are more challenging to observe because they happen too fast. To give you an idea of how fast these events occur, here is a video clip which I got from Youtube showing the ISS transiting in front of the Sun’s disk. It was captured by students of the Westfalenkolleg Dortmund on August 7, 2010 at 17:31 pm.

The transit above lasted for 1.06 seconds. The one we were to observe will have a duration of about 0.91 seconds — too swift to be captured using cameras so we opted to record a video of it instead.

Following are the transit details including the timings. The data was obtained by our UP AstroSoc orgmate and team leader, Anthony Urbano from www.calsky.com.  All times are in PST (Philippine Standard Time) or UT+8.

Distance from center-line: 1.06km
Path Width: 13.6km maximum
Time of Ingress: 8h30m40.6s
Culmination: 8h30m41.20s
Time of Egress: 8h30m41.6s
Transit Duration: 0.91s
Separation Angle: 0.037°
Position Angle: 121.2°
Satellite at Azimuth: 123.6° ESE at culmination
Satellite at Altitude: 26.4° at culmination
Angular Diameter: 25.6″
Angular Velocity: 35.2’/s
Ground Velocity: 7,457m/s
Size: 73.0m X 44.5m X 27.5mSatellite Distance: 723.6km

In clock-face concept, the space station will appear to move toward: 8:58

And by the way,  Anthony Urbano or Kuya Eteny, as we fondly call him, is a gadget master. 😀 He has invented a lot of devices like a universal camera adapter that allows any point-and-shoot camera (and even SLRs) to be attached to any optical system (binoculars, telescope, microscope, etc.). He even brought one of his camera adapters during this observation to attach the video camera to his 6″ Newtonian Reflector Telescope. Moreover, he has also modified some gadgets  like DSLRs to be more useful in astronomical observations and astrophotography. This guy is truly remarkable for possessing such great talent! 🙂

video camera and the L-type universal adapter

Our amazing gadget master 🙂

An hour before the ingress, the sky around our location was partly covered in clouds. The sky condition got even worse as the predicted time approached. We waited for several more minutes, just in case the clouds clear up and the actual time of transit is later than predicted. In the end, we didn’t see any trace of the ISS due to thick cloud cover. We packed up and left at around 9:30 am.

Though we were not able to accomplish our goal of recording this transit event, the experience is always worth it.  😀 Thanks to Kuya Eteny for informing us about this event and inviting us to observe with him.

I’m looking forward to more transit and solar observations. 🙂


*Photos by Bea Banzuela


Update: Another group of fellow Filipino amateur astronomers from the Astronomical League of the Philippines (ALP) were lucky enough to observe and take images of the ISS transiting the Sun. Their observation report and images can be found here.

January 4, 2011 Partial Solar Eclipse Webcast

Some parts of the world will be able to greet the first part of the new year with a Partial Solar Eclipse on the morning of Tuesday, January 4, 2011. This will be visible from most of Europe, the northern half of Africa, the Middle East and Western Asia. Sadly, this won’t be visible to the Philippines. The next eclipse that we will be able to witness will be the Lunar Eclipse on June 15 (eclipse at moonset) and the more spectacular Total Lunar Eclipse on December 10 which has all its stages visible to Philippine observers.

Four partial solar and two total lunar eclipses take place in 2011. According to NASA Eclipse Website, this 4:2 combination of solar and lunar eclipses in a single year is rather rare with only six cases during the 21st Century (2011, 2029, 2047, 2065, 2076 and 2094).

January 4, 2011 Eclipse Visibility | source: http://www.eclipse.org.uk/eclipse/0122011/ Click image to enlarge.

An explanation of this diagram can be found here.


> Local circumstances and animations for 532 different locations where the eclipse could be witnessed are also available from the the link included in the image caption.

> Universal Time (UT) is a timescale based on the earth’s rotation. To convert your local city time to UT, you may use this time zone converter tool.

A solar eclipse can only happen at new moon. When the moon totally covers over the sun, it’s called a total solar eclipse. However, since the moon only blocks out part of the sun today, it’s a partial solar eclipse. The percentage of sun that gets covered over by the moon depends on your place in the viewing zone. Remember to use proper eye protection when watching a solar eclipse! Here is a post from Sky & Telescope which discusses how to observe a partial solar eclipse safely.

To all other eclipse enthusiasts who won’t be able to observe this event from their own location or who can’t afford to travel to witness this phenomenon, I compiled here a list of links wherein you can watch free live web streaming of the eclipse courtesy of several local astronomical groups.

*The Moon will encroach 60% into the solar disk during thespecial live webcast by the Bareket Observatory.  The webcast will takes place from 7.00 to 10.30 UT (GMT) on January 4.  An “eclipse timer” on the webcast page will count down the time until first contact – the beginning of the eclipse when the Moon first appears to block the edge of the Sun’s disk – at 7.13 UT.

Please check this post for updates regarding these free webcasts. 😀

Clear skies to all!

Sunrise from Mactan Island (Cebu, Philippines)


These lovely sunrise photographs were taken by Rebecca Obidos  (Andre’s mom) during the early morning of October 23, 2010 from the small historic island of Mactan in Cebu, Philippines.

The camera used to take these pictures was a Canon PowerShot SX20 IS.

Sunrise is the time at which the leading limb of the Sun first rises above the horizon. The effect of refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere lifts the image of the Sun about half a degree at the horizon, making sunrise about two minutes earlier than would be expected from the actual position of the Sun in space. Refraction and the fact that sunrise and sunset are calculated from the limb (and not the center) slightly lengthen “day” relative to “night.”

The intense red and orange hues of the sky at sunrise and sunset are mainly caused by the scattering of  visible light or white light from the sun by dust particles, soot particles, other solid aerosols, and liquid aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. This effect is called Rayleigh scattering.

During sunrise and sunset the distance that the light has to travel from the Sun to an observer is at its greatest. This means the a large amount of blue and violet light has been scattered so the light that is received by an observer is mostly of a longer wavelength and therefore appears to be red.

Sunrise colors are typically less brilliant and less intense than sunset colors, since there are generally fewer particles and aerosols in the morning air than in the evening air. Nighttime air is usually cooler and less windy, which allows dust and soot particles to settle out of the atmosphere, reducing the amount of scattering. The reduced scattering correspondingly reduces the amount of red and orange scattered light at sunrise.

This one was taken at 5:39 AM. Notice the intense color of the sky just before the sun appears.

At 5:40 AM, the upper limb of the Sun was already visible.

A pleasant morning from Sol 😀

A few minutes later, the Sun has already shown its full self.

Compare the size of the rising Sun with that of the buildings on the right side of the image.

I love sunsets and sunrise. 😀 As they mark the coming of a brand new day, for me, they always signify hope.

During sunrise and sunset the distance that the light has to travel from the Sun to an observer is at its greatest. This means the a large amount of blue and violet light has been scattered so the light that is received by an observer is mostly of a longer wavelength and therefore appears to be red.