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

Sky Viewing Tips

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!

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!

Skywatching Highlights: February 2013

Mercury and Mars less than a degree apart after sunset on February 8th

Mercury is well placed in the evening twilight this month, but spotting it won’t be easy. The closest planet to the sun will be low in the west-southwest horizon and will be a bit washed out by twilight’s glow. Binoculars may be needed to find it in the glare of twilight.


Mars and Mercury in the western sky at twilight on Feb 8. Image: Stellarium

On February 8, Mercury will be less than 1 degree from pale orange Mars. The sky won’t be dark enough to see them until they’re just setting, so you’ll need a view to the west that is unobstructed and free from light pollution.  They should be visible half an hour after sunset. During the event, Mercury will be about eight times brighter than Mars.

On February 11, a thin crescent moon, one day past new moon will join Mercury and Mars in the twilight sky.


Mars, Mercury and a thin crescent moon (2.5% lit) Image: Stellarium

Mercury’s visibility will continue to improve until February 16, when it reaches its greatest eastern elongation from the sun and appears 11 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon. Afterward it will drop back toward the sun, disappearing into bright twilight by the end of the  month.

Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart on February 18


Moon and Jupiter roughly 0.5 degrees apart on Feb. 18. Image: Stellarium 

Another close conjunction between Jupiter and the Moon, joined by Aldebaran and the Hyades to the left and the Pleiades to the right, will occur on February 18th. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.9, and Jupiter at mag -2.4, both in the constellation Taurus.

The pair will be a little too widely separated to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or a through pair of binoculars. To some parts of the world like in the southern Indian Ocean, Southern Australia and Tasmania, this will be viewed as an occultation event where in the Moon will actually pass in front of Jupiter.

Other events this month:

* FEBRUARY 1: Moon ~10 degrees above Spica (in  the constellation Virgo)
* FEBRUARY 4: Moon ~7 degrees below Saturn in the eastern sky
* FEBRUARY 5: Moon by “Scorpion’s Crown” before dawn
* FEBRUARY 8: Mercury & Mars in tight conjunction in the western sky shortly after sunset (about 0.4 degrees apart)
* FEBRUARY 9: Moon ~8 degrees above Venus before dawn
* FEBRUARY 11: Thin moon near Mercury & Mars after sunset
* FEBRUARY 16: Mercury in greatest eastern elongation (11 degrees above WSW horizon)
* FEBRUARY 18: Moon and Jupiter less than 1 degree apart
* FEBRUARY 25: Moon and Regulus (in the constellation Leo) ~10 degree apart

# # #


* FEBRUARY 3: Third Quarter Moon at 21:57
* FEBRUARY 10: New Moon at 15:20
* FEBRUARY 18: First Quarter Moon at 04:31
* FEBRUARY 26: Full Moon at 04:26

# # #

Measuring angles in the night sky

The post made reference to angular separations of objects in the night sky, like the moon and planets. If you’re wondering how to measure or approximate these angular distances when you do skygazing, below is a simple guide that will teach you how.  The good news is you don’t need any device. You only have to use your own hand. 🙂

Hold your fist at arms length, and:

  • Extend your little finger; it’s width is approximately 1 degree.
  • Extend your three middle fingers (without the little finger); thats about 5 degrees.
  • A clenched fist (thumb to little finger) is about 10 degrees.
  • From the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb, an extended hand with fingers and thumb splayed subtends about 20 degrees.

Thats it!  Those measurements are approximations but are accurate enough to locate the objects in the sky .

From Sunset to Dusk

The best time to take photos of the sky 🙂 My favorite part of the day.

At dawn and dusk, the sky opposite the sun takes on a pastel pink color that makes a wonderful backdrop for many subjects.

Most photographers agree that the hour surrounding sunrise and sunset is the best time to take pictures due to the unique lighting opportunities. The sky color at the point of the rising or setting sun takes on a gradation of warm tones at the horizon and bleeds into a blue color the higher you look. Approximately twenty minutes before the sun rises and twenty minutes after the sun sets reveals this beauty at its peak. The tones are riveting and compel me to remain fixated on the glow in the sky.

The following are hand-held shots taken last January 15 and 17, 2013 from Quezon City, Philippines using my trusty Canon Powershot SX40 HS.

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Skywatching Highlights: August 2012

This month, weather conditions permitting, skywatchers will be treated to the Perseid meteor shower, several planet conjunctions, a “blue moon” and a relatively rare lunar occultation of Jupiter (visible for some parts of the globe).

August 7-14: Spica, Saturn and Mars at Dusk 

The planets Saturn and Mars and the star Spica are close together in the first half of the month, low above the western horizon at dusk. They will form a triangle on the 7th an hour after sunset. Saturn will be the top of the triangle, while Mars will be on the lower right corner. Each side of the triangle is about 5 degrees. On the 14th, they will form an almost straight line: Saturn topmost with Mars lying between Saturn and Spica.

View of the western horizon at dusk on August 7 and 14, 2012 as seen from Manila Philippines. Images were screenshots from Stellarium.

August 12: Occultation of Jupiter by the Moon

For Philippine observers,  the waning crescent Moon will pass in front of Jupiter and its moons during a relatively rare event called occultation on the morning of August 12. In astronomy, an occultation occurs when one object is hidden by another larger object that passes between it and the observer. Prospects and timings for the event vary with location.

The event takes place while Jupiter and the Moon are low in the sky during the wee hours of the morning.

Local circumstances:

2012 Aug 12 02:43 Occultation disappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)
2012 Aug 12 03:16 Occultation reappearance of Io (Mag 5.5)
2012 Aug 12 03:17 Occultation reappearance of Jupiter (Mag -2.2)
2012 Aug 12 03:18 Occultation reappearance of Europa (Mag 5.7)
2012 Aug 12 03:20 Occultation reappearance of Callisto (Mag 6.1)
2012 Aug 12 03:32 Occultation reappearance of Ganymede (Mag 5.0)

source: Pyxis Astronomy Educational Services

Jupiter and its largest satellites passing behind Earth’s moon.Image: Stellarium 

August 11, 12: Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseids is one of the best annual meteor showers.

The best time to watch for Perseids is between midnight and dawn. This is when the shower’s radiant located between the constellations Cassiopeia and Perseus, lies highest in the northeast sky.

By the 12th, the moon will only be 25% illuminated and not nearly as intense as when near its full phase. This will allow fainter meteors to be seen as long as the moon lies outside your field of view.

Tip: Find a safe dark location with clear skies in the early morning hours in order to see the shower. This year, the shower peaks on a weekend so it’s more convenient to stay up late.

August 14: A line of planets along with a thin, waning, crescent Moon before dawn

Before dawn on the morning of the 14th August the planets Mercury, Venus and Jupiter and the Moon will line up in the eastern sky.  Look for A very thin crescent Moon to the upper right of Mercury an hour before sunrise in the northeast. Venus is to the upper right of the Moon, and a few degrees above them is Jupiter.

August 22: Waxing Crescent Moon joins Saturn, Mars and Spica

On the evening of the 22nd, a waxing crescent Moon, Mars, and Saturn will all lie within a circle just 6° in diameter.

August 31: Blue Moon (second full moon of August)

On the 31st, we will be able to witness a Blue Moon, the term given to the second full Moon in a calendar month.  But don’t expect it to be blue — the term has nothing to do with the color of the moon. [Origin of the term blue moon]

A composite image showing a lunar corona appearing around the full moon last last August 2, 2012

Clear skies!


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

Finding Mercury at Twilight

March 5, 2012 – This would have been a very fine evening for skygazing if only the clouds weren’t so annoying.

Various sky events were happening all at the same time, but nothing can be seen but the clouds.

This day marked the closest encounter of Mars to Earth until the year 2014. Mars is now displaying its greatest brilliance in our sky. Also on this day, the planet Mercury arrived at its greatest eastern point, 18 degrees to the east of the sun. This was Mercury’s best eastern apparition in 2012.  In addition, a bright ISS (almost as bright as Jupiter) passed near Venus at around dusk. It was a nice opportunity to capture this ISS pass because of its proximity to two of the brightest objects in the night sky this month.

I was originally planning to take photos of Mars and Mercury during twilight – Mercury in the western sky, and Mars on the eastern side – but as I said, thick clouds came in and obscured my view.

Waxing gibbous moon at 6:01 pm. I took this photo while waiting.

Mercury, now shining at magnitude -1.2, is only a little fainter than Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Though this planet is often cited as the most difficult of the five brightest naked-eye planets to see, there is now a fine “window of opportunity” for seeing Mercury in the evening sky. This window which began last February 22 and will close after March 12, provides several good opportunities to see this so-called “elusive planet” with our own naked eyes.

Locating Mercury in the west after sunset is quite a  challenge because it’s so close to the horizon. Moreover, although it is actually as bright as a first-magnitude star, the glow of evening twilight tends to subdue its brilliance.

This month, Mercury starts become visible around 30 to 45 minutes after sunset. This tiny planet can be found hanging beneath the brighter planets Venus and Jupiter. Using Stellarium, I estimated its location to be about 25 to 30 degrees below Venus. It was hard to spot Mercury at first glance but after a few seconds, my eyes were able to detect its faint glow.

However, it was visible only for a very brief moment.

As soon as I finished setting up the tripod and the camera, the clouds have already covered about 5 degrees of the horizon and Mercury was nowhere to be seen.

Western sky - March 5, 2012. Mercury was hidden beneath those clouds near the horizon.

I tried my luck to look for this planet on the following evenings but the sky was not any better until March 8.

Weather was not so bad as the past few days  so I was slightly optimistic.   The sun set promptly at 6:06 pm  and I searched in the same area of the sky, expecting to see Mercury.    After more than half an hour, Jupiter and Venus popped into the view – still there is no sign of Mercury.   A nice big full moon in the east was rising, and it seemed to grin at me cruelly!

I was just about to give in when at 6:40 pm, Mercury sailed into view;  flashing yellow and orange and battling the murkiness. Having just enough time to take a few photos before it disappeared a few minutes after, I hurried and managed to get off a few shots.

It was a pleasant surprise. 🙂

Jupiter, Venus and Mercury at 6:44 pm | UP Diliman, Quezon City


Photos above were taken using my Panasonic Lumix digital camera and were post processed in Photoshop to enhance the visibility of Mercury. The planet was too dim and too small to be seen without zooming into the images.

Mercury is quickly decreasing in altitude as each day passes, so take the opportunity well this month to spot it.

Clear skies!

Triangular Spectacle: Moon, Venus and Jupiter

Last February 26, 2012, the crescent Moon joined the other two brightest objects in the night sky – Jupiter and Venus – to form a spectacular celestial grouping during and after twilight! They’re just a few degrees apart at the time of twilight in the west.

This sky show dazzled a lot of  skywatchers around the world during the weekend.

I have always been fascinated with celestial conjunctions. Hence, I immediately headed to SM Mall of Asia (near the Manila Bay area) after my on-the-job training in Makati City to take pictures of this event.

Traveling around the city—especially during the busiest evening rush hour period is one hell of a headache. Nonetheless, all the effort was worth it. 🙂

When we came, big dark clouds threatened our view.  As the brightest objects in the night sky, Venus, Jupiter and the Moon can shine through urban lights, fog, and even some clouds. During that time, however they were hardly visible behind the clouds.

Fortunately, the skies cleared up just in time and we saw the awesome celestial trio. Thank God! 

Once the moon retreats from view, Jupiter and Venus will continue growing closer. The gap will narrow to 10 degrees by the end of February until they pass each other in mid-March.  On March 13 and 14, Jupiter and Venus reach their closest distance to each other. They will lie only three degrees apart. That’s just about the width of a finger and a half at arms length.

March 26, 2012: Venus, Jupiter and the Moon align | Image : Stellarium

By March 26, a crescent moon will join them once again, producing another brilliant sky display visible at twilight.

Don’t miss it!

Moon and Venus – February 24, 2012

Taken at 6:25 pm from the Gonzales Hall of UP Diliman (Photo details: 7mm,  f/3.7, 1/8 sec. exposure at ISO 100)

Conjunctions of the moon and the planets are quite special events.

Image taken at 6:43 pm (Photo details: 6mm,  f/3.5, 8 sec. exposure at ISO 100)

A conjunction is an alignment of 2 or more celestial bodies (usually the moon and planets) in the sky, from our vantage point on Earth. The objects aren’t necessarily physically close to each other in space, but from where we see them, when the bodies are grouped close together on the sky we call them in conjunction.

When the objects get so close together that one passes in front of the other from our vantage point, we call that an occultation.

A conjunction doesn’t have any particularly special meaning, but they can be interesting to observe because very close conjunctions are quite rare events. It can be very exciting to see two planets in the same field of view of your telescope!

Not only that, but conjunctions, especially with the moon and/or bright planets are involved, are just a lovely spectacle to look at and photograph.

On February 25-26, the crescent Moon will join the other two brightest objects in the night sky to form a spectacular celestial grouping during and after twilight! They’re just a few degrees apart at the time of twilight in the west.

This will be a lovely sight to see.

Clear skies! 🙂

All photos were taken by me using Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera.

Moon, Mars and Leo – Feb. 8, 2012

Mars in the eastern sky at 9:51 pm | Quezon City, Philippines

We were sitting on one of those weird benches surrounding the trees in the open-air space of UP-Ayala Technohub after having a rewarding dinner when I noticed a red-orange star in the eastern sky infront of us. My brain told me that, based on its brightness and location it had to be Mars.  It was hardly recognizable at first because the waxing gibbous moon was shining close to it. Moreover, we were situated in a very light-polluted area that my eyes were struggling to see those faint celestial objects near the horizon.

The red planet is back in the eastern sky at nightfall on these evenings. It is now in fact, one of the brightest “stars” (around -0.9 mag) in the night sky. It is growing even brighter and more prominent, especially towards the end of the month as it comes close to opposition to the Sun and its nearest pass to Earth.

Moon, Leo and Mars

Mars started to retrograde (move westward) toward the star Regulus in the constellation Leo last January 24. That happens whenever Earth is about to pass between the sun and Mars, which will happen on March 3, 2012. Mars has been brightening ever since retrograde motion began.

By the end of February, Mars will rise only 20 minutes after the Sun sets, so it will be easily seen by the time the sky darkens and will shine all-night long. By then Mars will have brightened to magnitude -1.2, nearly as bright as Sirius.