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

Telescopes and Other Observation Equipment

Gienah’s First Light

Here is an image of the waning gibbous moon (80% illuminated) last July 8, 2012 — first light taken with my newly acquired Canon Powershot SX40 HS. With its superb reach  (35X zoom lens with focal range of 24 – 840 mm), and enhanced low-light performance great for night sky photography, getting decent photos of the moon was possible even without a telescope.

Image details: 150 mm, f/8, 1/160 sec. exposure, ISO-200.

I’ve been eyeing this camera for quite a while already and I was really happy that I was finally able to have it. It’s way cheaper than a DSLR, but it’s definitely worth the money.

It’s bridge-type camera (camera that “bridge the gap” between compact point-and-shoot and DSLR). I think it’s ideal for budding photographers like me who want the flexibility and control of a DSLR, but who don’t want to spend lots of money, or carry the heavy load required when you get a DSLR. But this type isn’t just more affordable; it’s also a much, much more portable choice and it offers a lot of nice features. Shoot wide or at the extremes of the camera’s telephoto (maximum zoom) setting – and toggle between them in a matter of seconds – the choice is yours; no need for extra lenses. It  has the versatility of a huge focal range packed into a lightweight compact body.

Another thing that I like about this camera is that it uses CMOS that incorporates advanced light reception technology to enhance sensitivity. Most bridge cameras like its predecessors use CCD sensor and have generally bad low light settings. Its new DIGIC 5 Image Processor, however, provides a major boost in noise reduction, expanding the usable ISO range to an amazing high of ISO 3200. Hence, the Canon HS SYSTEM lets you use higher shutter speeds to capture clearer images with reduced noise and blur. In addition, the combination of the advanced CMOS sensor and DIGIC 5 Image Processor in the PowerShot SX40 HS makes it possible to shoot crisp, clear high definition video.

And to top it all off, it also has a 2.7″ vari-angle LCD — great feature that is not very common with most bridge cameras.

By the way, I named her Gienah, after the brightest star in the constellation Corvus. Together with another star of Corvus called Algorab (name I’ve given to my other camera), its name derives from the Arabic phrase meaning “the raven’s wing.” ( “Gienah” from the word for “wing,” “Algorab” from that for “raven.”)True enough, these cameras are like wings to me for they seem to take me to places that further inspire my journey in astronomy and allow me to explore this hobby more with a great sense of joy. 😉

I’m very much excited to use it to take photos of the upcoming sky events. Thank God for this huge blessing! 🙂 Patience paid off! 

UP Astrosoc’s Summer 2012 Application

UP Astronomical Society is now open for Summer Application!
See you this thursday, 19 April 2012 6pm at the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory Moon Deck near CHE.

Get the chance to look through the largest telescope in the Philippines, Andre the Giant!

Don’t miss it! 🙂

For inquiries, please contact

Andro 09162309138
CR 09065880080

Credit: Kin Enriquez (UP Astrosoc associate member)

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About UP Astrosoc…

The  University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP Astrosoc) is a non-profit, non-political and non-partisan organization in the University of the Philippines, Diliman established in 1991. UP Astrosoc now resides at the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory inside the UP Diliman Campus in Quezon City.

Paschal Full Moon and the Astronomy of Easter

The image shown above was last night’s Full Moon called the Paschal Full Moon.

In Christianity, the first astronomical full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox is usually designated as the Paschal Full Moon or the Paschal Term. Traditionally, Easter is observed on the Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon.

Image taken via afocal method (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 on my Galileoscope)

Related links:

Meet Algorab, my Panasonic Lumix FH2 Digicam

I just bought my first digital camera that I could use in taking photos of the night sky. 🙂

Algorab, my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2

It was a 14-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 digital camera which I named  Algorab. (For astronomy enthusiasts,  the name came from Delta Corvi, the most notable star of Corvus, which simply means ‘The Crow or Raven’ in Arabic. It is is a double star, 3.1 and 8.5 magnitude, pale yellow and purple, on the right wing of Corvus.)

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH2 is a ultra-compact digital camera with an effective resolution of 14.1 megapixels. The lens offers a 35mm-equivalent range from a useful 28mm wide angle to a 112mm telephoto and features a true optical image stabilization system with which to fight blur caused by camera shake.

Crepuscular rays | image taken using Algorab

The main reason why I bought this camera is because of its long exposure capability (up to 60 seconds). Long exposure times permit the camera to gather enough light to take a quality photo, even in the darkest of environments like the night sky. If you want to keep the noise levels low and use lower ISO levels in dark environments long exposure times can be very useful. Most people don’t normally need to take very long exposure photos, but they can provide an amazing creative opportunity for amateur astronomers. For example you can take long exposure shots of the night sky to capture the movement of stars across the sky, capture night-time vistas, landscapes at dusk, etc.

Orion over a light-polluted area

I’ve already used a previous model of Panasonic Lumix before and I got amazed when I first learned about its impressive feature. FH2 compared to Lumix FS7, however, has significantly better wide angle (28 mm vs 33mm) meaning it can capture around 20% bigger view. FH2 also has  more than 10% larger sensor and  has a slimmer compact body (0.7″ vs 0.9″).

Moreover, this model can also record 1280 x 720p High Definition (HD) video.

Another feature that I love about this camera is its Intelligent Scene Selector which allows its user to select the best option from Macro, Portrait, Scenery, Night Portrait, Night Scenery and Sunset by detecting the environment.

Overall, this budget product is excellent for its affordable price. It has a well balanced performance for a point and shoot; it’s easy-to-use, has good image quality and  it contains certain features that are typically found on higher end products.

I’m really excited to use it to take images of the upcoming planetary conjunctions. 🙂

Clear skies!

A Parade of Four Planets and the Old Moon

Throughout the month of May, a beautiful display of planets could be observed in the morning sky just before sunrise. Last May 2 – a day before the New Moon- the 1% thin waning crescent Moon joined the four naked eye planets in a very spectacular morning sky show.

This planetary display was quite difficult to observe in a residential place like ours because we were surrounded with several houses which blocks my view of the sky near the horizon. Moreover, as this event occurred near sunrise the view of the planets and the very thin Moon were easily spoiled by the glare of the rising Sun.

Hence, I never expected so much in my attempt  to observe this celestial grouping.

Fortunately, a friend and orgmate told me that she was able to witness the event and take nice images of it from the roof deck  of their house in Marikina City. She was lucky to have a clear view of the eastern sky from that vantage point. 🙂

I almost cried with joy when I saw her pictures!

Planet Trails (From L to R : Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus) Taken at 5:26 AM

The Old Moon, planets and the city lights during dawn 🙂 Image taken at 5:29 AM. Click on the image for hi-res version.

Bye bye Mars. Image taken at 5:36 AM.

Do you now understand why? 🙂

All images were taken by Bea Banzuela and were reposted with her permission.

Camera used was Panasonic Lumix DMC 10.1 mp digital camera (This camera possesses a remarkable capability of taking wide-angle shots just like the ones above!)

Happy observing! 🙂

When Luna Occults Subra

Last March 17, 2011 , the University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP AstroSoc) set up at the PAGASA Astronomical Observatory in UP Diliman to observe the  occultation of the 3.3 magnitude star, Omicron Leonis (or Subra) by the 92% illuminated waxing gibbous Moon.

This event was headed by UP AstroSoc associate member and alumni, Anthony Urbano of EtenyWorks. Kuya Eteny, as the members fondly call him, was experienced in observing occultations.

During this observation, he brought his 6″ Newtonian Equatorial Reflecting Telescope (NERT) with a self-designed home-built clock drive attached to the telescope’s equatorial mount. To record the occultation event, a Canon S3IS connected to a laptop was mounted to the telescope’s eyepiece by means of a fabricated camera adapter. This modified camera can show it’s system time on its on-screen display. According to Kuya Eteny, the default precision of the on-screen timer is limited to 1 second, but a patch, currently made available only for Canon S3IS, increased the clock’s precision to 1/100 of a second — the maximum precision of the camera’s built-in clock.

The telescopes set up which included the 6" NERT (left-most)

You can learn more about this improvised clock drive project, the camera modification and  the rest of observation set up by visiting his site where he posts a lot of cool stuff about observation and instrumentation. His inventions are most fit for those amateur astronomers interested in modifying their own telescopes and cameras especially for the purpose of doing astrophotography. 🙂

The event was from 10:20 UT (ingress) and ended at 11:10 UT (egress). Although it can be classified as a ‘bright star occultation’,  the light coming from the target star wasn’t bright enough to pass through the thick clouds during the entire event. By around 11:50 UT, we decided to packed up since there was still no trace of the star near the Moon.

On-screen display of Canon S3IS (with the CHDK firmware upgrade) showing the Moon under the dark patches of clouds. The system time (upper right corner) in this screenshot reads 19:18:44 PST (11:18:44 UT) The occultation event during this time was over, yet there was still no sign of Subra which should be located a few degrees above the Moons upper right limb.

When the Moon passes in front of a background star during occultations, the shadow of the Moon cast by the star sweeps across the Earth. When the leading or trailing edge of the Moon’s shadow crosses an observer, the observer sees the star “disappear” or “reappear”. These events are usually very sudden, and timing the instant of occultation is an important astronomical measurement.

But why is it important to observe lunar occultations?

  • Observing lunar occultations is important because the results improve our knowledge of the position and motion of the Moon. For example, when you time the disappearance of a star behind the edge of the Moon to 0.1 second accuracy (a value easily attainable), you are actually fixing the position of the Moon’s edge in space to an accuracy of about 80 metres. i.e. you are making a measurement with a precision of only 80 metres over a distance of 384,400 km. (This is one of the most accurate measurements an amateur observer can make in any branch of science!)
  • Combining many such measurements of the Moon’s position over a long time gives astronomers new information about the Moon’s motion and orbit. For example, total occultation observations have shown that the Moon is spiralling away from the Earth at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
  • Total lunar occultations have also been used to provide valuable information about star positions, about the hills and valleys on the edge of the Moon, and to discover new double stars.

Aside from occultations by the Moon, there were also Planetary Occultations and Asteroid Occultations. Just as the Moon passes in front of background stars, so too do planets and minor planets (also called asteroids).

Planetary occultations are occultations of stars by the passing of a planet in front of it. However planetary occultations occur less frequently than lunar occultations because the planets appear so much smaller in our sky than does the Moon. Nevertheless, observing occultations of stars by planets has yielded some stunning discoveries – for example, the rings of Uranus, and the atmosphere around Pluto.

On the other hand, Asteroid Occultations are occultations of stars by the passing of an asteroid in front of it. Asteroid occultations can occur anywhere on the surface of the earth. A few naked eye stars have been occulted during the past 20 years, but most occultations are of quite dim stars typically between magnitudes +9 and +12. An occultation might occur at any time of night, on any day of the week. More and more fainter asteroid occultations are being predicted, so that it is likely that at least 5 events will likely cross your area in the coming year.

While occultations of bright stars by major planets are very rare, occultations by asteroids are a little less so. This is not because any one asteroid has a greater chance of passing in front of a star. Rather, it is because there are so many more asteroids to choose from!

Anyway, asteroid occultations are the only way — apart from spacecraft missions to asteroids and radar observations of nearby objects — to determine the approximate size and shape of those bodies and are, of course, much cheaper.

If, as an amateur astronomer or telescope owner, you would like to be part of history, contribute something relevant to the study of astronomy, or would love to see sights that few have witnessed, then occultations are the thing for you. The occultation process offers discovery and research. It is possible for amateur astronomers to discover new companions of stars, help to improve the polar diameter of the sun and moon, identify the existence of possible satellites orbiting asteroids, to improve knowledge of heights of lunar mountain peaks and depths of valleys in the polar regions, determine corrections to ephemeris errors and assess star position errors, improve knowledge of the shape and sizes of asteroids, and more through occultation science. It does not matter where you live in the world. If you have access to a computer and possess a telescope of at least 4-6 inches, know your geodetic position either from GPS or a good topographic map, have a source of time signals and tape recorder, you can make your own observations of these rare and critical events.

The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) web site can be found here and that of the International Occultation Timing Association/European Section (IOTA/ES) web site can be found here.

 The IOTA web site contains predictions that are updated frequently.

To be able to observe and correctly record an occultation event, you should first have knowledge to find your way about the sky. Most stars that are occulted by asteroids have average apparent visual magnitude of 10.

The program Win-OCCULT, authored by David Herald in Australia, provides accurate predictions of all types of occultations and related phenomena. You can obtain a copy of Win-OCCULT by downloading it from here.

Good luck! 🙂

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)

My Galileoscope, At Last!

Yey! 😀

After several months of waiting, I finallly got my IYA 2009 Galileoscope which I ordered from the Galileoscope website. I’m soo happy!

The parcel with its contents

There were some shipping problems, and it took longer than expected (they arrived about a month ago but I’ve been too busy to write up this post). Before anything else, I would like to thank the following for their  enormous help.

Mr. Rick Fienberg, Galileoscope team member, for being kind enough to send me regular updates regarding the status of my order;

Ms. Amy Pekar, for taking charge of resending my order 😛 (They had to resend it 3x because the first 2 got lost somewhere and didn’t reach me.)

Nicole Obidos, for driving us to the Marikina Post Office  🙂  *clap clap*

The Marikina Post Office, for giving me 50% discount on the tax i have to pay for the parcel;

and to Andre Obidos, for serving as another recipient and helping me assemble the Galileoscope 🙂

The Galileoscope is a ‘cornerstone project’ of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). It is a high-quality, inexpensive telescope kit designed by a team of folks who wanted to make the night sky available to as wide an audience as possible, especially young people.

Peeking through a Galileoscope is like seeing the celestial wonders that Galileo first glimpsed 400 years ago, which still delight stargazers today, including lunar mountains and craters, Jupiter’s moons, the phases of Venus, Saturn’s rings and countless stars and deep-sky objects invisible to the naked eye. It incorporates features such as achromatic optics, stray-light rejection and a 1.25-inch focuser normally found only on more expensive telescopes.

It comes packed pretty well, and all the pieces were there. The 50-mm f/10 objective lens is an achromat made from two types of glass, and the 20-mm (25x) eyepiece employs two achromats — a total of four lenses — made from two types of plastic (this four-element configuration is similar to that of the popular Plössl eyepiece, a high-quality design rarely seen on any telescope eyepiece). The plastic in the tube is solid and fits together pretty well. However, I will say that the instructions are not terribly clear; I had to download the additional pictorial instructions from the website in order to better understand the whole assembly procedure.

Assembly took about twenty minutes. When it was done, I mounted it on a sturdy camera tripod that was available then.

Andre tried to focus the Galileoscope on a nearby light post

I first looked on the bright planet Venus which I saw in its crescent phase.

An hour later after sunset, we point it on the waning gibbous moon and then to Jupiter. Through low power the planet is easily resolved as a disk, with its four largest moons. I could even just barely make out two or three of the cloud stripes on Jupiter.


My first lunar image through a Galileoscope! Wish I could learn how to attach a Philips ToUCam to it soon, without buying an expensive camera adapter. 😀 Haha!

(Photo details: Kodak EasyShare C813 6mm focal length F/2.7 lens aperture at ISO 80. Taken using afocal method. Second image was processed in Registax)

The higher-power eyepiece was almost impossible to use, which I actually expected — it’s hard enough in much more expensive telescopes. Higher power means smaller field of view, so finding objects is tough. Focusing is hard as well, since the target is hard to keep centered given that telescope has no adjustment knobs for easier navigation. Perhaps it would be better to find the best focus with both eyepieces and then mark the slider tubes with a white or silver marker that you can be seen in the dark. That way, one can pre-focus.

Another friend pointed the Galileoscope into Jupiter

All in all the Galileoscope is a good piece of equipment. It’s not that hard to assemble, and if you have a tripod and some measure of patience it will allow you view large bright objects. You won’t go galaxy hopping with it, and the inverted view makes bird-spotting hard too. But it serves the purpose it was designed to do: get astronomy in the hands of people everywhere for a very low price. 😀

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View full optical specification here.

Telescope Review

First lunar image through a GalileoscopeKodak EasyShare C813 6mm focal length, F/2.7 lens aperture, ISO 80
Taken using afocal method

Second image was processed in Registax v.5.1