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

Posts tagged “observing

Happy Birthday Neptune!

On Tuesday, July 12, 2011, the planet Neptune will complete its first revolution around the sun since its discovery on September 23, 1846. As it takes Neptune 164.79 Earth-years to go full circle through the constellations of the Zodiac, it is only now completing its first full orbit since its detection by humans. Hence the anniversary celebration.

Neptune, the 8th planet outward from the sun, is presently the most distant planet in the solar system. That’s because the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a “dwarf planet” in 2006. By the way, Neptune circles the sun three times for every two times that Pluto does.

There is much to commemorate — Neptune’s discovery marked a turning point in astronomy. Its existence was revealed, not through a serendipitous observation by an astronomer but by the careful work of mathematicians. They calculated that perturbations in the orbit of Uranus, then thought to be the sun’s most distant planet, could only be explained by the existence of another, even remoter world whose gravity was affecting Uranus’s path.

The mathematicians – Englishman John Adams and Frenchman Urbain Le Verrier – made their calculations separately. Both agreed, however, where in the sky astronomers would pinpoint the planet causing those perturbations. But they dealt with the information very differently, says historian Allan Chapman of Wadham College, Oxford.

As Neptune is too faint to be seen by the naked eye,  a pair of binoculars or a telescope is needed to view this world if you know where to look.   This  detailed sky chart will help you to find Neptune’s place in the sky — it will be located in Aquarius, the constellation where astronomers discovered the blue planet.

Next month Neptune reaches opposition and is a decent target for observers.

Happy Birthday, Neptune!  🙂

Observing the ‘Red Moon’ from Seven Suites Hotel Observatory

I began my preparation to observe the June 16, 2011  Total Lunar Eclipse as soon as I’ve learned about it several months ago.

It was a relatively rare opportunity to observe a Total Eclipse of the Moon — not to mention that the duration of totality of this eclipse will be one of the longest in 100 years (totality lasted for 100 minutes, from 3:22 am until around 5:02 am PHT).

I immediately checked the eclipse circumstances available in the NASA eclipse website and estimated the location of the Moon for each phase using Stellarium, so as to choose the best place to observe the event. I also reviewed the previous photos I’ve taken to see which places have a clear view of the southwest sky — the region where the Moon was mostly located during the course of the whole eclipse event. After considering a few sites, I came down to only three choices — the PAGASA Observatory in UP Diliman, a place along San Miguel by the Bay and at the Seven Suites Hotel Observatory in Antipolo.

Dropping the other two choices, I observed at the Seven Suites.

Since I still have a class to attend the following morning, observing at San Miguel by the Bay was the least good option. It surely was a nice place to observe as it has a very clear western horizon (which will enable me to catch a glimpse of the eclipsed moon setting at the bayside), but traveling would be a bit of a hassle for me because it was too far. The most convenient choice was actually to observe at the PAGASA Observatory. It’s just a walking distance away from my college and most of my orgmates in UP AstroSoc were there, too. However, I was worried that the buildings surrounding the observatory might block the view of the Moon when it gets too low during the last phases.

Through Mr. Ramon Acevedo or Kuya Ramon —  an alumnus of my astronomy org UP AstroSoc — the manager of Seven Suites allowed me and a few more orgmates  to observe from Seven Suites for free 🙂 Thanks, Kuya Ramon!

Seven Suites is the first and only hotel observatory in the Philippines.  As it is situated along the hillside route of Sumulong Highway in Antipolo City (not too far away from UP Diliman), it offers a breathtaking view of Manila by night — a stunning view of the metropolis, its city lights and the dazzling night sky. It also houses a 12”diameter Dobsonian which is the fourth largest telescope in the country.

We arrived at Seven Suites at about two hours before the start of the penumbral eclipse. Upon reaching the roof deck, we marveled at the awesome cityscape just below us.

The star Arcturus above the cityscape.
The star Arcturus above the cityscape.

Despite the rainy weather forecast, thank God it didn’t rain a bit the whole night. Only a few patches of clouds could be seen floating amid the moonlit sky.

Scorpius hugging Luna. Photo taken by Elaine Tacubanza
A colorful lunar corona surrounded the Moon before the eclipse. The blue spot appeared because of the lens flare.

A few minutes past midnight, a group of mediamen from a local TV Network came to join us to cover the event. Someone from GMA contacted me earlier that day via Twitter  for an interview regarding the eclipse. He told me that he learned about me after seeing a post which linked my astro blog.  He further asked me where I will  be observing the event and I told him of my plan and the time of the eclipse . I also added that another group of my orgmates in UP AstroSoc will also be observing the event from the PAGASA Observatory. After our conversation, he said that they will send a group there. And they did. Kuya Ramon was also notified of their coming.

I shied away from the camera when they started doing the interview. Any how, my other orgmates were also there and they answered the interview questions adequately. 🙂

All of us were excited to witness the eclipse. But before it started, a bright fireball zoomed in to our view. It came from the northeast direction, near the Summer Triangle so we guessed that it could be a June Lyrid.

At the time of the penumbral eclipse, no visible changes in the moon’s brightness can be easily recognized until it slowly become dimmer a few minutes before the umbral phase. By about 2:30 AM, a small part of the Moon on its upper left limb was already being covered by the Earth’s shadow. This chunk grew larger and larger after several minutes until finally only a small sliver of the Moon remained visible. The Moon entered totality at 3:22 AM. Just before the light on the Moon totally disappeared, an apparent reddening of the lunar disk took place. It became more and more obvious to the eye until the whole lunar disk was transformed to a blood-red orb hanging above among the stars. It was a breath-taking view.

Moon at 3:19 AM — a few minutes before Totality
The Red Moon
Moon approaching the maximum totality of the eclipse
The Red Moon and the City. Image taken at 4:22 AM

I also created two montage composed of the images of the Moon during different stages of the eclipse. In the second photo, the images were taken by about 5-10 minutes apart.

Totality ended at 5:02 AM. Unfortunately, the fifth contact (end of the partial eclipse) and sixth contact (end of the penumbral eclipse) could not be observed from the Philippines since the moonset was at 5:30 AM.

Here is a time-lapse video of the setting eclipsed Moon which I made using Windows Movie Maker. The transition of the images were quite slow because each frame can only be separated by a minimum of 1 second when using WMM. Can anyone suggest a better video editing software (preferably with a small size on disk) that can be used by amateurs?

5:01 AM — The Moon was about to exit Totality

Only a small part of the Moon remained visible as it continuously sank near the horizon. A few minutes before sunrise, we noticed another nice atmospheric phenomenon — anticrepuscular rays.

5:14 AM — a small part of the Moon was visible above the city skyline. The pink lines above were anticrepuscular rays.

Anticrepuscular rays are similar to crepuscular rays, but seen opposite the sun in the sky during sunrise or sunset.

A final glimpse of the Moon
A panoramic view of the city skyline

We packed up and prepared to leave at around 6:00 in the morning. I was starting to feel tired during then but I resisted sleepiness as I still need to attend my class. One of us even said that we were already like zombies during that moment because of sleep-deprivation. Haha!

From L to R: Kuya Ramon, Miguel, Aaron, Me and Carmen. Elaine left earlier than us that’s why she’s not in the picture 😦

Our efforts didn’t go fruitless, anyway. Seeing the Red Moon was truly a priceless experience. Besides, I was also happy that I was finally able to set foot in Seven Suites after a few years. Yes, I’ve been planning to visit the place ever since. but some circumstances seemed to hindered me most of the time.

All photos were taken using Nikon D3000 DSLR camera. Thank you, Nicky for lending me your camera.  🙂 

My fellow UP AstroSoc members who observed at the PAGASA Observatory were also successful in observing and documenting this event. God is really great, we were not clouded out. 🙂 Like us, they also got interviewed during the event.

The news reports including the interviews came out later that day. The person from GMA who contacted me texted me that the video coverage was already being aired. I wasn’t able to catch it on the television but it was now available online. You can watch the video of the interview from here.

The lunar eclipse was the talk of the town during the whole day. Eclipse pictures, videos and articles flooded the Internet. Moreover, Google also featured the lunar eclipse that just took place  through its regular Google Doodle. So if you happened to take a peek at your Google homepage last June 16, you should have seen a playable lunar eclipse photos, like the one below:

This “live” doodle showed a live feed of the lunar eclipse from images from robotic telescope service Slooh. During the eclipse, visitors to Google.com can see a dial at the bottom of the image moving left to right, going through the various stages of the eclipse, before settling on the current feed.

On the other hand, clicking on the doodle will take you to the top search results about the 16 June Total Lunar Eclipse. Some friends told me that the link to my blog about the visible eclipses in the Philippines in 2011 was on the 4th spot. 🙂 And indeed, I got a lot of site visitors during that day. Thanks to all who dropped by and left their wonderful comments.

‘Til the next Total Lunar Eclipse on December. 🙂 Ad astra!

Red Moon in June: Public Stargazing and Total Lunar Eclipse Observation

The University of the Philippines Astronomical Society (UP AstroSoc) invites everyone in observing the spectacular total lunar eclipse on June 15 – 16!

After the moon got super huge last March 2011, this coming June 16 2011, the moon will once again be spectacular to watch as it turns red because of the total lunar eclipse.

The first of the two eclipses of 2011 will occur on the said date and it will start at around 1:25AM and will end at around 7AM but the fun part where it turns red will be on its totality at around 4AM.

What is more special about this eclipse is that this will be the darkest lunar eclipse in almost 100 years as the centers of the sun, the earth and the moon would nearly be on one straight line. This also means that the Moon will pass deeply through the Earth’s Umbral Shadow which will make the totality phase last about 100 minutes.

This event is open to all. Come and invite your family and friends, and witness this wonderful sky show.

Clear skies, everyone!

Skywatching Highlights: April 2011

This month’s highlights:

  • Saturn in the evening sky
  • The 2011 Lyrid Meteor Shower
  • Four Planets and a Crescent Moon in the morning sky
Date Event Time (in PHT, UT+8)
3 New Moon 22:30
5 Saturn at Opposition 

— The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons.

6 Jupiter in conjunction with the Sun 23:00
10 Mercury in inferior conjunction 04:00
11 First Quarter Moon 20:05
17 Moon at perigee (nearest distance to Earth) 14:00
18 Full Moon 10:45
21-22 Lyrid Meteor Shower* 

— The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. This year, the gibbous moon will hide most of the fainter meteors in its glare. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight, and be sure to find a dark viewing location far from city lights.

22 Mercury-Venus-Mars-Jupiter visual alignment 

— Visible from April 25 to May 30

23 Venus at Uranus at minimum separation (0.9 degrees) dusk
25 Last Quarter Moon 10:45
27 Neptune 6 degrees south of the Moon 21:00
29 Four Planets and Crescent Moon in the morning sky 

— On the last two mornings of the month, given a clear low eastern horizon, there will be four planets and a thin crescent Moon visible just above.   You will need binoculars, so cease looking when the Sun has risen.

31 Moon at apogee (farthest distance to Earth) 02:00

*Check out the following links for more info:

Lyrids Quick Facts:

The red dot shows the "radiant" for the Lyrid meteor shower. The radiant is the spot in the sky that the meteors seem to fan out from. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Lyrid meteor streaks | Image credit: Wally Pacholka

A video guide on finding the constellation Lyra:

HubbleSite – Tonight’s Sky: April 2011


Clear skies to all and happy observing! 🙂