Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geminid Meteor Shower 14/15 December 2011

Geminid Meteor Shower is here again! The best time to catch it at its peak is during the nights or early mornings of 14 - 15 December 2011 for Asia.

Meteors can streak across any part of the sky during those nights but one should have a higher chance of seeing them if you look at the part of the sky where the constellation Gemini is located. Unfortunately, there is bright Moon near Gemini which will make the fainter streaks hard if not impossible to see.

But the good news is that Geminds brighter fireballs may still be spotted as proven in this video created by John Chumack from the United States just yesterday!

One way to avoid Moon's light is to start observing once the sky is dark and before the Moon rises at about 10pm Singapore time for those 2 nights. Try to stay in a dark spot and let your eyes dark adapt as much as possible during this period. Looking at your brightly lit handphone display will spoil your dark eye adaptation. So try to lower your handphone screen brightness as much as possible or better still wrap a red piece of cellophane around it. :)

The best time to observe is around 2.00 am in the early morning when Gemini will be high up in the sky.

Location wise, choose a dark place with a good unobstructed view of the North East portion of the sky. Changi Beach is such one good location. Try to position yourself inside the shadow of a big tree while facing towards the sea.

It will be good idea to bring along some reclining chairs or sleeping bags as you may be looking up at the sky for long periods of time. You may want to put on long pants, a sweater and wear socks as the temperature may drop as the night progresses and the cold sea wind blowing towards you. This attire will also minimise any potential mosquito bites.

Of course the sky must be relatively clear too to see any meteor showers. You do not need to wait for the whole sky to be completely clear before you can see meteors. If you are lucky, the fireballs may just streak pass a certain clear patch of the sky.

Here is one beautiful video of last year's Geminids created by YouTuber Mockmoon. Do check out his other stunning time-lapse videos too at his youtube channel.

Once you have made a decision to go to a beach and observe, do manage your expectations about the possibility catching the meteor shower. There is always a possibility you will not see any. So do not get too worked up if you don't. Astronomy as a hobby is suppose to relieve stress, not increase it. :)

Here are some ideas to make your trip enjoyable even if you don't see any meteors or while waiting for the clouds to clear:

(1) Go observe with a friend or a group of friends. It is a great time to catch up with them while enjoying the sea breeze and the cool weather.

(2) Listen to music or audio books while you look up at the sky.

(3) Bring a small binocular and scan the the clear patches of the sky for stars. If you are lucky, a bright meteor might just flash past in the binocular view! The binocular can be use for plane watching as Changi Beach is near the airport.

(4) If you can bring a small telescope along and intend to stay overnight, try to observe Venus which is visible in the west just after sunset, Jupiter high up in the east and Mars and Saturn rising up from the east after midnight!

(5) Have some nice supper like the lasi lemak at the 24 hr hawker center near the bus interchange.

December is one of the wettest month here so it most people may not feel too optimistic about seeing the Geminds. But even if you miss this peak meteor shower period due to bad weather, it is still possible to see them the next few days at at less rate. So keep checking the weather for the next few days and get ready to go out and catch some meteors if the night sky turns clear.

Last December, my friends and I were lucky in catching a few meteors on a very clear night at Changi Beach. I brought my telescope along and was more interested taking advantage of the rare clear skies to see the star clusters then actually observing the meteors! A group of family and friends join us shortly after midnight and I was glad they manage to catch some meteors before they left.

Me and my astro buddy stayed up all the way till sunrise. Here are some of the single-shot non-stacked photos I took that night using a cheapo compact camera on a mini tripod. Apologies for my lousy post-processing skills. May try to touch them up for my future talks and presentations if I have the time.

Orion Constellation ( 12 Dec 2010 23:24:17). Those astronomy newcomers who have attended the total lunar eclipse event last Saturday at Toa Payoh Central should have no problem identifying this constellation in this photo. The ghostly red patch is a cloud.

Venus and Saturn ( 13 Dec 2010 06:12:35 ). Venus is so bright and that's why it is also known as the Morning Star.

Human Lightning Rod ( 13 Dec 2010 06:15:26 ). The Big Dipper! Making use of the camera timer, I have to make a 10 second dash to the telescope and freeze in that pose for another 15 seconds.

So good luck guys! Hope you can catch some meteors and make a wish for the world not to end in 2012! LOL :P

Friday, December 9, 2011

Total Lunar Eclipse @ Toa Payoh Central CC

Greetings fellow Earthlings!

There is a Total Lunar Eclipse happening on 10th December 2011 Saturday evening  from about 7.33pm to 1.30am Singapore Time (+8 UT).


In Singapore time:

Penumbral Eclipse Begins:   7.33 pm (saturday)
Partial Eclipse Begins:     8.45 pm
Total Eclipse Begins:       10.06 pm
Greatest Eclipse:            10.31 pm
Total Eclipse Ends:        10.57 pm
Partial Eclipse Ends:      12.17am (sunday)
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:     1.30 am
(source:  NASA Eclipse Website )

The most exciting part of the Eclipse to observe is when the partial eclipse turns total and the Moon turns coppery red!


To observe this eclipse, just looks towards East for the rising Moon. You do not need to go a very dark place or very high to observe the eclipse. But such environment can enhance the mood of enjoying the eclipse and other stars and planets visible on the same night.

It is safe to observe with just our naked eyes alone, i.e. no special visual equipment is required. But with a telescope or binocular or high-zoom camera/camcorder lens, you can also enjoy the close up look of the eclipse and the surface features of the Moon during the eclipse.

The eclipse may be fully or partially visible in other countries. Please refer to this image to find out: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Visibility_Lunar_Eclipse_2011-12-10.png


This lunar eclipse is special because:

(1) It is a total lunar eclipse, not partial which happens more frequently. The next total lunar eclipse is in 2014.

(2) A lunar eclipse does not always occur at a suitable observing-friendly time like a weekend evening.

(3) During a lunar eclipse, not all locations in the world can view it from start to finish. Singapore is one such location for this upcoming eclipse.


(1) Toa Payoh Central Coummunity Club
organise by members of Singastro forum

(2) One Fullerton
organise by members of Singastro forum:

(3) Labrador Park (at the Berlayer Beacon facing Sentosa):
organise by The Astronomical Society of Singapore (TASOS)

I am personally involved in the team helping out at Toa Payoh Central CC. If you have queries for the other 2 events, you may approach the respective organisers as provided in the links above.



Date: 10th December 2011, Saturday.
Time: 8 pm -- 11 pm
Admission: Free. Open to Public.
Venue: Toa Payoh Central Community Club
(opposite library, a few minutes walk from Toa Payoh MRT station)
Google Map --> http://goo.gl/AyV2U

This event is strictly non-profit and organised purely out of goodwill to let the public enjoy astronomical wonders at no charge. There will be no commercial activities involved, no touting of any commerical services or astronomical products, no compulsory forms to fill up.

Our volunteers are not paid and the telescopes and related equipment depolyed are from their own private collection. As such, we would like to advise visitors not to touch the telescopes without their permission. We would also like to advise visitors not to consume any food and beverage in the vicinity of such equipment to prevent potential accidental damage to them.

These are 2 videos of the observation area at the sheltered roof terrace at level 3:

The lights there will be switched off to minimise stray lights intefering with the telescope observation session and also for big screen/LCD projections during the public talks and live eclipse streaming sessions.

Depending on the length of the telescope queues, you may use your phone camera to take a photo of the eclipse through the telescope or we may assign a queue specifically for that.

There is free wireless@sg wifi reception at the observation area which you can also make use of to update your social media accounts or upload photos during the eclipse.

Feel free to bring your family and friends along and enjoy a casual and cozy eclipse observation session at the CC!

For the latest updates, you may visit or follow us at http://www.twitter.com/astrosg .

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sun Dog captured in Singapore

Just saw CNN's Rosemary Church announcing the Video of Day a few hours ago. It is this video of Sun Dog captured right here in Singapore!

Absolutely amazing. This is the first time I am seeing this phenomena on video. Hope to catch one live soon!

This is Rosemary Church's narration of the phenomena shown in the video -- "A lightning discharge in a thundercloud can apparently change the electric field above the cloud where charged ice crystals reflect sunlight, and this could cause a sundog to jump."

According to this NASA article, sundogs are formed by "plate-shaped ice crystals drifting down from the sky like leaves fluttering from trees".

The following video involving sundog is equally if not more amazing. I have lost track how many times I hit the repeat video button. Enjoy! :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Telescopes featured in music videos

An astro buddy sent me a youtube link to this Korean music video. Being an amateur atronomer, I only paid attention to scenes in the video where telescope(s) are being shown. I have not come across any music video that featured telecopes with such frequency. It almost felt like watching a telescope advertisement (not that I mind watching one).

So watch this video carefully and see if you spot something weird and funny. It should be quite easy for amateur astronomers to spot it. 

The telescope featured in the video is from Bosma, a Chinese telescope manufacturer. Most people conveniently assume just because it is made-in-china, Bosma scopes must be very inferior to branded ones. But that is not necessarily so. Most of the telescopes from American-branded companies are manufactured in China and perhaps some of them even from the same factory from Bosma's. One of Bosma's latest maksutov-cassegrain telescope receive a good review from a major astronomical magazine.

Astrobargains which is based in Singapore do carry some Bosma telescopes. If you are keen to find out more, can drop them an email. Disclaimer: I do receive any commission or benefits from recommending any dealer in astronomy (local or overseas) and have not looked through any Bosma scope yet.

Ok. The above two paragraphs is also to make it less obvious for you to accidentally find out the weird and funny scene in the video before you watch it. The location is at 2:17 minutes into the video. You see the female actress  seems to be looking into the mirror/prism diagonal without any eyepiece!! Still she was very fascinated by what she "saw"! LOL.

Anyway, I know it is only a music video and at least they got the business end of the finder and telescope pointed at the right direction. :)

The classic refractor is the telescope design that most people can easily recognise as a telescope. It is of course the right type of telescope to use to create the romantic environment required in the video. Else, can you imagine the actor and actress taking turns to climb up a ladder and look through a 40 inch dobsonian telescope as shown in the following photo? Not that romantic eh? :)

Credits: Photo by Steve Swayze of Swayze Optical

Camcorder Astronomy

Another common question asked during sidewalk is "How do you know that is a Jupiter and not a star or man-made satellite?". I like to answer this question by saying "Look at it through a telescope." Afterall, Galileo didn't have a smart phone with planetarium apps to point at the sky to find out. Even if he did, he would still want to verify with his own eyes and optical instrument.

What if one does not have access to telescope and still want to find or proof that "star" is actual Jupiter? How about a high zoom camcorder? That is a really cool way to find out and as a bonus, you can record the proof and show it to your friends.

Check out these cool videos by youtubers with their Sony camcorders capable of 30x optical zoom and 42x extended zoom.

In the following video, the bright disc is Jupiter and the "stars" you see beside it are some of the moons of Jupiter.

Here's a zooming-in video of a nicer quarter moon.

And this one from a Panasonic camcorder. 70x optical zoom!

What an excellent way to view and record the upcoming Total Lunar Eclipse on 10th December 2011 which is fully visible in Singapore! Great device for doing sidewalk showing the Moon, e.g. projecting the live feed to a big screen.

Having said that, unless one is really into astronomy, I doubt one will buy camcorder just only for this purpose. So please read the online reviews on the non-zoom functionality of such camcorders before making a purchasing decision.

These camcorders seems to be quite affordable. They are priced at about USD $500. But for me, if I didn't have a telescope, I would rather spend the money on a decent used telescope. Sure, I may not be able to record these interesting videos of Jupiter and Moon directly. But I would visually see even more amazing stuff like star clusters, globular clusters, colourful double stars, better views of all the planets, Moon and Sun (with a solar filter), nebulae and galaxies!

If you already have a camcorder now, try zooming it on Jupiter and Moon soon!

Update 21/11/11:  This one is from youtuber giofrasa on the Sun. Warning: DO NOT look at the Sun directly. Only look at the Sun if you are wearing proper Solar filters or if the instrument you are looking through are properly fitted with such filters as shown in the video.

The spots you see on the Sun disc in the video are sunspots which can be many times the size of Earth.

LROC Explores Apollo 17 Landing Site

One of the common questions I get during sidewalks is "Do you think humans really landed on the Moon?". My answer as of now is still "Yes". "But I saw this video/documentary/internet article that says ... ...". For the non-believers or those still sitting on the fence about this debate, the following video may help.

Turn on your speakers for the best experience.

Did you like the music and find that it enhances the video dramatically? What a great selection of music by NASA right?


The original video is just pure video without any music. I just can't help finding it extremely underwhelming in the context of what it was showing. That's why I uploaded this to YouTube and try to find a suitable music from AudioSwap. The title of this classical music is Russian Dance which is ironic because I am sure the Russians were not super elated when the Americans beat them to the Moon. :)

For more info about the stunning videos and images captured by LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera), you may visit their official website and this Goddard Space Flight Center link.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

NUS Rooftop Observatory

Sorry for not being able to blog as much as I would like to for the past couple of months. Way too busy with real life and enjoying myself under clear skies and meeting fabulous fellow amateur astronomers. I think I have enough material to blog until the rest of the year - snatching great astro bargains, well-received sidewalk sessions, checking out new potential observation spots in Singapore, solo train adventures to Malaysia, catching meteor showers at Changi Beach, week-long observations under stunning Milky Way skies in northern Johor, visiting the Observatory at the Science centre for the first time, meeting Dr Fred Watson, observing through a large dobsonian telescope under Sedili skies ...etc. So stay tuned!!

Coming back to topic, you may wonder what made me so motivated to update my blog now? How about seeing fully grown adults who are experienced visual amateur astronomers who owns some decent telescopes behaving like kids in a candy store?

A couple of weeks ago, my astro buddy James asked me if I am interested to attend a private first light party at the spanking new rooftop observatory at National University of Singapore (NUS) equiped with a brand new 17-inch telescope. He had me at NUS rooftop observatory! Brand new 17 incher? Wow. I don't care if William and Kate will be visiting me that night but there is no way I am going to miss such a rare opportunity. YESSS! PLLLLEASE!

James contacted the event organiser who was gracious to extend the invitation to me and a couple more of James's friends. The event organiser was Prof Chan. Just a quick note about Prof Chan. There are some professors who have airs. But not Prof Chan. I remember clearly our first encounter. We were going to Punggai (Johor, Malaysia) for a weekend stargazing trip last year together with a big group of students. The meet-up place was at NUS. I took a cab there since I was lugging a 8-inch telescope, a telescope mount and tripod and a bag stuffed with clothings and astro accessories. When I arrived, I stepped out of the cab and was slowly unloading my stuff on the ground when I saw someone rushing towards me from a tour bus some distance away. Yupe, that's Prof Chan. He helped me carried some of my stuff to the bus. I have another astro buddy who stays near my place who was a student of Prof Chan and also had many nice things to say about him.

The first light star party for the new observatory was conducted on Wednesday 17th August 2011.

On that evening, I was happy that Gavin, another astro buddy of mine, will be attending the event too. More about Gavin when I blog about our recent Persied Meteor shower overnight trip at Changi Beach (Chinese Hungry Ghost Month to add :)). Gavin and myself joked that there will a huge cyclone hitting NUS soon. There is a well known phenonmenon/joke in the astro circle that whenever the someone buys a brand new telescope and try to use it for the very first time (aka first light), bad weather will befall upon that poor soul. The intensity of the bad weather will be proportionate to the size of the primary mirror or lens (aka aperture) of the new telescope. Imagine a 17-incher.

I met up with Carole while waiting for James to pick us up and drive us to NUS. Carole is well known for organising numerous stargazing trips to Malaysia over many years. Check out her blog and email her if you or your organisation/school is interested to stargaze there. It was nice to catch up with Carole again since our last trip to Desaru Damai Beach Resort (Johor, Malaysia) with a group of educators and students. Upon my enquiry, she was very generous to share with me some great advice about custom clearance of stargazing equipment base on her many years of encounters with custom officers.

James arrived as the sky turned dark and miraculously, the sky was clear! We were all very excited on our way to the new observatory. When we arrived at the carpark, we met Alfred. I am glad to finally meet him in person for the first time. I have heard many wonderful reviews of his solar astro gear and hopefully can spend some quality observing time with him and James in our next trip to Malaysia.

We took a lift halfway up the building and took the stairs for the remaining half. On our way up the stairs, I saw Prof Chan and the invited guests having dinner in a room. As usual, the ever-cordial Prof Chan invited us to have our dinner. As I already had my early dinner around 5 pm (masala thosai at Jurong East foodcourt), after saying a quick hello to him, I proceeded quickly upstairs to the roof to check out the star attraction. Only a few more steps on the stairway to astro heaven!

Upon reaching the rooftop, I saw the flat retractable observatory rooftop design instead of the typical dome. Excited murmurings could be heard streaming out from the observatory. 

Took off my shoes and stepped into the candy shop. Drumroll please ......

You can watch the high definition version here.

The bright red star shown in the video is Antares in the constellation of Scorpius.

For the astrophotography pros out there, sorry for the poor quality and out of focus star trails in the astrophoto in the video. I was using my 4-year old point-and-shoot compact camera on a small fexible tripod. As it was quite crowded in the room, it was quite a challenge to do long exposure photography without someone walking in front of the camera. More importantly, my main focus was to observe through the scopes and not to waste too much precious observing time on photography and videography.

The main telescope is a PlaneWave Instruments CDK 17 (http://www.planewave.com/index.php?page=1&id0=0&id=1). Mounted on it is a Takahashi TSA 102 (http://www.takahashi-europe.com/en/TSA-102.php).

I took my first look through 17-incher when it was pointed at the globular cluster known as Omega Cenaturi. The object was off center in the eyepiece but still I could see the parts of it which was fully resolved into small little stars.

The next object was Saturn. Contrast and detail wise, it was not the best I have seen so far. But this is a totally unfair comparison. My best view of Saturn was when it was closer to earth, observed at almost zenith position, in very rare clear skies in Singapore. But Saturn that night at NUS was quite low at about 25 degrees above the horizon, was way pass its opposition in April this year and the seeing of the sky was just average.

I suspect the telescope collimation was a little bit off. But the good thing about this design is that one can easily collimate the telescope by just turning the 4 collimation knobs which are located within easy reach in the front. Unlike a typical Newtonian telescope, one has to collimate both the primary and the secondary mirror. Detail official collimation instructions for this telescope in pdf can be found here.

In terms of brightness, Saturn was very bright through the telescope and its brighter moons shining like little stars, thanks to it big aperture primary mirror collecting lots of light. This brightness is hard to beat in a typical non-observatory class telescope. That Saturn view gave us a tantalising preview of its true capabilities under better viewing conditions. In the next few years, Saturns ring will open up wider and wider. The Lord of the Rings will definitely put up one good show after another for this and many other telescopes in the world.

Jupiter opposition will occur on 29th October 2011, just two more months to go. The next time it will be that near to Earth will be in 2022. Lucky are NUS students and lecturers who have access to this observatory during that period. I hope by that time, they have already observed Jupiter through smaller telescopes. Then, they will truly appreciate what they see in this monster telescope and realise how fortunate they are to have access to such an observatory in their own school.

Next, we saw the NGC6231 star cluster. A nice tight group of stars against a dark sky. The Tak 102 refractor gave a nice wide field of view of this object with pinpoint sharp stars. The longer focal length CDK17 showed a higher magnified view with a darker background sky.

As we did not have access to a 90 degree diagonal at that time, we were looking straight through the telescopes and finders. For objects higher up in the sky, it will create some discomfort in the neck while viewing. But looking at the bright side (pun intended), without an additional mirror or prism that will be added to the light path by a diagonal, the views were as bright as they can be. The step ladder in the observatory did offer some relief as we could use it a observing chair and sit on it or hold on to it to balance ourselves while looking up.

We then saw the double double in the constellation of Lyra. Needless to say, the four stars split very nicely.

It was fun to see and hear these telescopes slewing from one object to another. The slewing noise (music to astronomers?) was surprisingly low for such a huge setup. I guess it's a geek thing. I remember during one of the private star party I had attended, someone told me other than seeing the green laser in action for the first time, seeing an big telescope slewing automatically for the first time is almost more fun than seeing the objects through it.

The telescopes were remotely controlled via TheSky planetarium program via a Showa ATLASTAR Telescope Controller. The big red emergency button looks really cool.

With the camera safety strap around my wrist, I find myself holding the camera just a little bit tighter when I tried to take a shot of the primary mirror from the front. It will not be a very good idea to accidentally drop my camera right into the telescope and spoil my camera...er...I mean the mirror. :)

Later in the evening, I asked if I could try to focus and move the telescope using the hand controllers. The students in-charge were kind enough to give me the go ahead. The hand controller unit that moves the telescope has a nice magnetic back that allows one to easily stick and remove it anywhere on the main metal pillar. Very nice touch. This prevents it from accidentally dropping on the floor or its wire getting entangled with other wires. There are four buttons that control the direction of movement and adjustable knob that controls the movement speed. The movement was very smooth with no perceivable backlash (delay from moment of pressing the button to actual movement). The up and down buttons on the hand controller held near to the base of the telescope controls the focusing of the telescope.

Pressing a button and making something move doesn't sound like big deal. But for me, that was really exciting. Because this telescope setup is the most expensive and exquiste piece of machinery I have ever controlled in my life. Moreover, the excitement was enhanced by the anticipation of the view of the object moving into the field of view as it may be the best view of that object I have seen so far. Afterall, I have not looked through a telescope bigger than a 17 inch at that point in time.

The magnificent and bright globular cluster know as M22 is a fantastic object to look at. In average seeing skies in Singapore through a 8" reflector telescope, one could most probably just see a fuzzy cotton ball like object. Through this CDK17, using a 14mm Televue Radian eyepiece, M22 was clearly resolved into a ball of individual bright stars! My best view of M22 so far!

A couple of hours into the evening since we started observing, the Ring Nebula (M57) seems to be a good target as it rose higher up into the sky. This object looks like faint fuzzy Polo sweet in my 8 inch telescope under average seeing Singapore skies. When the telescope stopped slewing toward this object, I looked through the Televue Nagler 7mm eyepiece and pressed the buttons on the controller, trying to manoeuvre this object into view. With this eyepiece, the magnification is a high 420x and very small field of view of only 6 arc minutes. I have never tried looking at this object with such a high magnfication, let alone on such a big telescope.

Suddenly, I saw a bright half halo at the edge of the view and immediately release my pressure on the button. I must be moving in the wrong direction. But wait. That was puzzling. This is a premium eyepiece on a well-baffled big telescope. I should not be seeing such bright light scatterings. Moreover, there isn't a very bright star very near to the Ring Nebula. Also, the reason could not be that the automatic mechanical slewing accuracy is that way off. This is because, the view in the Tak 102 (which is aligned with the CDK17) is pointing directly at the location of the object, right between the 2 bright stars in Lyra.

I pressed my thumb on the same button to continue swinging the bright half halo to the center of the view.

Then the bright "half halo" became a ring. *THE* Ring. I yelled, "I've found it!!".

That was the most beautiful Ring Nebula I ever saw. Big, bright, high contrast, direct vision. The details in the smoky ring structures were something I have not seen before. Wow. During those precious seconds I was observing it, I totally forgotten I was observing under Singapore skies. Those who were still around in the observatory took their turn to enjoy this beautiful deep sky object. After James and Gavin saw it, I could tell from their expressions and comments that they were equally amazed, if not more.

Later, Gavin had a idea to do a Edwin Hubble pose (see photo below) beside the CDK17.

Credit: California Institute of Technology archives
After a few tries, this is my best shot with some photoshop post editing.

We should bring a smoking pipe next time for a better effect.

If NUS physics department needs to raise funds, they can consider charging $20 for such photo taking sessions. :)

Throughout the evening, though there was a slight haze blanketing the sky, not one single cloud blocked our view of the sky. But all good things must come to an end. The hosts were already very generous by extending the "partying" time way beyond the official closing time at 9.15 pm. I joked with Gavin earlier in the evening that we should hide in some restroom and then secretly crawl back into the observatory to continue our observation when everyone has left after midnight.  We left at about 10 pm and the clear sky was still holding up. In fact, even when James reached home, the sky was still clear enough for him to observe the Ring Nebula with his 8 inch telescope while his memory of the view in the CDK17 was still fresh. No points for guessing which scope had the much better view.

Big observatory-class telescope like this CDK17 is financially out of reach for the majority of amateur astronomers in the world, including me of course. To be able to touch it, control it and see through it , even for just a couple of hours under decent night skies, is truly a great privilege and blessing. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Prof Chan and James for the invitation and all the event organisers, students and helpers for making the first light party a great success.

I wish the NUS Physics Department all the best in making full use of the observatory and producing great physicists for many generations to come!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stars by Collins Gem

Bought this pocket sky atlas book last year at Borders. Enjoyed its pocketability and usability when observing in the field. This is a good non-battery operated back up in case my phone's battery goes flat and can't use the astro apps. The price is also very affordable. As there was only one copy at Borders at that time, did not thought of buying one more.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see this book for sale again last week at a book fair at SAFRA Mount Faber while meeting a friend there for a drink.

It was sold at SGD $7.90 each. They condition are very slightly less than mint if you choose to look very closely at the smallest potential wrinkles at the cover pages. But the inside pages look brand new. It cost USD $7.95 before shipping at Amazon. And the promotion is buy 2 get 1 free. Needless to say, I took up the offer. I intend to leave one copy at a semi-permanent observing place in Malaysia, one for use in Singapore and the remaining ones as gift to friends who can appreciate its value.

The book fair is till end of May. After my purchase there last week, there are still about 5 - 6 copies left. This is good book to learn about the 88 constellations and  Messier objects for the newcomer and intermediate astronomers too. Just like there are portable telescopes that get used more often than huge ones, don't be surprised you may end up using this pocket sky atlas more frequently than other bulkier (but more detailed) ones in the long run.

Speaking of Star Atlases, there is nice article titled "Choose a star atlas that's right for you" by Michael E. Bakich in the June 2011 issue of Astronomy.

Inter-monsoon period is here and hopefully will end soon. Are you ready for stargazing season 2011? :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Astronomy Magazine at Toa Payoh Public Library

Back in June last year, I wondered what kind of astronomical magazines are available at Toa Payoh Public Library since it is the nearest to my house. This library is one of oldest in Singapore and was officially opened in 1974. Surely, I should be able find at least a few copies of such magazines.

A quick check online revealed a shocking fact. Zero, zilch, nada!

Perhaps it is too costly for every library to have one copy of Astronomy and one copy of Sky & Telescopes. In any case, at least I have the option of  reserving those magazines from other library branches for a small fee and have them delivered to Toa Payoh Library for collection.

Fast forward to December last year and while searching online for January 2011 issue of Astronomy, I saw "Toa Payoh Public Library - Not on Loan" Yay!! Quickly rushed down to the library and found the spanking new copy lying on the magazine shelf. The library did not manage to find time to added a "Astronomy" label to the shelf so that copy was just lying somewhere in the "A" section. Poor magazine got to suffer such "indignity". LOL. :)

Fast foward to last week, "dignity" was finally restored and when I saw the following


Kudos to NLB for the kind gesture of making this periodical available here and hopefully we will see "Sky & Telescopes - Toa Payoh Public Library - Not on Loan" soon!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour Public Stargazing Sessions

Public Stargazing sessions during Earth Hour tonight:

(1) Woodlands Waterfront organised by Woodlands YEC Astronomy and AGASTRO (till 10 pm)

(2) East Coast Park carpark C4 area overnight session by Marine Parade Astronomy Club (MPASTRO)

(3) Wisma Atria roof top garden (free, open to public, from 7.30pm till 10pm)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Maksutov Showdown at Toa Payoh Town Park

"Oh na na, What's my name? Oh na na, What's my name?" Got to get this wicked Rihanna song out of my head.

Irritated by my limited vocabulary to describe that circular observation spot in Toa Payoh Town Park in my previous visit, I decided to find out its official name.

This is part of the layout map displayed at the main entrance.

Wisteria Trellis!!

If only I can collect 10 cents from every Toa Payoh residents who does not know the official name of that spot, I can raise enough money to build an observatory there in no time. And 10 cents for every Singaporean who thinks the name sounds like a condominium, I can hire a full time research team to man the observatory. Ok. I can't beat this dead horse any harder.

To be fair, the words describe the spot accurately. Trellis is a lattice framework to support vines or plants and wisteria is kind of climbing scrub.

After days of completely hazy and cloudy skies, some patches of blue skies finally appeared at sunset on 18th January 2011. So I decided to take a chance to observe at Wisteria Trellis for the very first time with a telescope.

Some interesting cloud formation during sunset.

This is my new grab-and-go portable setup - 5 inch maksutov telescope on a SLIK camera tripod with a slow-motion adapter.

Started observing Jupiter the very moment it was visible against the bluish sky. Nice contrasty cloud bands seen as usual but was immediately reminded how much more wonderful it looked in my 8-inch reflector telescope (Celestron C8). Absence does makes the heart grow fonder. Any type of live view of Jupiter through a small telescope is way better than starring at clouds for a week.

Moon was bright and beautiful as usual.

While looking at the moon through the eyepiece, an F-15 fighter jet flew right across it! Woohoo! It look something like the following video I found on youtube but imagine a sleek F-15 silhouette instead of a commercial jet.

Manage to observe M41 star cluster in the Canis Major constellation and M42 nebula in Orion when the sky condition improved temporarily.

There was gentleman doing some chinese taji-like exercise in the same area. He was curious to look at the moon and liked what he saw. His native Chinese accent is a bit hard to comprehend but I tried to pay more attention to pick up the words in his sentences and did manage to strike a casual conversation with him. He told me he exercise at the area in the evening everday without fail. Sure enough, a couple of months later when I visited the place with my third (!) telescope, he was exercising there again. I really admire his discipline and perserverance.

Later in the evening, my astrobuddy ZY brought his telescope along. It is exactly the same telescope as my Skywatch Mak 127. But it is mounted a more steady and heavier duty Manfrotto camera tripod and mount. Out of curiosity, we pointed our telescopes at M41 cluster using the same 32mm focal length and different brand eyepieces and compared views. The field of view in his telescope is slightly bigger. So do not trust the official specifications of your astronomy gear blindly. It is always fun to verify them yourselves in the field.

We brought our portable stools along and have a nice chat inbetween observing sessions.

My setup is more shaky and take more seconds for the view to settle down because I am the pushing the tripod and mount a little beyond its comfort zone. But I still love the overall portability of the whole setup for nights like this when I think I have a 50% chance of clear enough skies as compared to my C8 plus porta mount setup which needs more encouraging sky conditions to motivate me to bring them out. Moreover, there isn't any nearby shelter at this area. If it suddenly rains, I can definitely grab this whole setup and dash to the nearest shelter provided by the overhead bridge leading to the Toa Payoh bus interchange.

In conclusion, a fruitful trip testing my portable set up at Wisteria Trellis. The fighter jet fly-by telescopic view really made my day. Hope to catch it on video someday. Sugoi !!!!  :)

Monday, January 31, 2011

LIVE Broadcasting

You can now watch live broadcasts from my webcam by clicking on the "LIVE Broadcast" link located in the right-hand column of this website.

I will be mainly broadcasting live astro events like star parties and sky conditions in Singapore. My webcam is only a low end 1.3 megapixel device (Philips SPC900NC), so do not expect BBC Stargazing Live quality or Mallincam video camera quality. 

Philips SPC900NC

You also can see both live and archived video footage directly at my Ustream video channel --> http://www.ustream.tv/channel/astrosg 

If you have an iphone or android phone, search and download the free Ustream application and you can watch the live broadcasts directly in your phone.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Binocular Astronomy at Toa Payoh Town Park

How do you know if you are crazy about stargazing in Singapore?

If it rained for almost the whole day during the monsoon period and you still look forward to potential clear skies the following night.

On Wednesday evening 12 Jan 2010, the night sky started to clear up just a little bit at around 9 pm. It was still hazy but at least I can still see some parts of the constellation Canis Major through my kitchen window. It is amazing what consecutive days of sky-blanketing haze and cloud cover can do to me - makes me happy to see even one star popping out in between a tiny patch of sky for a few minutes.

Decided to wait a bit longer and monitor the skies to decide if it is worth the trouble deploying a telescope outside to observe. In the meantime, there was an interesting 2-hour documentary on Napolean on History Channel. Heard about the battle of waterloo many times but was too lazy to read up on it. In between the commercial breaks, I found the skies getting clearer. So after the great Emperor Napolean was finally sent to Saint Helena to stargaze for the rest of his life, I decided to message my astro buddy ZY to stargaze later at Toa Payoh.

Hungry and still a bit worried about the potential return of cloudy skies, I decided to go out of the house for supper first at the nearby food centre and monitor the skies to decide if it is worth observing after supper. Took the lift down my apartment. When I hit the ground level and the lift door was opening, I suddenly realised I can bring along a binocular, a camera and a small flexible tripod. But I have already reached ground level. What the heck. I pressed the lift button and went back home to bring those stuff along. On hindsight, that decision was the most important turning point of the night. :)

It was almost midnight when I finished supper, decided to go to Toa Payoh Town Park instead of the usual open space infront of public library since a binocular without a proper tripod is not so suitable for sidewalk astronomy and I have not visited the park at night for sometime. The last time I visited that park, I have not purchased any telescopes yet and was checking out the place for a potential nice spot to observe and do sidewalk astronomy in the future.

While waiting for ZY to meet me at the park, I did some quick binocular sweeps at Orion and Canis Major at zenith. Enjoyed some nice views of the Orion belt and the "hind legs" area of Canis Major. Unfortunately, my arms are not strong enough to hold even a 8x43 binocular stably. So the views were just a bit jerky. Slowly but surely, the haze seems to thicken and some clouds started rolling in from the east. Oh boy. Looks like I might have to call off the session soon. Decided to walk further into the darker areas of the park while waiting for ZY's call.

When I arrived at the iconic observatory tower in the park, I looked up straight up and there they were! The tower was sandwiched between Canis Major on the left and Orion on the right! Picture perfect!

Click on it for a bigger high-res image. 

Screen capture from planetarium software (Stellarium) illustrating the relative positioning of the 2 constellations in the photo above.
In record time, I fished out my point-and-shoot camera (Canon Powershot A720IS), fixed it on the tiny flexible tripod and set the proper camera manual settings. These constellations were near zenith, my camera does not have a swing-out screen monitor and the tripod was really short. So I had to go down on my knees, using my left hand to hold on to the tripod legs slightly to make it more stable and my right hand on the ground to balance myself while cranking my head to look up through the camera and zenith to make sure I get a good framing. Totally unglamourous posture in the middle of night infront of a tower. I swear the couple sitting at a nearby seat must have thought of calling the police when they saw this lunatic apparently praying at the tower. But I could care less what anyone thought at the moment. That opportunity was priceless.

ZY arrived shortly and showed me the previous dark site SINGASTRO members used to observe but got progressively flooded with lighting from park lamps over the years. As a result, Toa Payoh Town Park was disregarded as a good regular dark site in the area. Of course, there were other reasons compounding the issue, e.g. lack of more fresh blood to replace those who have gave up on the hobby.

I brought ZY to this interesting circular open area which I think could be a good observation location in the park. The foliage crawling around the circular built-up blocks most of the surrounding lighting. There is a circular patch of grass in the center which could be a potential spot to built a mini low-budget observatory or perhaps a permanent pier for mounting heavy telescopes.

The skies became much clearer and we were treated to beautiful binocular views of the Hyades area at Taurus and Pleiades (7 sisters) directly above the tower structure in the west. Brought back fond memories of looking at them for the very first time through a cheap binocular bought at Carrefour in 2004.

Click on it for larger higher-res image. The fuzzy bunch of light just above the tower is the Pleiades star cluster (7 Sisters). See visual explanation below.

Located at the right eye of the bull is the star known as Aldebaran - 44 times wider and 150 times brighter than our Sun.
We also bino-scanned the stars in Gemini and the much clearer Canis Major and Orion constellation. Needless to say, we were jokingly cursing each other for not bringing a telescope or a proper tripod along. :)

ZY prompted me to take a shot at Pleiades just above the tower. I was initially a bit reluctant because I assumed the framing of the shot would be boring compared to my prevous zenith shots at the two constellations. But I am glad I took his advise and we were both thrilled to see the captured shot on my camera while previewing it. Started doing my doggy posture once again to captured more shots while ZY was binoviewing the sky. Then I saw a couple walking towards us. Not that kind of couple but a couple of policemen!

While holding myself still on the floor waiting for the 8-seconds exposure shot to complete, I was thrilled to finally experience my first encounter with the police while observing! I guess the policemen were doing their regular patrol in the park and fortunately ZY was viewing through the binocular and it was very obvious to them what we were doing. They did not even asked us to produce our identity cards. Instead we had a quick casual chat about stargazing. One of the policemen recalled the much clearer and darker skies during his Desaru trip and we mentioned to them about the Punggai resort place. It was relatively dark in the park but I could still see the wonderful smile on the policeman's face when he recounted how beautiful the stars were at Desaru.

We left the park around 1.30 am. Back home, I managed to catch Saturn and Venus before sunrise with my 5 inch telescope in the comfort of my kitchen. Venus was very bright (-4.3 magnitude) and looked like a half-lit moon. I do not have a good view of the sky at home. Working under very limiting conditions, I have managed to squeeze myself and the telescope setup into a tight corner to observe a small visible part of the sky (another blog for another day). 10 - 15 minutes of planetary observing may not sound grand. But in the full comfort at home, sitting on a small fishing stool, with all the lights switched off, listening to 80s music on the radio while observing the light from the magnificient ringed planet which bounced off its surface more than an hour ago? That is one heck of an experience. Thank goodness I did not sell my 5 inch maksutov telescope and thanks to WE for selling his small tripod head with slow-motion controls.

The photos taken at the park (and hopefully more to come at other locations) will not win any awards anytime soon (or ever). But the main purpose is to show general public you can still see stars in this light-polluted urban city. And there is still time to do something about the crazy and ever-increasing light pollution problem in this country.