Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review 2012

It's 31st December again.

How did 365 days flew by so fast? It felt like only yesterday when every amateur astronomer was talking about the once-in-a-lifetime Venus in Transit in 6 months.

31st December should make a better Thanksgiving day. When people can sit back and reflect about how blessed they are to be alive while our Earth revolved around the Sun for yet another complete round. And be thankfully for both the good and bad events that happened in the year because both types of experiences makes us mature into a wiser and hopefully, a happier person.

So this blog is my way of thanking my friends and the clear sky "gods" for smiling on me in 2012.

Since I post regularly in, that is a good place to jog my astro memory of 2012. But then came across a shocking figure - I have posted 974 posts this year! That's 98 pages of posts to scroll through. :)

So I think I will forget about going through that list and just recall base on memory. If the events are memory are significant enough, I should remember them now anyway.

So here's some of my most memorable events in 2012:

(1) Telescopes 

Bought a few more telescopes at great value. The jewel of them of all is the Maksutov Newtonian MN56. The seller was "guarding" for many years and this can be considered my first premium scope. Used to be a little stressed out which telescope to bring for sidewalks - those good for Moon and  the planets are not so great to frame the wider star clusters and vice versa. With this versatile scope, I can show good views of both.

I still believe in destiny when it comes to owning telescopes. If it is meant to be yours, it will be. It may go through a few owners, over a few years, over a few countries even and come back to you if its meant to be yours. Else, you can stare at the classified forums 24/7 and the very moment you doze off for 1 minute, you will miss a good deal.

(2) Mobile Phone

Finally upgraded my 2.5 year old HTC Legend to a bigger screen HTC One S. What an amazing jump in specifications and at a price lower than what I paid for my previous phone.

Buying new phones used to be relatively simple decision. But now with my ever-increasing passion in amateur astronomy, screen size and camera takes higher priority.

Absolutely no regrets in getting this phone. The F/2.0 camera is quite amazing. Manage to get nice moon photos with it thru my telescope. During sidewalks, the act of putting my phone in front of the telescope and photograph the Moon transcends all language, race and age barriers! You will have people pulling out their phones in no time!

Most important, manage to own a HDR capable phone to capture the brighter stars and planets directly and share them quickly on Twitter and Whatsapp - something I had always wanted to do with a phone because it is not really convenient to carry even a compact camera everywhere you go. And sometimes skies will clear up when you least prepared.

Granted the "astrophoto" quality is not very good. But sometimes sharing the near-live excitement of a clear sky quickly with your friends and followers beats showing a nice photo of it days or weeks later when the excitement may have already died down.

With this higher performance phone, I get to enjoy various free and paid android apps too.

(3) Publicity in Mainstream Media

Got interviewed by SPH and Weekender for their stargazing articles. So happy to finally spread the word about local astronomy in Singapore in these publications. Happy to do my part in promoting Singastro in these articles.

(4) Venus in Transit

No astronomical event visible in Singapore is more spectacular than this. Catching it live at Bishan Park with my good friends and sharing the views with the crowd is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Was so excited that I did not manage to sleep 24 hours prior to the event.

(5) Venus and 7 Sisters conjunction

What a brilliant sight pun intended! Had great views of it 2 days in a row. First at Toa Payoh Town park with Clifford and the crowd there. The view in Clifford's big binocular was amazingly "3D"!

And second near my house with Clifford. Observing through MN56 telescope while Clifford shot a few "UFO" photos of this conjunction which turns out to be internal lens flare, that's how bright Venus was.

(6) International Space Station flyby

Started an new thread in singastro in February about observing satellites. Very fortunate to capture brilliant International Space Station (ISS) flyby and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. During the live video capture, I was totally thrilled as I instantly understood how rare that opportunity was - bright and high ISS flying across near bright stars and the Moon on a night where a planet is also visible. And since then, I have never seen a more dramatic naked-eye ISS flyby in Singapore.

Another highlight was seeing ISS at Bishan Park a few months later through a 80mm refractor with Dave's zoom eyepiece and manually pushing the tripod mount to track it. For the first time, I saw some structure of ISS live through the eyepiece instead of just a bright moving dot of white light. It looked like a tiny Star Wars TIE fighter. Sometime like this |+| . Understanding what I was looking at, it was more exciting than watching photos of ISS in magazines.

Glad to spread the satellite watching hobby to the general public. It is always exciting to read their report of their first ever satellite sighting - that very moment when they finally realise what a satellite really looks like and behave and shatter all their previous wrong assumptions that some of the bright "stars" they saw might be satellites.

(7) Double shadow transits on Jupiter.

Just saw this recently with Clifford at McDonald's near Toa Payoh MRT. First time I saw 2 shadow transits on Jupiter. Seeing one shadow transit is quite common, 2 is quite rare. 3 is most rare (visible in Jun 2014 in Singapore). Had an opportunity to see a double last year but that night was marred by poor weather at Toa Payoh. Glad to inform others beforehand including Orly (a veteran amateur astronomer) and he manage to observe and photographed it for the first time in his life also.

(8) Reaching out in non-astronomy forums

It is not sufficient to just only hang out in singastro and wait for people to visit us to find out about this hobby. We should be more pro-active to reach out others in the medium they prefer to hang out. Started posting and reply astronomy related threads in Hardwarezone (HWZ) forum and Clubsnap since late 2011.

Very glad some results are of that initiative is paying off this year. Manage to inform people in HWZ about Venus Transits events, observing planets and meteor showers in advance so they won't regret they didn't know earlier after those events. Happy to know a few of them manage to catch some meteors for the very first time - something that they themselves thought to be impossible in light-polluted skies of Singapore.

(9) Twitter

Totally regretted ..... not using Twitter much early! What an incredible social media platform to spread and share astro awareness, find new like-minded friends globally and get the most up-to-date information about astronomy.

Got more followers this year than 2011 due to the extra effort I put in to tweet interesting, relevant astro info. And also to use the search function to reach out to people in Singapore tweeting about telescope and astronomy. The 2 stargazing media reports helped too.

There will always be critics of using Twitter to spread the hobby. The sad thing is that some of them don't even bother to find out the most basic information about what Twitter is and what it is not but just condemn it base on hearsay from their friends.

So this year, I was very happy to finally convinced a few of my close astro friends to get on Twitter and they enjoyed and appreciated the use of it. Quite ironic some of these new converts are much older and willing to try it without prejudice than some of these apparently I-know-it-all youngsters.

Can't wait for the archive/ download all feature to be activated. This will be another source to remind me of the previous astro events.

(10)  Public talks at Toa Payoh Public Library

This is something I wanted to do in my long list of to-dos but somehow got "distracted" with sidewalks over the years when the skies are clear. So when the library invited me to give stargazing talks there this year, I was truly over the moon. Some concepts are best understood and appreciated in a class-room like environment and not trying to explain it in words only during sidewalks.

Had lots of support from the singastro community and we were so lucky to have clear enough skies after those talks for live stargazing outside the library at our usual sidewalk location. The most memorable was the most recent one when James brought his brand new 6-inch refractor and Jeremy his 5-inch triplet refractor. We had great views of 7 Sisters and Jupiter through them and other telescopes that were deployed that night.

For years, I had wanted badly to prove to my friends and perhaps more so to myself that astronomy talks need not be too academically focused to the extent for boring the general public. It can be entertaining and informative without insulting the intelligence of the audience. I am very grateful to National Library Board for giving me this opportunity to prove that.

The library has been and continue to be a very important part of my education since I started borrowing books with library paper cards. I am very happy to contribute back in the form of astronomy/stargazing talks there.

(11) Stargazing in Northern Johor

Manage to bring more friends to northern rural Johor to enjoy the clear milky way skies there this year. That is the best thing I can do to ensure the sidewalk passion in their lives will not die so easily from observing too often in light-polluted Singapore.

Since I don't have a DSLR and not really that into astrophotography, I have friends who keep doubting the skies there whenever I mention about that place in words. This year, thanks to friends whom I have brought there, they manage to capture the gorgeous Summer Milky Way in DSLR quality. Now my convincing job is made so much easier. :)

Of all the fun experiences we had up there during several trips, one of the most memorable one was the Perseid Meteor Shower. We had a huge mat on the soccer field which we we all lied down. And with our fully dark adapted eyes, saw many meteors streaking across the sky. That was my very first meteor watch there since my first visit a couple of years ago.

(12) Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park

This is without doubt my greatest find and favourite sidewalk/stargazing location in 2012. So fortunate it was quite close to Toa Payoh. And there are weekend night rider services from there back home.

At our usual sidewalk locations in Toa Payoh, sometimes there are events held there will is not conducive for sidewalks - e.g. 2-week long pasar malam (night markets). So I have been participating in sidewalks there this year almost as frequently as in Toa Payoh.

This park has a great eastern sky view as seen from the viewing gallery near McDonald's. Seeing Venus in Transit, Geminid meteors, conducting Mid-Autumn festival stargazing there makes it extra special for me.

(13) Making New Friends

This year will always have special place in my heart for the rest of my life because of the new friends I made via sidewalk astronomy. Three of them deserve special mention - Dave, Avarielle and Hazrie.

I feel so blessed to meet them this year and we have since become close friends - chatting on whatsapp almost on a daily basis.

When I started my sidewalk and blog back in 2010, these people are *exactly* the type of personalities I would like to find, make friends with and together, to promote the hobby in Singapore. People who display maturity in their thinking, willingness to share with others what they are passionate about and simply being a great friend to others. They have been so supportive of my astro events these years and I could not thank them enough.

Life can be quite unpredictable, with ever increasing workload and priorities in life, I am not sure how long I can continue to do sidewalk and share my hobby with others. Sometimes I wondered if I spend all this unpaid time and effort in other areas of my life this year, what could I have achieved.

Perhaps I could have been a better son, a better brother, a better uncle, a better friend to my non-astro friends, have a healthy body and made more money professionally.

But now that I have spend hours thinking about and writing this blog, it doesn't seem that bad at all!

So wishing you all a very Happy New Year and watch out for those comets in 2013!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Double Shadow Transit on Jupiter - 28 Dec 2012

Weather permitting, we may see a rare sight on Jupiter - double shadow transits. Jupiter's moons Io and Ganymede will be casting their shadow on Jupiter at the same time.

This event will occur at about 36 mins past midnight tonight.

These two shadows visible tonight from Singapore are going to appear at the same time on Jupiter only for about 3 or 4 mins. Ganymede's shadow is transiting out of Jupiter, while Io's shadow just started its transit across Jupiter.

Visually, this will be good test of your telescope's optics and your vision. So start observing early at least a couple of minutes before 00:36am. This is also a good opportunity for astrophotographers to capture this rare sight.

While waiting for this double shadow transit to happen, you can enjoy watching Ganymede's shadow drifting across Jupiter. And after the double, Io's shadow drifting across it.

Here are the timings:

Ganymede Shadow Transit  = 10:39 pm (27 Dec) -- 00:49 am (28 Dec)
Io's Shadow Transit = 00:33 am (28 Dec) -- 02:44 am (28 Dec)


Early in the evening, Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS) will be visible in the centre of the planet at about 7.20pm. So you can start observing the moment you see a bright "star" (Jupiter) in the East at about 30 degrees above the horizon - about 3 fists high on your extended arm.

Another way to spot Jupiter tonight is to use Moon as a guide. Look at the brightest "star" above Moon.

A single shadow transit on Jupiter is quite common. A double is rare. A triple is very very rare. Added bonus will be Jupiter's GRS also visible when such shadow transits occur.

There should be another spectacular double shadow transit visible in Singapore in early January 2013. But the timing is less convenient and Jupiter's position is nearer to the horizon. Will blog or tweet about it in the future.

So wishing all of us good luck and clear skies tonight!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Sidewalk Astronomy tonight at Vivocity

Weather permitting, my friends and I will be conducting a free public stargazing session at Vivocity tonight from about 7.30pm.

If the weather remains clear, we *may* stay overnight there to observe Saturn. Yupe! The planet with the rings!

Depending on the crowd, there are 2 possible observation spots we can choose from:

(1) Sky Park @ Vivocity -- the open roof-top park at top storey. Open to public 24 hours. Jump to the 3:12 min mark in the following video.

(2) Sentosa Boardwalk -- long and wide bridge linking Vivocity to Sentosa. Open to public 24 hours.

More information on how to get to Vivocity -->

For the latest updates about tonight's stargazing session, please follow my twitter -->

If you are not on Twitter, you can refresh this webpage regularly and read the latest update at the right-hand margin where my latest tweets will appear.

Feel free to join us with your family and friends!

Wishing you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Iridescent clouds spotted in Singapore - 20 Dec 2012

On Thursday late afternoon, received a whatsapp message from KK asking me why people are looking and photographing the Sun at his work place. I thought it was some Mayan End-of-the-World prank. But thanks to amateur astronomy which influences us to verify the truth for ourselves and not to believe things at face value, I decide to take a quick peek out of the window at 6:06 pm.

Wow! I have never seen anything like that in person.

Quickly took a photo of it using my phone. Due to the poor performance of phone camera in high dynamic range environment, the shot is under-exposed. The overall sky was brighter than photographed.

The red patch in the middle was really intense and compact - like a small fiery ball.

Hazrie also noticed it at Bishan and shortly twittered this photo he took:

Roughly 20 minutes later, I took a look at it again and photographed it.

The crepuscular rays shooting up and out from that band of coloured clouds were truly breath-taking. Again, my photo failed to do justice to this beautiful painting in the sky. It felt unreal. Like watching a CGI animation in a Hollywood movie like Thor. Quickly pulled my Mum to the window so she can take a look too.

As expected, members of the public also took photos and some of them were submitted and published in STOMP. Check out the nice photos there --> "Rainbow-like" Clouds spotted in Woodlands and Khatib

Did some research to find out what is the best description of this phenomena. Came across this photo which matches closely to what was observed. The description is "Iridescence in thin pileus cloud above a backlit thunder head. Crepuscular rays from the low sun add to the spectacle." Check out this photo here -->

This video shot by YouTuber gueguensefalso in Nicaragua is very close to what we saw that day:

For more stunning images of such beautiful wonders in the sky, click on this Google image search result.

Regretted not making an attempt to video it with my video camera which was just lying a few feet away or with my phone camera. Too excited with the live visuals.

Anyway, hope to see it and captured it again soon!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Meteor Shower of the Year - 13/14 Dec 2012

Update 14 Dec 2012:

Even though the maximum peak night/hour is over, meteors can still be seen at a lower frequency from 14 Dec - 17 Dec whenever the sky is clear enough. They are still amazing to watch especially if you have not seen one before. The following content is still applicable for meteor watching for the next few nights. Good luck!


There is a Meteor Shower peaking tonight Thursday 13 December 2012 Singapore time. The name of this meteor shower is Geminids as the meteors seems to radiate from the constellation of Gemini.

How does a meteor look like?

Check out this excellent meteor shower video by Mr Y. K. Chia shot in Singapore.

So yes, if the sky is clear enough, we can still see meteors in this light-polluted city.

It usually burns up and move across the sky very quickly - less than 1 second. That's why you need to have patience to keep looking the sky for a period of time instead of checking your phone messages every few seconds!

And if you are lucky, they may last a little bit longer, have a little tail, leave a little trail in the sky and burn up in different colours (light green, blue, ...etc). If you are really really lucky, you may see a big fireball lighting up the sky and maybe even breaking up into places!

What is so special about tonight's Gemind Meteor Shower?

Firstly, it has a high rate of about 100 meteors per hour during its peak period, which translate to 1.6 meteor per minute. Secondly, it happens on a new moon night which means the whole evening will be as dark as possible without a bright moon lighting up the sky and shining in our eyes which will make spotting dim meteors very difficult.

When is the peak of Geminid Meteor Shower?

A meteor shower occurs over a period of days. It will peak on one or two particular night. That will be the best time to catch it as the probability of seeing them is higher.

Geminid Meteor Show 2012 is from 4 Dec 4 to 17  Dec. The peak period from today 13 Dec 3:00pm (Thur) to 14 Dec (Fri) 12pm noon Singapore time. So the best night to catch it in Singapore is tonight from sunset till sunrise!

What is best time in the evening to watch it?

You can start observing once the sky turns dark tonight until tomorrow morning before sunrise just before the sky turns to dark blue (e.g. twilight).

The best time may be around 3:00 am (14 Dec) when the meteor radiant point is high and you can just lie down on the floor, look straight up into the sky and take in as much sky area as possible with your eyes.

Which is the best portion of the sky to look at?

Geminids tonight seems to radiate from the constellation Gemini. Install the free planetarium app in your phone (Sky Map for android phones, Planets for iPhone/iPad) and locate Gemini in the sky during the night at look at that general direction.

Since Jupiter is near the constellation Gemini, an easier method is just to look a the general direction of Jupiter. Jupiter looks a very bright star in the North Eastern sky in the early evening.

I would like highlight this fact - meteors can happen ANYWHERE in the sky during a meteor shower! So don't get too obsessed about only staring strait at the exact radiant point in Gemini (near star Castor in Gemini). Use your common sense. If the sky area where Gemini is located is temporarily cloudy, then look at other clearer sky patches.

Where are the best locations in Singapore to spot the Geminid meteors?

You need a place as dark as possible with large open skies surrounding it. Coastal areas are favourable and also open roof tops especially on top of high buildings.

The darkest place may not have the big open skies and vice versa. So there must a compromise somewhere.

Gemini will rise into North East direction in the early evening, high up in the sky around 3 am (14 Dec) and then set toward North West till sunrise.

An observing site with great views of NE, zenith (straight up portion in the sky) and NW will be the best. Else either two of these 3 directions, followed by any one of these 3.

Here are some suggestions:

(1) Changi Beach  - Fantastic sea-facing  North East view away from the mainland city lights. Nearby hawker centre. Nice sea breeze.
More info:

(2) Marina Barrage - Big open skies and dark flat grassy field. Open to public 24 hours. Lots of car park space. Scenic view. Can lie down on the long stone benches. More info:

(3) Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park - Go to the middle of the big grass lawns at Bishan Park.
More info:

(4) Woodlands Waterfront - Too many bright lights at the jetty area. Go to the darker grassy patches. Plenty of car park space.
More info:

Do take note of your own personal security in dark secluded locations. I highly advise you to observe with more than one person.

Let me know via twitter or email if you know of other suitable meteor watching locations in Singapore.

What are the things to bring along?

- Reclinable lawn chair or picnic mat so you can lie down comfortably for hours.
- Warm clothings, e.g. jacket or sweater. Wear long pants and socks to minimise potential mosquito bites.
- Bring a binocular and do some stargazing at the same time! Better still, a telescope!
- Portable charger for your mobile phone and tablets.
- Camera and tripod to do some terrestial or astrophotography!

Things to do to enhance your meteor watch.

- Plug in your earphones and listen to your favourite music, radio station or audio books.
- Using your phone's hands-free micphone, chat with your friends. Especially those you have always wanted to catch up with but were always too busy to do so. Chat as in good old fashion voice chat, not sms/whatsapp as the brightness of your phone screen may disrupt your dark-eye adaptation.

Remember to go to a dark location and STAY in the dark location to preserve your dark-eye adaptation so your pupils can dilate and stay dilated as big as possible to catch the meteor lights. If you must check your phone regularly, dim down the brightness as much as possible or wrap a red cellophane paper around it. Dim red light can preserve dark adapted eyes.

The following video is an OVER DRAMATISATION of tonight's meteor watch. Easy to tell if you have seen Mr Chia's video above. But still lots of fun to watch! The end is near!! LOL

If you are on Twitter, let's tag the meteor shower tonight in Singapore with #meteorsg.

So good luck and clear skies!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Remembering Sir Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Alfred Caldwell-Moore passed away peacefully in his house on Sunday 9 December 2012 at 8:25pm Singapore time, age 89.

Patrick Moore is the greatest British communicator of Astronomy to date, perhaps ever. He was also a man of many talents and interests. But he is most well known for hosting the TV series BBC Star at Night for more than 50 years and has written countless books and articles on astronomy. He is the current Guinness World Record holder for the World's longest TV series by the same presenter. He has influence thousands of professional and amateur astronomers over the decades and will definitely continue to do so for many more to come.

No single article can do justice to his accomplishment, humility, wit and talents. If you are really keen to find out more about him, google him online, watch YouTube videos of him and read his autobiography "Patrick Moore - 80 Not Out".

The tributes have been pouring in online since and here are some very good reads to understand this eccentric but highly loveable and charismatic promoter of astronomy. Remember to click and watch the video links in these articles:

- Sir Patrick Moore, astronomer and broadcaster, dies age 89 (BBC News UK)
- Obituary: Patrick Moore (BBC News UK)
- Tribute by Chris Lintott - astrophysicist and co-presenter of BBC Sky at Night.
- Tribute by Brian May - lead guitarist of Queen and an accomplished astronomer.
- Tribute by Dennis Barker (The Guardian)
- Obituary by The Telegraph
- Stargazing eccentric couldn't forgive the Germans for killing the only woman he ever loved
- A Knights Tale by Nick Howes
- Patrick Moore and why knowledge trumps the vacuous appeal of celebrity


Back in Singapore, I was getting ready to blog about last Saturday's successful free public talk at the library cum live stargazing session when I saw the heart-sinking tweets - "RIP Sir Patrick Moore". I recalled reading Brian May's tweet about visiting Patrick a few weeks ago and just assumed it was some minor illness. But unfortunately it wasn't and Patrick is no longer with us.

Anyone who has an interest in amateur astronomy will be fortunate to know him via his books or online video clips sooner or later. But really fortunate are those who have met Patrick. Mr Au Mun Chew is one of them.

Mr Au is a passionate and experience amateur astronomer and a tireless promoter of this hobby and its related science for many many years. In 2005, he was awarded the Cadi Scientific Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics Singapore for his outstanding contribution in generating public awareness of Physics through the medium of amateur astronomy.

Again, no single article can do justice to Mr Au's accomplishment and contribution to the local astronomy scene but hopefully I will get a chance to do a proper interview with him in the future.

Earlier this year, I had a fantastic one-on-one opportunity to observe with Mr Au under the clear dark skies in Johor, West Malaysia. We had a great long chat before the sky got dark. His recounting of his meeting with Patrick was most interesting.

In the early 1960s, Mr Au was receiving his professional training in London when he first saw Patrick's BBC Sky at Night programme. One night in 1963, Patrick showed Saturn on the TV screen and Mr Au was hooked ever since! Patrick was then frequently seen in the London Planetarium which was near Mr Au's office. When the both of them finally met in Royal Greenwich Observatory, Patrick brought him to zero degree longitude and said "on your left is West, on your right is East."

For all those of you (including myself) who have been inspired by Mr Au to get into amateur astronomy and its related science, you have been indirectly inspired by Patrick!

When I saw the RIP tweet, I immediately recalled this story and messaged Mr Au to inform of him the sad news. This was his reply - "Astronomers have truly lost a good friend. A very great loss indeed. Now Sir Patrick Moore does not need a telescope, he will be amongst the stars."

Can't remember when and where I have heard about Patrick's visit to Singapore. With the kind assistance from Mr Au and going through archived newspaper articles for the past few days, the following is what I have found so far.


In December 1989, Sir Patrick Moore was invited to Singapore by The British Council and Singapore Science Centre to conduct a series of public lectures and also to celebrate the official opening of the new Science Centre Observatory.

This was his schedule as printed in The Straits Times on 11 December 1989:

"Monday 11 December 1989
Astronomy Through the Planetarium  - Singapore Science Centre at 2pm
Armchair Astronomy And The Stars Above - The British Council at 8pm

Tuesday 12 December 1989
Future Exploration of the Planets - Singapore Science Centre at 3pm
The Search For Extra-terrestrial Life - - Singapore Science Centre at 8pm

Wednesday 13 December 1989
Astronomy vs Astrology - Singapore Polytechnic auditorium at 6pm

All lectures will be followed by a practical demonstration on the telescope"

The following photography was taken outside the Singapore Labour Foundation Building (now demolished) just beside the JTC Building. Used with permission from Mr Au.

Photo caption: From left to right: Sir Patrick Moore, British Council Officer, Mr Jimmy Tan, Rev Father Paul Goh, Mr Au Mun Chew, Prof Leo Tan.

The following articles are from publications that belongs to Singapore Press Holding (SPH). I have spoken to and email corresponded with the SPH executive in-charge of web copyright and licensing. They can be published in this blog free-of-charge as long as it is and remains non-commercial (e.g. no Google Ads, no selling of products or services). Please take note, if you wish to re-produce them in your own online entities that has commercial or money-making related content, the fees are $500 per article per year. When in doubt, please contact SPH for more information.

11 December 1989 - The Straits Times, Page 2.

Moore of the stars
by Nancy Koh

Never mind if you cannot speak Venusian, or think Martians are some kind of milk-bar. Patrick Moore is here to prove you need not be a celebrity to enjoy the stars.

By way of introduction, Mr Moore describes himself as an "old coot" and "harmless astronomer who doubles as an amateur xylophonist, cricketer and tennis player".

He has been popularising astronomy with his monthly television programme, The Sky At Night, which has had an uninterrupted run in England for 32 years since 1957.

Although awarded an honorary doctorate for his contributions to the science, Mr Moore has had no formal training in the field and still considers himself an amateur.

He is here this week as a guest of the British Council and the Singapore Science Centre. His visit coincides with the opening of the centre's new observatory and he will be giving lectures from today till Wednesday (see box).

Taking his role as a "populariser" seriously, Mr Moore is expected to woo amateur astronomers and new enthusiasts with his sense of humour and easy, friendly style.

Many people, including children, have been to his English observatory to look through his telescopes, "and I am always glad to do what I can do to arouse interest", he says.

Mr Moore's passion for the constellations started at the age of 11, when he became the youngest member of the British Astronomical Association. he wrote his first paper - entitled Small Craterlets  In The Mare Crisium - when he was 13.

Since then, he has written several astronomy books and his lunar maps were used by the Soviets in the early unmanned missions around the moon in 1959. He was also involved in the United States' Apollo programme as a moon mapper.

Apart from the commentating on the Apollo flights for the BBC, he has covered eclipses all over the world (including in the Philippines last year), meteors and Halley's Comet in the course of his TV series.

He has met Albert Einstein, Orville Wright (who made the pioneer flight in a heavier-than-air machine at the turn of the century), Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) and Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon).

And he ahs interviewed great scientists such as Dr Harlow Shapley, who was the first man to measure the size of the galaxy; Dr Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet Pluto; and rocket researcher Wernher von Braun.

The astronomy series spun off a BBC programme called One Pair of Eyes, which featured people who were often unkindly called cranks but whom Mr Moore prefers to term "independent thinkers". These included what he describes as astrologers, flying-saucer enthusiasts, flat-earthers, hollow-globers, Atlantis devotees, and people who speak the language of Venus or Mars.

The production team also went down in the dead of the night to interview some witches on a blasted heath near Watford. Mr Moore recalls" "When we came back and played the tapes, we fell in heaps on the floor, but, alas, we couldn't broadcast them, and all we really managed in the end was the mewing of the cat."

But, he adds philosophically:"It takes all sorts to make a world, and life would be much more drab without those of unconventional thought."

Mr Moore himself can best be described as unconventional too. Though he has never had music lessons and describes himself as a "musical fake", he has produced records, and played the xylophone in the Royal Command Performance in 1982.

At 65, he still plays snooker, golf and cricket, as a spin bowler of his village team.

The idea of a nine-to-five job "filled me with horror", so he decided at an early stage that he would turn his hobby into some sort of a career.

With candour, he declares:"I haven't done a day's work since I left the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1945, and I never will."

Photo caption: Starry-eyed about his hobby, amateur astronomer Patrick Moore says:`I haven't done a day's work since I left the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1945, and I never will.'


12 December 1989 - The Straits Times, Home, Page 19.

Astronomer Moore dazzles JC students with tales of stars and planets

Do astronomers believe in Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs?

For British astronomer Patrick Moore, author of more than 60 books on astronomy, the answer is a resounding "no".

"What I once thought was a flying saucer turned out to be a pollen grain in front of my telescope," recalled the burly 66-year-old scientist at a pre-university seminar yesterday.

Dr Moore is known for his maps of the moon. These guided the Soviets in their early unmanned missions around the moon in 1959. And in the 60s, the Americans too used his maps in their Apollo space programme.

Yesterday afternoon, he answered questions from some of the 300 junior college astronomy buffs who turned up for his talk at the Singapore Science Centre.

Dr Moore calls himself "a free-lance amateur" as he is not attached to any astronomy research establishment.

His keynote talk was titled Astronomy through the Planetarium, also the name of the one-day seminar.

And even before his talk-cum-slide show could begin, he was questioned closely by his enthusiastic young listeners.

"What is the latest development in the stars, moon and planets?"

"Are there any humans on Neptune?"

"Will we be able to live on Mars in the future?"

All of which the host of his own monthly British television show, The Sky at Night, answered with equal enthusiasm.

For instance, Dr More told a young questioner that "you may live to see Man get onto Mars".

And the students seemed to take an instant liking to the astronomer.

One of them, Thomas Wong, 17, of National Junior College said: "I find him a fatherly figure who knows many things. He cleared my doubts on UFOs."

Dr Moore said his passion for watching heavenly bodies began at the age of six after he picked up one of his mother's books on astronomy.

"I just worked on from there," said the voluble scientist who wrote his first bestseller, Guide to the Moon, in his early 20s.

His talk at the Science Centre's Omniplanetarium took his audience on a guided tour of the solar system.

Using photographs taken by the American space probe Voyager 2, he enthralled his audience with close-ups of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere, Saturn's majestic rings and Neptune's clouds.

Dr Moore's visit was organised by the Science Centre and the British Council to coincide with the recent opening of the centre's observatory.

Last evening, he spoke on Armchair Astronomy and the Stars Above at the British Council.

He will also speak on The Search for Extraterrestrial Life at the Science Centre's auditorium at 8 pm tonight.

Astronomy versus Astrology will be the subject of his talk at the Singapore Polytechnic at 6 pm tomorrow.

These talks are open to the public. Admission is free.

Photo caption: Instant rapport ... junior college students crowding around Dr Moore at the Singapore Science Centre yesterday.


14 December 1989 - The New Paper, Page 10.

Stargazer debunks astrology
by Loh Tuan Lee

At first, it looked as though a showdown was looming between astronomy and astrology.

But last night, it was clear that self-styled "amateur" astronomer Patrick Moore was not about to waste his breath on "superstition".

Mr Moore, 65, had billed his public lecture last night as Astronomy vs Astrology, but he made it plain where he stood.

"Astronomy is an exact science... Astrology is superstition," he said.

Why so?

Astrology is a random linking up of stars into different symbols and each culture has its own symbols and interpretation.

"The Greeks linked the stars into stars into signs of the zodiac. But the Chinese and the Egyptians did not have the same symbols.

"Constellations can be what you make of them. They are disconnected stars arbitrarily given an identity," he said, using the constellations of Orion and Leo to illustrate his explanations.

Orion, for example, is made up of stars that are different light years away from Earth. One star, Rigel, is 880 light years away from Earth, but both Bellatrix and Betelgeuse, in the same constellation, are only about 500 light years away.

Seen from our planet, the stars appear to be on a two-dimensional plane, but in reality they are far apart from one another.

In Leo constellation, two of the "stars" that give the Lion its shape are not even stars. They are the planets Jupiter and Mars.

During his 1 1/2-hour presentation at the Singapore Polytechnic, he muttered disparagingly about "cats and hippos" in the sky.

Mr Moore not only disbelieves in the predictive potential of stars, moon and planets, he said the only way these heavenly bodies can affect the Earth is by gravity.

And these bodies, with the exception of the moon, are so far away from us that their gravitational pull is minimal. So there.

His polished presentation reflected his 32 years of experience as host of the highly popular British television programme, The Sky at Night.

He had the stars at the tip of his tongue and an array of figures about the solar system at his fingertips.

Yesterday was the last of a three-day presentation by Mr Moore. He was due to leave for England this morning.

Photo caption: Mr Moore: Astrology is superstition, he says.


16 December 1989 - The Straits Times, Section Two, Page One.

Stars get in his eyes
by Nancy Koh

Nancy Koh meets astronomer extraordinaire Patrick Moore, who was here this week to celebrate the opening

"OH SHUCKS!"...someone squeaked when the emcee asked for one last question. Sodden with mirth during the hour-long talk, the audience dissolved easily into gales of laughter.

From Monday to Wednesday this week, an elbow-to-elbow audience, candescent with expectation, had an appointment with the future, past and present, and nobody, but nobody, had quite enough of astronomer Patrick Moore.

Polar bear-like, with a few strands of platinum hair perpetually upright and a menacing monocle dangling from his chest, and dressed in a natty grey suit which barely hid his portly girth, Dr Moore gave giggle-splashed perspective of the stars.

He unravelled the secrets of the universe with irrepressible enthusiasm, combining a mega presence with potent chemistry: authority, humour and a singular style. No wonder an audience of 4 million per episode has tuned in to his 20-minute astronomy programme, The Sky At Night, in England for the last 33 years!

"What do the stars tell about us? Nothing! I think it's a waste of time. Astrology merely proves one scientific fact: there's one born every minute," he pooh-poohed with the trace of a shudder and laughed.

There is non of  Carl Sagan's glitz or Magnus Pyke's whimsical showmanship. Just plain facts with liberal does of slides and funny anecdotes. One need not dramatise, he firmly feels, as astronomy is sufficiently fascinating.

"He can talk for hours on astronomy and any subject," beamed Singapore Science Centre director Dr Leo Tan, no less an eloquent man and popular evangelist of science, as the audience milled around Dr Moore after one of his talks. However, Dr Moore said, in jest, he is reticent about three things: religion, politics and football.

His visit, as guest of the British Council and the Singapore Science Centre, coincided with the centre's new observatory in Jurong. He left on Thursday for Kuala Lumpur to advise the Malaysians on a planetarium they plan to build.

While here, audiences and reporters alike baited him with the question of extra-terrestrial life.

Heaving a deep breath, he chatted in the most congenial manner: "In our own solar system, I don't believe there is any lifeform, but only a certain amount of very low-type plants on Mars. Trouble is, the atmosphere is all wrong: Venus has too much, Mars has too little and the moon hasn't got any.

"Our sun is one of a 100 thousand million stars in our galaxy and we can see a thousand million other galaxies.

"The total number is absolutely staggering and I absolutely refuse to believe our sun is the only one to have an inhabited planet going round it. Saying it is one thing, but proving it is quite another and I have no proof at all."

Much to his chagrin, some of the 30 letters he receives daily are about sightings of flying saucers and bug-eyed monsters.

One woman wrote about an Unidentified Flying Object which flapped by her window. "My theory is that it's a seagull." he says with a guffaw.

His replies to oft-asked questions, though polished like that of a well-spun record, showed clearly that he does not sacrifice personal conviction for public applause and his credibility has grown with celebrity.

Dr Moore, 66, ("call me Patrick") makes no bones about his being a self-taught amateur, even though he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his moon-maps, which were used by the Soviets, as well as the Americans for the Apollo odyssey which climaxed in the historical lunar landing in 1969.

Like most "old coots" as he describes himself, he peppered his conversations with "When I was a boy ..." and vivid memories trammelled out gave a glimpse of a career illustrious enough to have made it into the International Whos's Who.

Picked up astronomy at the age of six from mother's book; left school at 16 when the war broke out; navigator with the Royal Air Force 1940-1945; stars hosting BBC television series, The Sky At Night, in 1957; Director of Armagh Planetarium in Ireland 1965-1968; composed and performed in Perseus And Andromeda (opera) 1975 and Theseus 1982; president of the British Astronomical Association 1982-84; honorary doctorate in science (Lancaster) in 1974; minor planet no. 2602 named in his honour, C.B.E.

He has also published more than 60 books, mainly astronomical guides (including Atlas Of The Universe, Stargazing, The A-Z Of Astronomy, Astronomy For The Under-10s) and cut records featuring his compositions and performances on the xylophone.

Dr Moore, who did not want to settle for second best and remained single after "the girl I was going to marry was killed in the war", lives alone next to his own observatory on the coast of Sussex, overlooking the sea and the village tennis club. He plays tennis and cricket, and still performs on the xylophone, as he did last week at a charity for handicapped children. He does not have any pets "but a small cat has me".

For one so loquacious, he finds it hard to explain his passion for astronomy.

"Why do some people collect stamps, which bore me to tears? But, of course, astronomy (the sun, moon, stars) is all around us and it is the basis of all time-keeping and navigation.

"Man is a naturally inquisitive creature and he wants to find out more, and that may be the answer." says he.

Although he has a macro view of the universe through the telescope, he reminds the skeptic that the Earth may be insignificant in the wider scheme of things but is still important to us, earthlings.

Some people regard him as an earthy realist, while others with a nodding acquaintance (such as those who have attended more than one of his talks this week) - tickled by his propensity for making fun of himself - forgive him for congenitally telling the same anecdotes, for example, swallowing a fly with a strangled gulp and continuing his TV astronomy programme as if nothing happened  a beetle dancing across the projection-lantern as he pronounces that Mars has no life form; describing the red, pock-marked Triton moon as pizza; and inviting the audience, with poker-face, to holiday in Venus if they want to be "fried, poisoned, squashed and corroded".

And for one who is proud that he has not done a day's work since he left the RAF except to dabble in his hobby, Dr Moore will be immersed in one or another of his numerous projects next year.

These include monitoring the launch of the Hubble space telescope in March by the Americans; commentating on the total eclipse of the sun for the Russians, who are sending out a Concorde to observe it in the North Pole; preparations fo rthe centenary of the British Astronomical Association (of which he is vice-president); polishing the publicity film he did for Europe's southern observatory in Chile; editing the monthly magazine, Astronomy now; and revising and updating the text for one of his bestsellers, Guide To The Planets.

How does he want to be remembered? "As someone who tried to introduce astronomy to people and encourage them to do things the best they can."

Fulfilment comes in the shape of amateur and well-known astronomers scientists who were inspired in one way or another by his programme.

Dr Moore sees possibilities for an ampler life and urges people to seize them - in other words, to reach out for the stars.

Photo caption: Dr Patrick Moore:`What do the stars tell about us? Nothing! I think it's a waste of time. Astrology merely proves one scientific fact: there's one born every minute.'


16 December 1989 - The Straits Times, Section Two, Page Six.

Star trek
by Nancy Koh

Star-gazing: How to get started

Do some reading and learn the basic facts. Get a pair of binoculars (no need for an expensive telescope) and learn your way around the night sky.

It is quite easy, just select one or two of the 88 constellations - Orion being a favourite - to use as pointers.

Visit the observatory at the Singapore Science Centre as well, and I think you will get hooked, like me. One thing you must never do, under any circumstances, is to look at the sun directly through the binoculars or telescope (even with a dark filter) as you are bound to damage your eyes. The moon may dazzle but it can't hurt you.

What you can see from Singapore

You can see it all from here because, being at the Equator, you have got the whole sky. I live in England at latitude of 50 deg north and anything more than 40 deg south, I lose.

The only disadvantage you have is a good many artificial lights around, which cause the sky to be less dark than it should be.

But you are lucky as you have a clean city, without dirt, smog and snow, which is the enemy of astronomers. It may not be awfully dark, but it's clear.

At the observatory on Monday, we saw the moon and Jupiter through the thin clouds.

How Singapore's observatory and planetarium can stir up interest

The observatory has a good dome. It is well-placed and well run by Dr Cheong Kam Khow, the head of Life Sciences and School Services Department, who is in charge of the observatory. It is a tremendous asset to Singapore and it will boost astronomical and scientific education, as well as regional scientific research.

Most things in the sky happen very slowly (for example, if you want to see Jupiter move from the present constellation, you have to wait for months), but you can produce things and speed everything up in the observatory.

You can replicate the night sky or an eclipse, show how stars move around, or project the Northern Lights (which only appeared once in Singapore 80 years ago).

How to make astronomy appealing to the young

Do not talk down to them. You don't have to dramatise because astronomy is a sufficiently fascinating and interesting subject. So many books are far too elementary, with words coming out of balloons. When I wrote Astronomy For Under-10, I showed it to a severe eight-year-old critic and told him to underline the words he was not happy with.

How sci-fi films and books help promote interest

Films produced by Steven Spielberg (who is collaborating with theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking on a film based on the professor's bestseller, A Brief History of Time) and other Hollywood producers are great fun!

I remember an important scientific meet was postponed by half an hour because it clashed with the last episode of a first-rate BBC sci-fi serial, The Quartermass Experiment. That was in 1952.

Sci-fi books come in two categories: some stick to the fact, others don't bother. There were two great writers in the past: Jules Vernes, who was not a scientist but who stuck to the facts as he knew them in the story, From Earth To Moon; and H.G. Wells, a qualified scientist who didn't bother with the facts when he wrote First Man On Moon.

Sci-fi has a habit of turning into fact. We now talk about inter-stellar travel and teleportation - well, it's no more sci-fi to us than TV was centuries ago!

How space research benefits mankind

You can't separate any branch of science any more than you can separate maths from algebra. There are medical reap-offs: heart specialist are anxious to know how the heart behaves under reduced or no gravity. The best way of treating cancer is by radiation, but the radiation coming from space is presently blocked by the Earth's atmosphere.

Space research has tremendous value, both scientifically and culturally, as it leads to full cooperation among nations.

On the Star of Bethlehem

The Star (which led the Three Wise Men to the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born) was only referred to once in the Bible and nowhere else.

It certainly wasnt't a planet - if the astrologers were taken in by Jupiter, it certainly wasn't very wise! It certainly wasn't two planets together, because it didn't happen at that stage; had it been a bright nova or comet, it would have been mentioned by astronomy books at that time, and frankly, if you want my honest opinion, I don't think it was anything at all.

What the future holds

It's difficult to see into the future: I remember, as a boy, I was always saying we would have artificial satellites in 1960 - and we did; I also predicted the first human on the moon in the '80s, but we achieved it in 1969!

We have to have both astronauts and unmanned probes, as man can do what machines can't and vice versa. Voyager 2 discovered a great deal about the planets, but it only made one pass of each planet, so I can tell you what Jupiter looked like in 1979.

But we haven't got close-range pictures now, so we've got to wait for the new probe, Galileo, launched in August, which will reach Jupiter in 1995.

At the present state of knowledge, the only world we can hope to reach by manned craft is Mars (certainly in our children's time) because it's a less unfriendly planet.

The US will launch the Hubble space telescope in March, and it's the first really big space telescope. If all goes well, I think by the end of the century, we should have permanent moon bases. It's scope, if all goes well, I think by the end of the century, we should have permanent moon bases. It's diffcult to say, but I think prospects now are even better than a while ago.

Photo caption: Dr Patrick Moore: "If all goes well, I think by the end of the century, we should have permanent moon bases."


Patrick's visit to Singapore was also reported in the Malay newspaper Berita Harian on the 12th and 16th of December 1989.

As I do not understand the Malay language, I may get my friends to help me translate them and published here as an update. If you do and would like to volunteer, feel free to drop me an email at

I could not find any related reports in the main Chinese newspapers during that period.


I hope BBC will produce a single volume DVD/Blu-ray compilation of all episodes of Sky At Night hosted by Patrick so that generations of people can have easier access to this man's genius and love of astronomy and be inspired to be amateur or professional astronomers themselves.

Do you have a personal story to share about Patrick? Do you know anyone who does? Feel free to email me at I can try to include them in this blog if you do not mind. Else, I will still enjoy reading them if you only wish to share them with me privately.

Patrick would be have been celebrating his 90th birthday in March next year. Now that he has joined the stars, March 2013 will be a celebration of his life.

I hope those who have been inspired by him (especially during his stay in Singapore) can host or participate in events big or small in Singapore during March 2013 in memory and appreciation of his contribution to amateur astronomy as well as getting more members of the public interested in the hobby.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Winston Churchill who once said, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Sir Patrick Moore definitely belongs to one of these elite few. Both in the context as a Royal Air Force navigator and as promoter of amateur astronomy.

Rest in peace, Sir Patrick Moore.


Update 5 July 2013

With the kind permission from Beng Yew, this is a rare group photo of Sir Patrick with the Anderson Junior college astronomy club back in 1989!

What a pity there is no more astronomy club in Anderson Junior college now as seen in their CCA webpage. Perhaps it's time to restart it again? Participating in School Astronomy Networking Dinner (SAND) may be a good start.

If you are in this photo and would to like to share your story of that historic day, please feel free to email me at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jupiter Opposition - 3 Dec 2012

Jupiter Opposition will be happening on next Monday 3 December 2012 at 9:21am Singapore time. This event will be visible in most countries after their local sunset till next sunrise.

Planet: Jupiter
Date: 3 December 2012, Monday
Time: 9:21 am
Visible Duration: Sunset till Sunrise
Apparent Size: 48 arcseconds
Distance from Earth: 608,696,510 km (4.068884851 AU)
Brightness: -2.8 apparent magnitude (smaller value is brighter)

Jupiter Opposition occurs when Sun, Earth and Jupiter forms a straight line with Earth in the middle of this formation. These are the implications:

(1) Jupiter and its moons will be nearest to Earth within a particular year.
(2) Jupiter and its moons will be most brightly lit by the Sun.
(3) When the Sun sets, Jupiter rises from the horizon and stay visible for the whole night till next sunrise.
(4) This is the best time to observe, photography and study Jupiter from Earth.
(5) Using the same astronomical instrument (e.g telescope), one will see and capture more details of Jupiter on this day compared to other days.

For 2012, Jupiter Opposition occurs on 3 Dec. The exact timing of 9:21am is not really that important. This is because Jupiter does NOT suddenly grow larger or shrink in apparent size immediately before and after this opposition timing. The growing and shrinking of its apparent size is a GRADUAL process over many days and weeks.

So you can start observing and photographing Jupiter from now till the next couple of weeks whenever the skies are clear and Jupiter is high in the sky. No need to wait for specific magical timing in early December.

The apparent size of planet can be measured in arcseconds. 1 degree is equivalent to 3600 arcseconds. Jupiter at opposition in Dec 2012 is about 48 arcseconds. When it is very far away from Earth, its apparent size will be smaller. It will also look dimmer from Earth as a result of the increased distance.

This is a scaled illustration of Jupiter's apparent size and distance from Earth at two different dates:

One arcsecond is extremely small and very difficult to detect visually even through a telescope. The apparent size of Jupiter (and all other planets) changes very slowly arcsecond by arcsecond over days. So again, there is really no need to panic if you cannot observe or photography it on 3 Dec 2012. Try again for the next few nights whenever the skies are clear.

Here are few ways to identify Jupiter in the sky:

(1) During the opposition period, other than Venus rising from the East shortly before sunrise, Jupiter is the brightest star-like object in the night sky.

(2) Like all other planets, it does not blink in the sky.

(3) Jupiter is near the bright star Aldebaran which is a red star. Use your hands to shield the stray lights around your eyes and stare at Aldebaran for a few seconds to see its redness clearer.

Face East-North-East at about 8pm in early December 2012
(4) Make use of your planetarium/stargazing app in your phone to find Jupiter. E.g. The free Sky Map for Android phones and Planets for iPhone/iPad.

(5) Install and learn to use the free desktop planetarium software Stellarium (

(6) Trial and error. Using a binocular or telescope pointing at what you think may be Jupiter and observe what you see. Try to focus your binocular or telescope at the object. It should look a small disc of light instead of a pinpoint source of light.

How to observe Jupiter?

You can observe Jupiter with a pair of binocular. Make sure you have adjusted the left and right focus properly for your eyes as well as the pulling the binocular further in or out to match the distance between your eyes before stargazing.

You should see a small white/creamy disc of light which is Jupiter and tiny pinpoints of light which are Jupiter's 4 brighter moons (out of 60+ moons). Whenever one or more of these moons go in front or behind Jupiter, you will see less than 4.

Using a telescope, you can observe the cloud bands on Jupiter. At certain times, you may see the massive storm known as the Great Red Spot (GRS) on Jupiter. You may also see the moons of Jupiter casting their small round shadow on Jupiter. These shadow can drift across Jupiter over a couple of hours!

Here are some useful links to find out when GRS and shadow transits will be visible in the sky:

(1) Sky & Telescope Jupiter's Moons (free online software)
(2) Sky & Telescope Great Red Spot Transit Times (free online software)
(3) Jupiter version 2.0 by Sylvain Rondi (free desktop software)
(4) Galilean for Android Phones (paid app SGD$5.33)
(5) Jupiter Guide and QuickSky for iPhone/iPad (free apps)

Do take note these Jupiter imagery you see here and in most astronomy magazines and books are usually images made from long-exposure astrophotography through telescopes and post-processed in specialised software. The actual live view through an amateur-size telescope will NOT be so detail, colourful and sharp.

BUT, having said that, the sensation and experience of seeing Jupiter LIVE with your own eyes is something that no astrophoto or video can replace! Just imagine how you will feel seeing something that is "alive" and hundreds of million kilometres away!

So, if you do not have access to a telescope, try to join free public stargazing events organised by SINGASTRO members, Friday observation sessions at Singapore Science Centre Observatory and Woodlands Galaxy Community Club.

I will be conducting another free public stargazing talk at Toa Payoh Public Library on 8 Dec 2012 (Saturday) - only 5 days after the opposition. Weather permitting, after the talk, my friends and I may be conducting a free public stargazing session outside the library and you can be sure Jupiter will be in our big telescopic sights! As usual, if I conduct any impromptu free public stargazing sessions, I will announce them in my Twitter which you can also read from the main home page of this blog even if you are not on Twitter.

Wishing everyone clear skies, good luck and have a great time identifying and observing this wonderful planet during the festive year-end season! Do spend time educating your family and friends that the bright "star" or "satellite" in the sky is actually a planet that can fit in 1000 Earths! And the Jupiter that we can see is how it looked like 30+ minutes ago!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse - 28 Nov 2012

There is a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse happening tonight which will be visible in Singapore if the sky is clear.

Date: 28 November 2012, Wednesday
Time: 8:15 pm to - 12:51 am
Greatest Eclipse: 10:33 pm

Moon Rise: East North East (ENE) at 6:47 pm
Moon Set:  West North West (WNW) at 7:47 am (29 Nov)

This eclipse will NOT be visually as spectacular as a Partial or Total Lunar Eclipse. It will only be slightly dimmer during eclipse, i.e. hard to notice if you just take a quick random look at the Moon and didn't know this eclipse is taking place.

This eclipse is also visible in other countries at different local timings:

Image Credit: NASA Eclipse website

There are 3 types of Lunar Eclipse - Penumbral, Partial and Total.

Penumbra is a partial shadow region between a complete shadow (darkest shadow) and a complete illumination. In laymen terms, penumbra is the lighter shadow, umbra is the darker shadow.

Sun, which has a diameter of 109 Earths, shines on Earth. It creates a shadow of Earth beyond the unlit side of Earth. We don't see Earth's shadow at night in the sky because there is usually no nearby object to project this shadow upon - except the Moon.

Due to Moon's tilted orbit around Earth, it usually passes above or below Earth's shadow region. That is why we don't see lunar eclipse every full moon when Sun - Earth - Moon forms a straight line.

This is a good illustration from Wikipedia. But take note the scaling of the size (and distance) of Sun to Earth is distorted for the sake of illustrating the shadow concepts. Remember the Sun can fit in 1,390,000 Earths!

Image Credit: Wikipedia

By proper astronomical definition, a penumbral lunar eclipse is different from a partial lunar eclipse.

For a lunar eclipse to be defined as partial, Moon must pass through a part (no matter how small) of Earth's darker umbra shadow at any time during the eclipse. For Penumbral, only through any part of the lighter shadow. For Total Lunar Eclipse (e.g. 10 Dec 2011 also visible in Singapore), the whole Moon must be inside the darker shadow.

This is a great video illustration of a similar Penumbral Lunar Eclipse captured in Singapore in 2009 by a local amateur astronomer (who joined us at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park during the Venus Transit in June 2012):

Some fun things to do for this eclipse tonight:

(1) See if you can visually tell the difference in brightness of the full moon before/after and during the eclipse
(2) Take photos or videos directly or through a telescope to compare the difference. Make sure the camera settings are the kept the same for all the shots (e.g. ISO, exposure, shutter speed).

Take note potential thin clouds or haze rolling on and off in front of the Moon will affect the detection and photographic documentation of this slight drop in brightness.

For more info about Penumbral Eclipse:
(1) NASA Penumbral Lunar Eclipse 2012
(2) Wikipedia


Tonight's Moon position is a good reference point for finding and observing other celestial objects:

Jupiter and the star Aldebaran forms a triangle with Moon. Extending a straight line roughly double the distance from the midpoint of Jupiter-Aldebaran to Moon to the other side of Moon, you will find a tight bunch of stars known as 7 Sisters star clusters (aka Pleiades, Subaru, Messier Object 45).

Full Moon's brightness may drown out the naked-eye detection of 7 Sisters but if the weather is clear enough, should be still spectacular through a pair of binocular or telescope.

Jupiter is approaching its closest distance to Earth on 4 Dec 2012. But visually you cant tell much of difference from now till then. So observe it whenever the skies are clear enough.

Above Aldebaran, notice an inverted V-shape pattern of stars. This represents the inverted horns of Taurus the Bull. Find Aldebaran with your binocular and continue to look slightly above (or around) this star. The gorgeous Hyades star cluster should fill up the binocular view!

Remember to breathe when you see these wonders around the Moon! Good luck and clear skies!

Update 30 Nov 2012:

Check out these awesome Penumbral Lunar Eclipse photos shot in Singapore by Mr Chia and Gavin:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturn Venus super close conjunction on 27 Nov 2012

Saturn and Venus will be very close to each other as seen from Singapore on Tuesday 27 November 2012 shortly before sunrise. They will rise from the horizon at about 5.00am. But the best time to observe them is an hour later at about 6.00am when they have risen high enough from the thicker atmosphere near horizon and the sky is still relatively dark shortly before twilight.

They can be located facing East-South-East and at the constellation of Virgo at about 15 degrees above horizon:

If the sky is clear enough for them to be visible, there is no way you can miss it while facing the correct ESE direction - two bright "stars" so close to each other. Close one eye, lock your elbow, extend your arm, raise your pinky finger and its finger tip can cover both of them with room to spare!

Venus will be blazingly brightly at magnitude -4.0 on the right and Saturn relatively dimmer at magnitude +0.7 on the left.

They are only about 30 arc minutes apart - the wide of a full Moon!

The implication of this is that they can be both viewed in relatively high magnification in the *same* field of view of a telescope. Most telescope at its lowest magnification will be able to fit both of them in the same view. This is quite a rare opportunity as sometimes planets come close together but they may be about 3 or 4  arc degrees apart. That means you will need a telescope capable of showing wide views (e.g. short focal length refractors) which implies lower magnification, which implies less planetary details observable.

This is how Venus would look like through a telescope:

I have deliberately overexposed this image to show how Venus look like through a telescope - like a bright Moon with phases. Venus's highly reflective and thick atmosphere makes it impossible to observe its surface detail. It is about 12 arc seconds in size.

This is how Saturn will look like through a telescope:

It's apparently size will be about 36 arc seconds (inclusive of the rings) - 3 times the wide of Venus.

Do take note it is not possible to discern the rings of Saturn in a small, low-power handheld binocular. You need at least a decent basic beginners telescope.

Would love to conduct a free public viewing session that morning but it is a weekday morning - good for students on school holidays but not so great for working adults? How many of you are keen to join in if there is such a session? Or you guys intend to organise a viewing session among yourselves and don't mind inviting me to come along with my telescopes? Drop me an email at

In any case, let's all pray for clear skies on that Tuesday morning and more people to be able to differentiate a planet from a star or satellite! :)

Update 27 Nov 2012:

A photo of the astronomical event at Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park (in front of McDonald's):

Friday, November 16, 2012

Free Stargazing Talks at Toa Payoh Public Library

Thanks to the kind support from singastro members, my friends and NLB, the last public stargazing talks at Toa Payoh Public Library in September has been well received.

As such, I have been invited again to give free public talks in November and December. Big thanks to Toa Payoh Public Library for sponsoring the venue, audio-visual equipment, poster printing and allocating 2 primetime Saturday evenings during the school holidays for these upcoming talks.

Here are the details:

Title: Stargazing in Singapore: Top 10 Celestial Wonders
Date: 17 Nov 2012 Saturday and 8 Dec 2012 Saturday (repeat session)
Time: 7.00pm to 8.30pm
Venue: Toa Payoh Public Library, Programme Zone, Level 1
Admission is FREE. No pre-registration required. First-come-first-seated basis.

Photo Credit: Orion Nebula by Mr Kelvin Ng
Special thanks to my astrophotography friends for granting me permission to use their astrophotos for the poster design and presentation slides. Can't wait to see the audience reaction when these photos are projected on the big screen! 

The talk content is about how to identify, observe and appreciate the best 10 celestial sights that is visible in Singapore on a clear night from now till early next year. Though the emphasis is in Singapore, the knowledge acquired can be useful for those travelling overseas for their year-end holiday trips.

Weather permitting, my friends and I may conduct a sidewalk astronomy session outside the library after the talks. This is totally a separate event not affiliated with the National Library.

Jupiter and 4-day old Moon will be visible on 17 Nov as well as the Leonid Meteor Shower. On 8 Dec, a few days after opposition, Jupiter will be visible after sunset and for those staying up overnight, Saturn will be 27 degrees above eastern horizon at about 6am and forming a loose vertical line with Moon, Venus and Mercury. And the south will look interesting again with Omega Cenaturi, Crux and Carina!  

Regardless of the sky condition on those days, the knowledge you acquire from these talks may reward you with many fun-fill stargazing nights for the rest of your lives!

So mark your calendars and feel free to join in the fun with your family and friends!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sidewalk Stargazing featured in Weekender Issue #7

There is a stargazing article featured in the latest issue #7 of Weekender. It is under the Hobbies section on Page 9. You can download and read this free weekly publication here:

Big thanks to writer Miss Lee Li Ying for the article and Weekender's Editorial Director/Co-Founder Mr Frank Young for the invitation to have stargazing featured as a hobby in Weekender.

Weekender is a weekly *free* publication by a social enterprise with the mission statement "Be Happier". This is totally in-sync with Sidewalk Astronomy - spreading the joy of stargazing to the public for free. All issues of Weekender can be downloaded at their Facebook page. It is also printed and sent to local homes with a circulation of about 230,000.

To find out more about this refreshingly positive publication, go visit and like them at: While you are there, download and read their previous 6 issues too. You may be inspired to start a new hobby or have a deeper appreciation of people who are passionate about their dreams and their craft.

Due to space constraint, it is not possible to include as much content as the writers would like to. As such, I just want my unlimited blog space to share some perspective after seeing the final stargazing article. Hope this will let readers have a deeper understanding of the published article and photos.

(1) Crazy dude pointing at sky at a beach. 

That's Changi Beach in Singapore. Taken shortly before astronomical twilight  It was the end of an amazing overnight stargazing session with Yuan Huan. The asterism in the sky is the famous Big Dipper which it looks like an upside down wheel barrow. 

Click on it for bigger image.

This is long exposure photography from a point-and-shoot camera on a mini flexible tripod. I had to set the timer, dash to the spot and point at the sky and hold still for a few seconds - like a crazy dude. :) The telescope to my right in the picture is my 8-inch Celestron C8 telescope mounted on a Vixen PORTA manual non-computerised mount.

Due to the text overlay in the publication, the last 2 stars at the "handle" of the inverted wheelbarrow were less prominent. Thus, reducing the visual impact of the wheelbarrow shape and its apparent size across the sky. But for me, from a design/layout point of view, the upper right-hand corner location is the only suitable location to show the text. Any other location in the photo will make the overall look aesthetically unpleasant.

(2) Sidewalk astronomy at Toa Payoh Central

This is our favourite sidewalk astronomy location which is just outside the main entrance of Toa Payoh Public Library. This is the same photo that was featured in Straits Times's "Seeing Stars" cover story in Digital Life as a much smaller photo.

Click on it for bigger image.

There are 2 white telescope there. The bigger white telescope at the back belongs to and manned by James. It is a 10 inch Takahashi Mewlon (premium Japanese telescope) mounted on a fully computerised tracking system.

The smaller 8-inch telescope towards the right margin of the photo was my Meade 8-inch telescope (which I had since sold) manned by my Clifford, freeing myself to take this photo. Mounted on the same manual mount as in the Changi Beach photo.

The queues were longer than the photo can fit in. And I was too lazy and tired then to do a panoramic shot.

(3) Observing with binocular

Over the years, taking photos of myself observing is the last thing on my mind as there are more interesting and enjoyable things to do during observation and sidewalk astronomy sessions.

Thus, this published photo is a last-minute wayang (pretend) shot taken on Deepavali a few days ago for this publication as the writer requested for them after I had already submitted the rest of the photos earlier.

Big thanks to my buddy Hazrie for taking this shot with his DSLR. The bench was very wet after the rain (see the reflection of my feet on the it). But after seeing and laughing at the wayang-ness of it now, definitely worth the "sacrifice" then of getting my track pants and t-shirt wet. :)

Most important thing to note, the location is at Bishan - Ang Mo Kio Park. A great location for private and sidewalk astronomy made popular by Dave and friends ( The reclining benches there are excellent for comfortable binocular astronomy and meteor shower hunting.

The better but super unglamorous posture for binocular astronomy on the bench is this: - back lying down on the sitting area, legs propped against the back-support area and using a binocular to look straight up at zenith which is potentially the clearest portion of the sky. Which was what I actually did during my last solo overnight session there where I shot Orion with my camera phone and twittered it.

(4) Photos of Saturn and Jupiter

One my earliest if the not the first serious attempts at planetary photography under average sky conditions with my Celestron C8. Jupiter was shot in northern Johor, Saturn in Toa Payoh. Not sure how much details will be lost in the printed version of Weekender. 

But important thing is that they are very poor representations of the Astrophotography standard of local amateur astronomers. For more jaw-dropping professional astrophotography, please look at the astrophotography section of Singastro, especially those submitted by forum member "Cataclysm". Or just come for my upcoming free public stargazing talks. :)

But ironically, because of its poor quality, it simulates quite realistically how they look like live through a telescope with decent quality optics under good sky conditions. 

(5) Photo of Moon

This is a single non-stacked photo taken with my camera phone handheld over the eyepiece of Dave's Celestron C6 telescope on a manual tripod and mount - no complicated astrophotography setup required. Taken during a good run of clear skies in September this year.

You can see more details in this bigger size version:

Click on it for bigger image.

(6) Photo of Orion 

This is a photo not selected for the final publication. Orion captured one day after Christmas at the public sky garden at 12th storey at Block 79 - the tallest buildings in Toa Payoh. Fifteen seconds long-exposure single shot taken with my point-and-shoot camera and basic post-editing in Photoshop.

Observe the iconic 3 bright-stars-in-a-line belt of Orion.

Again, this is not representative of the current high standard of astrophotography by local amateur astronomers.

Click on it for bigger image.

This article will not be possible without the unwavering support from my friends. Especially those from the SINGASTRO forum. You know who you are. 

So a big THANK YOU to you all. You guys and gals are the unspoken heroes who have been supporting this hobby in Singapore over the decades despite the ever-increasing light pollution and general lack of interest from the mainstream media and the formal education system.