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!!!


  1. Really lift my hat off for you guys! Dats doing wat you enjoying as a hobby and sharing it with, literally, the people around you!! :-)

    1. Thanks for your compliment. Hope you had a wonderful 2012 too!