Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Total Lunar Eclipse at Bishan Park - 4 Apr 2015


This is my report of the Total Lunar Eclipse event at Bishan Park on 4th April 2015 organised by Singapore Sidewalk Astronomy.

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Summary:

- Solar astronomy session in the afternoon from 3pm.
- Heavy rain at around 6:15pm.
- Rain stopped at around 7:30pm.
- Total eclipse "blood moon" phase not visible due to clouds.
- Sky cleared up enough for Moon to be visible from 8:15pm.
- Remaining umbra eclipse phase visible (duration: 1.5 hours).
- Moon continues to be visible for a few more hours.
- Public observed Moon with naked eyes, live on TV screen and through telescopes.
- Public took photos and videos of Moon directly with cameras and handheld through telescopes.
- Observing Jupiter through telescopes from about 10pm.
- Sent some photos to Channel News Asia (CNA) for their news report that night.
- Huge turnout despite poor weather in the early evening.

This is a beautiful composite photo of the various stages of lunar eclipse captured by Dave Ng from Bishan Park on that night. The leftmost Moon photo was shot at 8:24pm. Best experienced in full-screen at original resolution:



This a video of the event uploaded by YouTuber "goawaycouple":



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Alfred and Dave conducted the solar astronomy session in the afternoon. Sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. They managed to capture some solar images and showed the public how the Sun looked like live through their solar telescopes.



The crowd were enthralled by Alfred's clear explanation of various solar features and phenomenon, enhanced with printed photos and on a tablet screen.


I was very impressed by the amazing solar images captured and processed by the young students in Alfred's school.


We were about to finish setting up our telescopes for the lunar eclipse at 6pm+ when a sudden light drizzle turned into a heavy rain! Thanks to Alfred for bringing trash bags along, our light buckets didn't turn into water buckets!



Everyone dashed into McDonald's for shelter. We could have selfishly carry all our telescopes into the shelter obstructing human traffic and denying people of shelter space. But that's not the right thing to do.


Dave and I wanted to further secure the trash bags over our telescopes with strings provided by Alfred. He went to his telescope and was struggling a little bit trying to hold a small umbrella between his neck and shoulder while trying to tie a string around the trash bag.

Seeing a bro in trouble, there's only one thing left to do.

Wearing my already wet hat, I walked towards him and helped him hold the umbrella to free up both his hands to do the tying. Needless to say, my shirt and pants were completely drenched. Then, the role reversed and I tied a string around the trash bag around my telescope.

In hindsight, with a combination of heavy rain and strong wind, both of us will be drenched anyway with or without the umbrella. That's how much we love our telescopes! The paternal instincts just automatically kicks in! My preciousss! :)

As to why my telescope was parked in a horizontal position instead of the typical upright position, it was because I only had time to make use of one trash bag during the sudden downpour (after making sure Haz get his trash bag before attending to my telescope), the focusing unit and eyepiece was at the front end and most importantly, there's a cooling fan unit attached at the other end of my telescope. In a typical straight up position, the strong wind would have easily brought rain water into the primary mirror from the sides of the telescope.

Seek shelter from McDonald's again. Phone rang. Went into the quieter air-conditioned premise to answer the call from CNA.

"Do you want this packet of tissue paper?" - a lady beside me said after seeing my drenched t-shirt sticking to my body. I was touched by the offer. Who says all Singaporeans are unkind? But still, I politely turned her down. It would take many boxes of tissue paper to dry me up.

"Thank you! It's okay. I brought extra shirts.". The extra shirts were meant for a humid evening where I would be drenched in sweat during the event. No dry pants to change to. But at least later in the evening, I don't look like someone who fell into the Bishan Park river while looking at the Moon.

It was kind of deja vu all over again. I was taking shelter in McDonald's when it rained heavily during our stargazing event during the first SG50 Concert at Bishan Park. I am sure the Hokkien word "suay" (unfortunate) was on everyone's mind. But "heng ah" (fortunately), the ending was also a good one. :)

The heavy rain turned into a light drizzle. Eclipse excitement was so high for this lady that she was chatting with Haz about astronomy under umbrellas!


The rain finally stopped at around 7:45pm. Except for myself who was too busy multi-tasking, the rest of us went back to their telescopes and get them ready for eclipse viewing.

The crowd came out of the shelter. More and more people from around the park started pouring in. It was still very cloudy after the rain. By 8pm it was quite obvious to me we will not see the short total eclipse phase where the Moon will turn red.

Was feeling quite disappointed at that moment. Weeks of preparation, discussions, online and offline publicity, hours spent creating the eclipse video, interviews with Straits Times and convincing them to postponed the stargazing article to last Friday instead of the Friday before Earth Hour. All these efforts seems to have gone to waste.

Was expecting the crowd to give up and leave the park soon. But most of them stayed and just kept looking at the eastern sky as if they are trying to use their eye powers to chase the clouds away. If they have not given up, why should I?




So I decided to use the most portable public address system available at that moment - my voice. Spoke at a loud volume to the crowds what we are trying to observe and that we will still be able to catch the partially eclipsed Moon if it is visible before 9:44pm.

We only have a couple of laptops and a huge crowd. Suddenly remembered almost everyone is using a smart phone with data plan in Singapore. That's when I quickly found a live streaming website (NASA on ustream) and announced its url address. Everyone got to watch the live streaming on their phone while waiting for the sky to clear. Alfred also started streaming it on his laptop screen.

After the event, Haz told me he overheard an auntie said I looked so Singaporean when I delivered my speech. Hey, I will take a dry comfortable singlet over a wet expensive shirt anytime ok? :) Should have wore yellow contractor boots since the grassy areas were ponding. :)

Then it happened.

At around 8:15pm, the Moon appeared!

It started with a thin bright crescent and played hide and seek in the clouds for a few more minutes before appearing in its full glory!

The crowd was electrified at the sighting! Many looks of relief and joy. They started taking photos, rushed to join the telescope queues and calling family and friends that they finally saw the eclipsed Moon!

Due to the tight CNA news dateline on that night, didn't have the luxury of time to take nicely composed photos of the event. Quickly snapped a few photos using a handheld compact camera and whatsapp'ed CNA. The first 3 photos were selected by CNA and broadcasted during their 10pm news segment:




Finally, I can start manning my telescope and enjoy observing the Moon from about 9pm.

Removed the trash bag and was glad the internal primary mirror unit was dry. This wide-field telescope was selected to take photos of Moon quickly via handheld photography over the eyepiece. With my other telescopes, I need to hold my hands and body extra still because of the narrower field of view.

Tried to get as many people to observe the eclipsed Moon visually before I started taking requests to shoot it with their phones. It was quite a interesting sight through the telescope. With naked eyes, the darkened areas of the eclipsed Moon looked featureless and opaque. This is the same result with most phone cameras.

But observing through the telescope, our eyes can see an incredible dynamic range of light - most interestingly, the ability to also see the surface details of the Moon in the shadowed portion.

The mobile phone through telescope shooting session was smooth and efficient. Point. Touch focus. Shutter click. Next!

Too busy focusing on snapping good phone pics for everyone in the long queue and didn't really have time to observe the crowd's reaction. But from hearing the oohs, ahhs, wows and laughter in the park, I knew this lunar eclipse event will have a happy ending.

Sure, seeing the greatest eclipse phase will be awesome. But being able to observe and photograph the partial eclipse phase for more than an hour is way better than not seeing the Moon at all. There was no burning-induced haze blanketing our skies like in last October's Total Lunar Eclipse. The heavy rain early in the evening washed away some of the smog in our urban city and made a supposedly hot and humid evening a cool and refreshing one.



When the partial eclipse phase ended, most of our telescopes were pointed at Jupiter. As usual, the crowd was amazed that "star"in the sky is actually the biggest planet in our Solar System.


It was a busy day for everyone. Most of us were so surrounded by people we could hardly observe what was happening at other telescope stations. I am sure the rest of the telescope volunteers and helpers have their own interesting stories to tell. If you meet them during our future sidewalk astronomy sessions, do ask them to share these stories with you.

Now comes the Thank You speech ...

Thanks to Alfred for bringing down so much cool astronomical gear, conducting the day and night stargazing sessions. Ever so patient with the public young and old, humbly sharing your knowledge, you are an inspiration!

Thanks to James for being so supportive of our Toa Payoh - Bishan events over the years despite staying at the far end of Singapore.

Despite some injuries to your legs and against my advice to rest at home, you brought your heavy and bulky telescope setup + TV screen + tables and chairs. You gave the crowd an experience they will not forget for a long time.

This is screenshot from the above-mentioned YouTube video. We delivered what we promised in national papers!

Credit: Video screenshot from YouTuber goawaycouple
It is interesting to hear from you guys that later in the evening, the crowd wanted to look through the eyepiece instead. Maybe they suspect you were playing some lunar eclipse DVD. :)

Thanks to Ava for helping out at the various telescope stations and being an encouragement for other ladies interested in space and astronomy. And also designing the beautiful bookmarks well-liked by audience of Toa Payoh Public Library talks as well as this lunar eclipse event. Keep drawing!

Credit: Singapore Sidewalk Astronomy
Thanks to Haz for showcasing your unique solution to mobile phone projection and photography of Moon and planets. You are a born storyteller, conversationalist and entertainer. And that's why you excel in sidewalk astronomy and always draw a crowd around your telescope.


Thanks to Desmond for helping out with your binoculars. Hope your first viewing of Total Lunar Eclipse was a pleasant experience and had fun doing lunar photography through binoculars. :) Your support in recent months in sidewalk astronomy is most appreciated.


Thanks to Dave for the solar astronomy session and lunar eclipse photography. I guess some media over-hyped the "shortest lunar eclipse of the century" aspect. As a result, some may give up observing and taking photos too early. Happy you managed to snap some good shots.


It has been almost 3 years to the month since we first met at Bishan Park at Grand Lawn I. Sidewalk astronomers come and go. You are one of the most dedicated amateur astronomers I have come across in recent years. Truly amazed by the astro momentum you have created at Bishan Park in just 3 short years. Let's keep the ball rolling!

Thanks to James Chan from Mayflower Secondary School for helping me out. You are such a fine young man. Composed, well-behaved and friendly. Your parents & teachers must be very proud of you. Thanks for your support in the Toa Payoh Public Library talks. It has been a pleasure answering your questions after the talks.

If not for your help last Saturday, I would not be able to take short breaks to reply phone calls and messages and taking short breaks to catch my breath. Feeling especially old that night as I walked up and down the huge steps.  You most definitely deserve to own a telescope and join us as a sidewalk astronomer!

iPhone cameras are incredibly fast and accurate in exposure. But for a budget smart phone, I am most impressed by the image quality by your Xiaomi Redmi 1s phone!

Thanks for sharing these photos taken with your phone:

Credit: James Chan. Cropped only. No further image edits.

The following phone pic was shot with James' phone through James' telescope (sorry can't resist :)).

Its exposure is slightly lowered in Photoshop to bring out more details at the expense of under-exposing the 3 moons.

The 2 moons of Jupiter Io and Ganymede can be seen so close to each other. Europa is a very dim white dot at the upper left-hand corner.

Jupiter at 10:54pm on 4th April 2015

Thanks to John and friends. Hope you had fun manning your telescope and thanks to your friends for looking after our belongings. Hope they are not Liverpool fans. :)

Thanks to Yuan Huan for helping out with his telescope. Seeing your long queue, it is proof yet again that there are still lots of people wanting to look through a telescope regardless of its size.

Apologies if I missed out any volunteers and helpers. You all brought a smile to someone's face that evening. Happiness can be experienced with simple acts of kindness.

Thanks to Bishan Park McDonald's for loaning us spare chairs during this event and our regular stargazing sessions there over the years. You are the reason why we still have healthy backs to continue to conduct these sessions!

Thank you The Straits Times and The New Paper for mentioning this Total Lunar Eclipse BEFORE it happened so that your readers have a chance to catch it and not to find out a day later that not only the missed it, they will have to wait till 2018 for the next one to be visible from Singapore.

Last but not least, a big thank you to all who came for the event. Your presence which collectively creates an amazing live stargazing atmosphere is what makes watching an astronomical event much more exciting than just sitting in a room alone starring at a computer screen.

The bonding among family, friends and strangers under the same sky is an incredible and unique feel-good experience. And to know that millions around the world are also observing the same eclipsed Moon at the same moment in time, sublime.


Now get ready to experience the Lord of the Rings in the coming weeks! You won't believe your eyes!

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