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Thursday, November 29, 2012

School holiday activities

From now until the end of December we've added a few more activities to our regular Friday night stargazing sessions. Normally, we'd focus our attention on the sky outdoors, however, with an increase in the amount of cloud and rain at this time of the year as well as being close to Christmas, it seemed like a good excuse for some indoor activity as well.

1) Planetarium Shows
Our inflatable planetarium has been very popular at the Singapore Science Festival and other events over the past year or so. Now its time to bring it to the observatory.
Inside the dome you'll be taken an out of this world journey through the constellations of the night sky and the planets of the solar system. During the 25 minute show, a presenter will explain the details of the celestial wonders displayed above you.
Price:$5 per participant
Duration: 25 mins
Maximum capacity: 25 visitors per show
Floor seating with cushion
The is a dark enclosed environment not recommended for children below 3 years old.

2) Light Painting
Another favourite at science festival events. Inside a darkroom, you can choose a light and use it to draw/paint an invisible picture in front of a camera. Using a long exposure your light painting will be captured on a photograph, which is then printed for you to take home.

Price: $2 per go/photo
Light painting can be done individually or in groups of twos or threes. Only one photo is issued per two dollars.

3) Light Catcher 
This hands-on, model making activity involves using a variety of reflective and translucent material to capture light and create many colourful effects.
Price $2 per set

In addition to these we also have our free colouring cards and a small collection of reference books available, should the clouds refuse to move away.
Of course, our telescopes will still be open for free stargazing, once the sky is dark and clear enough.

Happy stargazing and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Venus and Saturn Conjunction

This week and next week there are a couple of nice planetary alignments.
On Tuesday 27th November, Venus and Saturn were in conjunction  meaning than Venus (the faster and closer of the two) moves in front of Saturn and begins to overtake it.

When viewed from Earth they appear very close together in the sky during the early morning (6am-7am). Each day moving further apart as Venus flies past Saturn, further away from Earth towards the other side of the Sun.

I missed the actual conjunction on Tuesday morning, it was rainy, but managed to wake up half an hour early this morning (Wed 28th Nov) to take a few photos.
Fortunately, it was very clear, apart from a bit of mist and hazy. I didn't have a large tripod handy so had to make do with a small portable one (which I got free at an IT fair). Had to hold it steady with my hands whilst lying down on the ground. Got a few curiosity looks from some passer by on their morning run.
The photo turned out alright apart from a slightly elongated shape to Venus and Saturn due to the movement of the tripod.
Venus (brightest) and Saturn (above) - 28th Nov 2012 6:15am - Singapore

Next week is Jupiter's turn to align with Earth, in what's called opposition, where it will be at it brightest, but not by much compared to how it looks this week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

1 night, 3 planets, 2 satellites, the Moon and stars!

Last weekend on the evening of  9th-10th Nov, there were lots of bright and interesting things up in the sky. Fortunately, the night was partially clear and I was ready with my camera to snap some photos.

First up was an Iridium Flare. These bright communication satellites only reflect sunlight for a few seconds at specific points in their low earth orbit (LEO). On Friday night 7:48pm we assembled the volunteers and visitors at our stargazing session together to witness the event.
Faint Iridium Flare - thin white line, centre, amidst the clouds - Friday 9th Nov 2012
This was my first attempt at photographing an Iridium flare. In my haste I didn't quite get the exposure and ISO setting correct, so it didn't turn out so bright but it was partially hidden by clouds also.

Next was Uranus. I've been trying to get a shot of this dim planet for more than a month now but the sky was always too bright and cloudy. Towards the end of last Friday's session, attempted to locate it in a clear patch of sky near the zenith. A bit of a challenge as our right ascension coordinates on our 1980's Pentax telescope controller are no longer working accurately. However, I was able to locate it in the finder with the aid starry night software and Google Sky Map.
Uranus - 9th Nov 2012 - Taken with Nikon D70s DSLR through 16" Cassegrain

Several visitors patiently waited until the the end of the session to catch a glimpse of Jupiter around 10pm.
Afterwards, I swapped the eyepiece for a T-Adapter and took a few shots. It was hard to get a sharp focus due to Jupiter's low altitude at the time (around 20degrees). It was nice to see the four Galilean Moons flanking Jupiter, with two on each side.
Jupiter - 9th Nov 2012 - taken using Nikon D70s DSLR through 6" refractor telescope.

Jupiter with Galilean Moons - from the top: Ganymede, Europa, Jupiter, Io, Callisto - 9th Nov 2012 - taken using Nikon D70s DSLR through 16" Cassegrain telescope.

Jupiter - 9th Nov - taken with Nikon D70s camera using 2x Barlow lens through 16" Cassegrain telescope.

Reaching home around 11:30pm, I set my alarm for 5am to see a bright ISS flyby.
At 5:30am (Sat 10th Nov) I was ready outside with my camera, tripod and the mosquitoes.
It took about 4 mins for the space station to go from SW to NNE, however I kept my exposures to 30 seconds as I was worried the background sky would become too bright if I'd opened to shutter for longer.
ISS travelling between constellations Canis Major (above) & Orion (below), towards Canis Minor (top).

Fully awake with a bunch of bright objects in the sky, I continued to take more photos for the next few hours.
Jupiter (bright object at the bottom) with Orion (centre), Sirius (top left) and Procyon (Canis Minor, top right)

Moon (top) and Venus (below) - 6:20am Sat 10th November - Singapore

Waning Crescent Moon

Finally, sunrise came and as I leave near Changi Airport, I also got a shot of some planes before the sun came up.
Out of focus "Solar Pillar" phenomenon before sunrise 6:40am Sat 10th November

Plane landing at sunrise 6:50am

The Sun - shortly after sunrise - 7:20am Sat 10th Nov

Thursday, November 1, 2012

November Night Sky

Halloween is over and November is here. As mentioned in my previous post, this is the time of year that Singapore experiences its earliest sunrise and sunset.

For the first half of November the Sun will rise at about 6:46am and set at 6:50pm. From now on, sunrise and sunset will gradually get later and later until around February 10th, where they reach their latest times of 7:17am and 7:21pm (in Singapore and other equatorial regions). Only half an hour different but it is noticeable  so enjoy those brighter morning this month.

Weather-wise, its still very rainy as we head further into the end of year rainy season. Although there are still some hot and sunny days here and there.
Here's a number of things can be seen on those occasional clear night.

The Moon

The best nights to observe the Moon at SCOB will be Friday 16th Nov (crescent Moon) & Friday 23rd Nov (Gibbous Moon).

Wednesday 28th November 2012, is the smallest Full Moon of the year, as this month's Full Moon coincides with the Moon's apogee or furthest distance from the Earth (roughly 406,364 km away).

However, the effect will be hard to notice as the size difference in the sky compared to other Full Moons will only be very slight. Although, I'm sure many photographic illusions will appear at this time to make the moon appear teeny-tiny.

Stars and constellations
Constellations in the early evenings of November are pretty dim. The brightest are located towards the North, the most obvious being the square shape of Pegasus and three bright stars forming the backbone of Andromeda (the Princess).

Located within this area are a few interesting objects:
1) Andromeda galaxy (M31) - one of the brightest and closest galaxies to our own Milky Way. Not such a great sight from Singapore, due to light pollution, but on a really clear night with no Moon, I've seen it as a  dim glow in our main 16inch telescope. (9th Nov and 30th Nov will probably the best Fridays to try this).
2) Gamma Andromedae - a bright double with a distinctive gold and blue colour pair of stars (when seen through telescopes).
3) The Triangulum - small constellation of three stars easily visible in binoculars and the naked eye.

Later in the evening towards midnight the bright constellations of Taurus and Orion begin to appear.

Uranus and Neptune are still around, high up in the sky, but they only appear as tiny faint dots.
Jupiter, one of the brightest planets in the sky, is visible just before 10pm. So we'll be aiming our telescopes towards Jupiter at the end of our Friday night stargazing sessions.