Monday, December 21, 2009

Buy Telescopes in the Philippines

In the Philippines, there are lots of astronomy enthusiasts. Many of them are young people dreaming of owning a telescope and using it to "go where no one has gone before." Well, for most of them, the dream just remains a dream. The common problem is looking for a telescope to buy. It's a fact (at least as of this writing) that good telescopes can be hard to find in the Philippines. But the good news is that astronomy groups and organizations have stepped in to fill the void and help make telescopes more available in a country where food takes precedence over everything else.

Telescopes are a luxury in the Philippines but you only have to know where you can find them and then you can pick the right one for you, whether you're a beginner or an advanced hobbyist. For starters, some popular retail stores in the country like the outdoor sports store, Hahn, and sometimes, even National Bookstore, sell telescopes. These are usually refractors designed for land gazing, but you may come upon a fine 2 or 3 inch reflector that's more appropriate for star gazing.

In mall toy stores in the Philippines, you can also find maybe two or three small telescopes, but these will likely be just toys to encourage budding youngsters in the study of science. While you can always try to order a telescope online, the shipping expenses involved may not make that a practical move, unless the purchase is going to be funded by a corporate entity or institution. For telescopes for personal use that are affordable yet useful, you should go to individual dealers of local astronomy clubs. There won't be a lot of choices, and some will be hand made (especially the mirrors), but that's okay. They know their stuff and you can bet that you will also get reliable advice.

The astronomy/telescope community in the Philippines really revolves around the major national groups like the Philippine Astronomical Society (PAS) and the Astronomy League of the Philippines (ALP), but there are school organizations and regional/local groups that can point you to the right person. Information about them can be obtained from their websites and blogs like this one can be pretty useful in finding an astronomical telescope that you can buy.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perchance to See the Perseids in the Rainy Season

The Perseid meteor shower (August 11-13) is perhaps the most anticipated every year because of the high frequency of meteors. In 2009, it's hyped for it's up to 200-meteors-an-hour frequency. Still, the Perseids is one shower that not everyone can appreciate, especially if you're somewhere in the world where it's the rainy season. Yes, areas like Southeast Asia usually get typhoons in August and it's almost always cloudy. Residents of countries like the Philippines, where meteor shower gazing has gained popularity in the past decade, always have trouble appreciating the Perseids. So what can be done?

It's really beyond your control to change the weather where you're at, so the next best thing might be to take a look at satellite weather photos and try to determine the place in your country where there will be clear skies. If there are storms, ask the weather bureau where the skies will likely be clear when the shower comes, which is usually on the 12th and 13th of August. More often than not, you may need to fly to the selected place for observation and get accommodations well ahead.

Choose a place on the map where you can expect crystal clear skies. These areas will be obvious on weather satellite images. It pays to plan ahead and get to know the place a little bit by researching over the Internet. You have to consider ease of travel and security. Of course, you also have to determine if there's a place where you can observe the shower in peace and away from city lights. If you are in a group, consider getting assistance from a travel agency specializing in the place you've chosen.

Observing meteor showers is really easy. The best thing to do is to lie down on the ground just after sunset, look up and wait for the meteors to light up the sky, like the one in the photo above by Mila Zinkova. You may be lucky to get a few surprises like bolides, which are big meteors that break up upon entering the atmosphere! The Perseids would appear to have a central origin, the radiant, in the vicinity of the constellation Perseus (left).

If, despite your efforts, no suitable place to observe the Perseids has been arrived at. Then you can contact someone from another country and have that person do the observing for you. Documenting the shower with either a still or video camera is a good idea. If you don't know anyone else on this earth willing to do the observations for you, then just wait for the Geminid meteor shower. It's supposedly the next best thing to the Perseids, and it happens in December - on the 12th and 13th. Skies are usually crystal clear on that month and you'd likely get a good show.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Serendipity Counts for a Lot of Astronomy Discoveries: Comet Impact on Jupiter Seen by Australian Amateur Astronomer

Space is a big place and we only have the sky to peek into it. Even with our computer-guided telescopes, we cannot always be at the right place at the right time to see things happen. Fortunately, with a little serendipity and patience, sometimes, your sky viewing will pay off and you, the amateur, or casual star gazer get to make discoveries that will amaze even our friends at NASA.

Take for example, what happened on July 19, 2009 at the Murrumbateman (north of Canberra) home of Australian amateur astronomer and computer programmer, Anthony Wesley (44). He was observing Jupiter in his backyard with his 14.5-inch reflecting telescope when he saw what appeared to be a dark spot on Jupiter. He didn't immediately notice it, taking 30 minutes before he realized it was something else as it rotated for a better view and atmospheric conditions improved.

Wesley described the spot as a "truly black spot in all channels"and initially thought it was a dark polar storm. NASA JPL scientist Glenn Orton confirmed that the spot was a comet impact which caused underlying gases to well up and be seen distinctly in reverse in the infrared photograph above taken by the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii. He says they are extremely lucky to have an impact site at the right place at the right time as Jupiter rotates it more into view. As of this writing, they expect to observe how the spot changes in the next few days.

So, take the hint. If you are always stargazing and paying close attention to bodies like Jupiter (where things are easier to "spot" - pardon the pun), then you may just get serendipitous and make the discovery of the year! Note that in 2006, Filipino astronomer Christopher Go was also at the right place and time when he observed the Oval BA spot or Red Spot Jr. (left; to the left of the Great Red Spot) on Jupiter change shade.

In 1994, when the Shoemaker-Levy fragments crashed into Jupiter, similar black impact spots were made which were clearly visible using my 3-inch reflector. Of course, I already knew they were there, but remember that there's always the chance of spotting something new. Even a small telescope like that can give you astonishing results!

Read about the discovery and see the extraordinary amateur pictures of the impact from Anthony Wesley's website:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tektites Rock! How to Find and Collect Tektites

You've probably heard of that asteroid tracked to it's explosive demise over the Sudan desert in 2008 (fragment shown at left). Only a few meters across, it didn't survive intact and shattered before it hit the ground, sending hundreds of debris strewn on the desert sand. Eventually, fragments of the doomed asteroid were recovered. It was easy because astronomers knew where it went and it also left fireball dust like in the following picture left behind by the Almahata Sitta fireball.

A lot of meteorite collectors would have scrambled to get a piece of Asteroid 2008 TC3 if they also knew where to look. But the fact is that meteorites are quite difficult to find. Usually, scientists look for them on ice fields, where they stand out starkly against the white ice. Others prefer vast stretches of sandy desert, where they also stand out like sore thumbs. But of course, not everyone has the means to travel to the North Pole or the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia just to hunt to meteorites.

The next best thing to collecting such souvenir rocks from space is to simply collect tektites (top pic from Tektites, of course, are rocks that are the result of asteroids that have impacted Earth in the past. thrown high above the atmosphere as molten globs that solidified, they form strange shapes upon reentry into the atmosphere since they are melted again. They drop to the ground, on what are called strewn fields, as odd rocks that do not match others on the ground.

Here is a table of major tektite strewn fields in the world:

(million years)
Australasian Australia, Tasmania, Indonesia, Philippines, and most of Southeast Asia
Czechoslovakian Czech Republic 14.8
North American Texas, Georgia, Martha's Vineyard, Cuba 35
Ivory Coast Ivory Coast of Africa ~ 1.0
Libyan Libyan Desert 28.5
Irgiz North of the Aral Sea 1.07
Aouelloul Mauritania (West Africa) 3.5

If you live in a country or in a specific area that's part of a major strewn field, then you're lucky, because the chances of you finding tektites is high. In the Philippines, for instance, tektites are regularly collected and sold as amulets in Manila. People simply go and walk by the side of rivers and over fields to look for them. They are simply visually sorted out and picked up by hand from the other rocks on the ground. Most are small - an inch or two, but some can be as big as five inches in diameter or even more, although these big tektites are rare. Dr. Henry Otley Beyer (left), the renowned American anthropologist who lived with the Ifugaos, did most of the collecting of Philippinites. His collection now forms part of the National Museum displays, including those at the Planetarium at the Luneta park.

Of course, you have to know what tektites look like in order for you to find them. Most are dark and grooved, but others, like Libyan desert glass (left), are translucent and appear shattered. You can see samples of how tektites look here in this entry in Wikipedia. There you'll also see how some rocks like sandstone can have the shape, but not the texture and color of a tektite.

FACT: In the Philippines, tektites were once collected in Ortigas in Metro Manila. Today, there are the Tektite towers that stand along Exchange road to remind us of the richness of the area for tektites! You can check out one of the abstracts of the research papers where a find in the Ortigas site is mentioned, here at the SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System. Just type the words "tektites" and "ortigas" together and you'll find it.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Night Time Fun at the Harry Bayley Observatory

by The Wandering Scotsman

Last night I finally had the chance to spend an evening at the Harry Bayley Observatory here in Barbados, doing a wee bit of stargazing as well as getting the opportunity to see the moon close up.

The Harry Bayley Observatory is located in the Parish of St Michal; it is fairly easy to find, fortunately the directions we were giving over the phone were very accurate, if you head down Observatory Road you cant really miss it.

The observatory is named after Harry Bayley who founded the Barbados Astronomical Society and was built in 1963. We arrived early at about 8.45pm but things didn't really get going until 9.30pm. The observatory is only open to the public on a Friday and obviously it is only open, weather permitting.

The entrance fee was $12BDs for adults and $6BDS for children, which in my opinion was money well spent. The Harry Bayley Observatory is the only one in the Eastern Caribbean and the telescope used is a Celestron 14 inch telescope. I know they Society has long-term plans to upgrade their equipment and hopefully they will eventually raise the funds to do so.

This was my first trip to an observatory and I had been looking forward to it all week and I had been constantly checking the BBC weather forecast online to make sure the weather was going to be dry and clear. The excitement really started to kick in for me as I climbed the stairs as to the top of the observatory. As soon as I reached the top of the observatory I witnessed my first ever shooting star, what an amazing site.

Once at the top of the Harry Bayley Observatory the first thing you notice is the great nighttime view of Bridgetown. It was sure was fascinating learning about the various stars and constellations, which I have being seeing in the sky above Barbados since my arrival on the island.

I was looking out for little green men on the surface of the moon, but all was quiet and they must have been in their beds. The guys of the astronomical society are all very knowledgeable and passionate about astronomy and make it a really enjoyable and informative experience.

What I had originally thought was a satellite, was in fact Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, which is in fact the brightest star in the night time sky. Sirius appears so bright because of its closeness to earth and its luminosity. Did you know that Sirius could be seen from almost every inhabited region of the Earths surface, with only those living north of 73 degrees unable to see it.

The Harry Bayley Observatory is a fun and enjoyable evening out for all members of the family, it is something different and I will be back again in March when things will be a wee bit different up in the sky above Barbados.

Recently I have been amazed by the amount of stars that I have seen in the sky above Barbados, Star Struck In Barbados.

About the Author

I'm a budding Scottish entrepreneur now living on the Caribbean Island of Barbados trying to make a few dollars. I'm always on the lookout for business partners who are aiming to get involved in making money in Barbados through innovative business ventures.

I Garry A Wynters, "The Wandering Scotsman" and can be found at my two Barbados blogs, and the

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sky Sweeping with Your Eyes, Binoculars, and a Small Telescope

When you've grown to be all too familiar with the sky that you already know where to look in order to find an object, it sometimes get's to be tiresome when you see the same sights over and over. But the fact is that you can literally have a lot of things to see while stargazing. In spite of how the sky appears to be unchanging beyond the shifts of the seasons, it is really full of surprises.

Naked-eye stargazing is one activity where you can experience how the universe, or particularly the night sky, reveals some random events. Meteor showers, for instance, while predictable, actually provide a number of oohs and aahs when you happen to witness some unique displays like bolides or large meteors.

With the use of binoculars, you can even see more detail when it comes to certain areas of the sky, like that occupied by Orion the Hunter. With a pair of handy binoculars, you'll be able to sweep the sky with your eyes, focusing on a few things that cross your field of view. However, with the use of a small telescope on a tripod, the experience is considerable different compared to when using just your naked eyes or binoculars.

With a sturdy tripod, your small telescope can be an exciting tool into a space adventure. Lots of things are happening out there in space. It's not farfetched that while slowly sweeping the sky with your telescope on a tripod, an artificial satellite might suddenly cross your view. You have to be quick to follow it because it will be quick to pass. It may dim and brighten at regular intervals as it rotates, reflecting the sun at different angles.

There are many other things that can surprise you when sky sweeping. Sometimes, if you can't tell what it is, then it may qualify as unidentified, but it would likely not be an alien.

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