Amateur Astronomy

LIGO Press Conference


February the 11th was an epic day. I walked down the Infinite and couldn’t stop grinning the largest grin to myself. This was the day LIGO released their discovery of gravitational waves. I saw Matt Evans, my Quantum Physics professor as suited up and I told him, “You’re a celebrity today!”. Evans  was amongst the people heading the LIGO lab at MIT.

Here are some of the notes I took from the LIGO Press Conference at MIT.  They’re rather rudimentary.

  • Gravitational waves are oscillating tides traveling at the speed of light on the surface of spacetime.
  • Different masses create different waveforms.
  • Observed blackholes, of 36 and 29 solar masses, which merged 1 billion years ago.
  • Observations can tell us metallicity in stars that a lot smaller.
  • Change in length of interferometer = Wave amplitude * Length of interferometer
  • The change in length measured is in the order of 10**-18 m, which is about the size of a proton. Interferometer measured 4000m and wave amplitude is in the order of 10**-21 m.
  • Advanced LIGO observes distances of 0.1 to 1Gpc.
  • BICEP observes waves from the Big Bang.
Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Physics, The Universe | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Lyrid Shooting Stars

So I’ve got the orange skies, the moon glare, and clouds – it can’t get any worse!

For all you lucky ones out there with clear skies, here goes:
NatGeo’s Sky-Watchers’ Guide: How to See Lyrid Meteors This Weekend.

I’ll be keeping a lookout till the 25th though…Ohhh it’ll be great to catch something – it has been so many years since I last saw a shooting star and it a lovely sight – so speedy!

Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Observation Tips, Shooting Stars | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Astronomy gear that tempt me ohhh so bad.

After a year and a half of OptCorp and Cloudynight/Astronomyforum reviews, here’s what I’ve come up with.

My “Must Have” or rather ‘Futilely Desire” list:

1. A Barlow (would love a Televue 2″ 2x Powermate)
2. A Wide Field Eyepiece ( aVixen 1.25″ 40mm NLV seem like the best bet! – would love the 2″ 50mm, if not for the extra 100 dollars!)
3. A Devoted Planetary Eyepiece (William Optics anyone?)
4.A Stellarvue (yes you heard it!) 10x60mm Finderscope – that’d also serve as a mini portable refractor for the planets, with its 2″ focuser, and 1.25″ adapter.
5. A pair of binoculars (less than 70mm aperture, so I wouldnt need a tripod) ….or should I get a monocular? Waterproofing is great as well! Any recommendations?
6. A Baader Planetarium Moon & SkyGlow filter.

And yes, you must know my scope and viewing conditions.
I have a 10″ Dobsonian Skywatcher.
And the basic set of accessories that come with it, a 24mm and a 10mm Plossl.
Heavy light pollution and haze from my side. Viewing is mostly limited to planets.
But occasionally the skies are clear – and I get to catch the brighter nebular. Still a dream of mine to catch the Horsehead Nebula someday.
Thinking of getting a wild-field eyepiece to starhop. Do you think it’ll work? There really isn’t much point in starhopping with a finderscope, as the stars are too dim from where I’m at.

So let me know what’s your favourite pick? And if you’ve got any other suggestions, that’ll be great!

Till then, cheers!

ps. This is THE best article I’ve read on planetary eyepieces. Learnt so much from it – and it wasn’t a tad bit boring at all!
6mm Lunar/Planetary Eyepiece Comparison – by Bill Paolini

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A Brief Observing Guide for Asteroid DA14

The best pic I’ve seen thus far, for catching asteroid DA14.
All times are in GMT, on Feb the 15th. The asteroid begins from the bottom of Leo and moves to the Plough.

You’d need a pair binoculars (50mm aperture is the minimum, I believe) to see it. It’s too faint for the naked eye, about 250 times fainter than the stars of Ursa Major (the Plough). If you’ve got a telescope, all the better!

Sadly, I can’t be catching it today…Ohh why (said in anguish!)
The clouds are too heavy down here. I can’t see a single star – so there’s no way I could navigate the constellations.

And if you’re from the Americas, you won’t be able to catch it too, as its daytime. But, if you’re at the Eastern Hemisphere, keep a lookout.

This is the view from home. Not the best pic, but the skies are entirely void of stars today – and it’s all just an orange blur (though the sky looks black in the pic).
Oh well…

…guess I’ve gotta wait  40 more years before I see you. Till 2046 then!20130216-021604.jpg

Good luck hunting guys!

And yes, don’t forget to check out these links:
1. How to spot Asteroid 2012 DA14 – by The Guardian
2. NASA’s Guide

My bed’s calling 😉

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21/12/12 – an interesting sighting

So, Doomsday, couldn’t miss out on that, could I?
Yeah, i know it’s a bit out of date – but anyway…I’ve got an interesting sighting (for myself at least).

Always, Jupiter’s orange bands lie almost horizontal when seen through my scope. Sometimes, they’re in line (on the same plane) with Jupiter’s moons.

But around 11pm, on the 21st December 2012…(ta da da)

The bands were almost vertical.
But Jupiter’s 4 biggest moons, were scattered about the usual horizontal plane.

I had to make a sketch of it. And as soon as I get it scanned, I’d post it.

So, take a look at the sketch and let me know what you think.
Perhaps it’s got something to do with Jupiter’s speedy rotation (one rotation takes 9.9 hours) or tilt-too-much of its axis (if that ever happens).

So intriguing.

Do enlighten me, if you can.

Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Misc, Physics, Planets, Solar System | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Party Time!

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Was looking through some old pics and I stumbled upon this bunch.

Our stargazing night to catch Saturn! Sometime around mid this year I believe. And we had late night park-walkers joining in! The clouds were coming in and we were keeping our fingers crossed. And we were lucky to catch Saturn in time! It was the first sight of the beautiful planet – its rings and the Cassini Division – for many of us, including myself! And when the clouds rolled in, we packed up and headed off for some seriously unhealthy but the sweetest supper: “Roti Tissue”, paper thin pancakes cooked with a layer of condensed milk. Sounds good right.

One mystery though…Some of them said Saturn looked white, but to me, it was orange….

How’s Saturn like to you?

Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Misc, Observation Sites, Solar System, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Clear Skies!

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It’s 4 AM and Jupiter, Mars, and Orion are right above my balcony. Whatta treat!!

Been such a long time since we’ve had clear skies and when it was clear last night, I just had to take the Dob out! – despite loosing much sleep…with upcoming exams, oh noo!

Btw, Jupiter doesn’t look nearly like the picture I took…after 1/2 and hour struggling to get (and focus) it into the field of view of the camera. You’ll actually be able to see its orange rings with a 24mm Plossl, and swirls on it with a 10 mm Plossl eyepiece! Mars was orange as usual. And the Nebula with its Trapezium, frozen in time. Bout time I get some filters – for some colour with the nebula and for better definition of the Great Red Spot. And I reallyyyy wanna see the Horsehead nebula on Orion!

Any thoughts on good filters? I’m thinking Baader’s Moon and SkyGlow filter – seems like a good all around filter for both sodium vapour wavelengths (light pollution) and for contrast.

Clear skies!

Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Misc, Observation Gear, Solar System | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

StarHopping – Old Skool Style

So, if you don’t have a PushTo, GoTo or a Telrad (like myself), this is whatcha gonna need for some old-skool style star-hopping.


Star Chart

Here’s a link to a free downloadable version which I’ve used for my observation nights with my club: SFA Star Chart. Star Charts map constellations, nebulae and galaxies, and they sometimes even indicate brightness! So, before you start observing, you’ll need a star chart to know what’s up in the sky tonight, decide which object to hunt for and use the pattern of stars to guide you there. Without star-hopping, locating an object is like looking for a needle in a haystack – especially if your eyepiece has a narrow field of view and a short focal length – talk about tunnel vision!


A Compass


The trick is to imagine your star chart as a sphere encapsulating Earth.

From the Equatorial Region

Check your Star Chart and lookout for today’s date (its on the horizontal axis). If you imagine a vertical line through the point which marks the date, that would be the view of the skies at the Celestial Meridien at 8 pm. Then on, just minus or add the time of your viewing to the Meridien (at 8 pm) and shift your focus (the imaginary vertical line) on the map – basically, aligning the Celestial Meridien to the current time. So, if you’re observing at 11pm, you would need to add 3 hours (11-8=3) to the 8pm Meridien, which means, looking 3 hours to the left of the imaginary 8pm Meridien line on the map. if you’re observing at say 7 pm, look an hour (8-7=1) to the right of the 8pm Meridien. Once you’ve approximated your vertical axis, look up to the skies and align it with what you see.

Now if you wanna see the Eastern sky, align yourself to face East – here’s where the compass comes in. Look at the left of the vertical line which matches your time of viewing and date. And if you want to see the Western sky, face West and look at the right of the imaginary line. You see, as Earth rotates, you’ll see new stars emerging on your East and other stars falling under the Western horizon.

It all may sound quite confusing. So, back to basics, imagine your chart as a sphere wrapped around Earth, and remember how Earth’s rotation makes the sky look like its moving. Check out: Why Stars Move

Next up, is using your hands. Once, you’ve located what you see on the chart, to hop to the right star, you’ll need to measure. On the chart, are “latitude lines” 10 degrees apart. How on earth would you know what’s 10 degrees apart in the sky. Well, make a fist and point it up to the sky, the length of a fist measures 10 degrees in the sky. The thumb, about 5 degrees. And if you open you hand as wide as possible, from the tip of the little finger to the thumb’s tip, 25 degrees.

Now, you’re all set!

Zoomed in Star Chart

ps. What’s the Celestial Meridien?It’s a circle the passes through the north and south celestial poles, the zenith and nadir. Read: Measuring the Sky to find out more.

Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Observation Gear, Observation Tips, Stars | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jupiter Watch

Last year, when I first bought my scope,  I didn’t realize how much weather conditions affected observing. And so I thought I would be up stargazing every night, recording and collecting my observations to make my own deductions.  But, the haze (swept from Indonesian peat fires) and rain clouds in Malaysia has severely limited my observation nights instead…Darn you weather!

But,  last year,  there was a week with two clear nights (a rare event from my home). It happened when the monsoon rains cleared sometime in October. And guess what, Jupiter was up. It was the first planet I ever saw in real!

Here’s My sketches of Jupiter. I used a 24mm and 10mm Skywatcher Plossl to view the gas giant. Check it out! To the naked eye, it appeared as the brightest star in the sky. And I was lucky enough to catch all four of it moons on one night!

Jupiter season should be back soon, can’t wait. I’m praying the skies will finally clear up by then!



Have you seen Jupiter? I’ve been saving for a set of planetary eyepieces –  I really want to get a better view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

If you’re from the tropics, what’s the weather like there? Similar to Malaysia?


Categories: Amateur Astronomy, Observation Sites, Observation Tips, Solar System | Tags: , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Becoming an Amateur Astronomer

Hey guys! Sorry for not writing in the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been so busy with university applications and my new semester at college – it’s hard to even find the hours to sleep! But I’ve finally found some free time – and can’t wait to start posting again! So here it is…

First up – on becoming an amateur astronomer.

There’s only one way.

Be inspired .

You gotta feel the excitement of looking up at a clear the night sky! Trust me, all the books and videos in the world can never match the real thing – seeing a night sky for yourself! In my case, it happened when I really young, on a bus ride through rural Malaysia, past villages in the state of Perak. As I looked out of the windows, I was shocked to see hundreds of stars in the night sky – and was simply mesmerized! My aunt sitting next to me (the only other person awake), who would have seen questions written all over my face, told me there were billions of these stars in the sky, each burning for billions of years. I had never heard of something so vast, immense and ancient before –  and I was hooked!

In Malaysia, you could take a drive to the islands like Pulau Perhentian or Tioman for some serious stragazing. The remote highlands or hills (last year for instance, I went stargazing atop the hills of Kuala Kubu Bharu in Pahang) are good observation sites too.. Even on the North-South highway, my sis and I caught the Big Dipper and Orion, as we travelled through the state of Johor. All you need is a clear dark sky. But beware! The monsoon seasons (the Southwest Monsoon from May to September, and the Northeast Monsoon from November to March) here bring in some heavy clouds that might take days/weeks to clear. But if the haze hits Malaysia, it might take months to clear – just like the one we’re having now. But besides the climate, Malaysia is a wonderful place for stargazing.

What about your country? What’s the best spots for stargazing?

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