From the classroom, to the Universe

Astronomy in the Philippines

Buying Your First Scope 

Getting that “first scope” is the most difficult task for anyone starting out in astronomy. Walking in a telescope store or simply browsing online among the plethora of products, most of us would go round in circles trying to find out which is the “best” for us. In this guide I’ll let you see through some pros and cons and pitfalls to avoid in buying your first scope.  

1. Budget 

If truth be told, it IS the deciding factor in buying your first telescope. To simply put, if I have a billion to spend, I’d probably get the best that there is! Or just buy myself another space telescope if ground isn’t enough for me.   

So how much are you willing to spend? As a rule of thumb, anything cheap doesn’t do well and if you want better quality and performance, the price does simply go up! If you are playing it safe around cost vs performance, you’d probably be ready to spend 20,000 php to 30,000 for a start. Get ready to spend more as you get more serious in it!  

Pitfalls to avoid: 

Avoid cheap toyish telescopes that falsely advertise seeing planets and the universe saying it can zoom up to 500 times! It might, to a certain degree but it would only frustrate and dampen your high for the sky. These department store telescopes is made of very poor plastic materials thus leading to bad optics. Again, stay AWAY from it.  

But there are as well entry-level telescopes from a well known manufacturer that are “computerized” or called as “go-to” that is designed to locate objects in the sky by a push of a button. But it only makes it more expensive rather than an improvement of the optics. I’m not saying “go-to” is a bad thing, in fact it does help, but as starting point, you could have put more value on your money on the optics rather on the fancy stuff. You could get it 1/3 of its price without go-to and will still give the exact same view! 

Tip: 

Tight on budget but wanting to start? A decent binocular is one of the best ways to start observing! Costs around 2,500 and up, it can give you views of some of the best hidden gems of the sky! Definitely better than department store refractors out there.

2. Where to buy one?

In this age of the internet, you could almost get anything from anywhere around the world, telescope including ofcourse. Most of local astronomers had been a regular customers from US based shops since there is only a few stores that specializes in telescopes here in the Philippines. But there areare things to consider from buying overseas which includes the shipping rate, customs fee and insurance. These three factors can add up the price of the telescope bought outside the country significantly. There are work around to minize by using an online shopper service, which will buy and pack things for a cheaper rate using freight but takes a longer. But this does not eliminate the damage your scope could recieve in transit so always read carefully the insurance policy of the provider you choose.

Theres a known hobby shop in Manila that sells entry to intermediate level telescopes. They are authorized dealer of Celestron here so you would save your self the worry of shipping. Plus, if you are a member of a local astronomy club, you could get a 10% discount from them too!  

Check from time to time local classifieds and from club listings that sells used but excellent scopes. They are cheaper and saves you the cost and trouble of shipping. 

I was lucky enough to get a used ETX 125 for a fraction of its price and it served me really well and had loved it! But when buying a used telescope, personally inspect/make sure that there is NO DAMAGE on its lens or mirror. A well-cared telescope can last a lifetime.  

3Visual or Photographic?  

A very good way to help in choosing a telescope is to ask yourself if you would want to enjoy stargazing visually or if you want to do some astrophotography. Or maybe even have some amateur science studies with it?  

Most of the amateur astronomers I know had started by doing visuals then jumped into photography and there are some who enjoyed and still enjoys visually romancing the stars! It will all depend on you or how you would mature as an astronomer.   

For visual astronomy, in my opinion, a dobsonian telescope (a reflector telescope usually 6-12 inch in aperture mounted in an alt-az base, popularized by John Dobson, hence the name) will be the best option. The simplicity and its light- gathering power combined provides an enjoyment to novice and experts alike.  

Its mount is so simple that with enough DIY skill you can make one yourself, and you’d just have to buy a reflector telescope of your choice. The only downside of a dobsonian is its portability, since they are quite big and bulky and you might need a hand or two in transporting it. But if you have a good observing site at home, I can say this is a good choice.  

If you’d like a grab-and-go telescope for visual use, I would recommend a Maksutov or Cassegrain around 90mm that can be mounted easily on a photo tripod. It’s small and light but its focal length gives a good “zoomed-in” view of the moon and planets. Despite being small, it can give enough view of deep sky objects! These are good if you don’t have a good observing site in your house or area and would like to travel a lot, great for campers.

Astrophotography is, however, another broad subject. Most amateurs who venture in this area are those who had matured in visuals and want to take pictures of what they observe or to record data for science use. Some are actually photographers who want to look for an out-of-this- world subject, literally and figuratively. But nevertheless, there’s a bit of a learning curve in it, not to mention the cost of the equipment to use.  

You could start of by choosing a OTA, meaning optical tube assembly that is suited for photography, not all telescope works well in it and equally important to it is a good and stable tracking mount. Astrophotography is a very rewarding venture be it in art or science, but patience and passion is a must to go on with it.  

A very expensive telescope that is not put into use is just simply a mirror and a piece of tube, what matters is how much you would use, enjoy, and share the wonders of what the night sky has to offer.  

Caution:

Every telescope (or telescope accessory) comes with clouds and rain so better be ready for it!  


Deep-Sky Observing Marathon at Big Handy’s Ground Tanay, Rizal

The Philippine Astronomical Society hosted a deep-sky observing marathon at the dark skies of Big Handy’s Ground located at Tanay Rizal. It was an off-the-grid camp site, literally – no signal, electricity, water supply and is away from buzzing sounds and blinding lights of the metro, a perfect get away from daily urban lifestyle. The site offeres 360 view of the skies with minimal obstruction from mountain tops and though light pollution from Manila can be seen afar in the west, faint stars that are usually invisible in the metro doesn’t shy away and glitter fantastically and steady that you’ll get lost in the sea of stars! Its such rare occasion for me that I stared in awe above and have to reorient my self to what constellation I am looking into. Faint DSO’s are resolved easily that hunting them was a breeze, only if clouds had not rolled in quick!View from Big Handy's Grounds

View from Big Handy’s Grounds

Members of the Philippine Astronomical Society

Members of the Philippine Astronomical Society

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Members of the UP AstroSoc joined us also in this event

Winter Triangle

Fish Eye View of the skies of Tanay, RizalParticipants Group Shot

Participants of the event included students from RTU Astronomy Society, UP AstroSoc, individuals from other walks of life – PAS members and non members alike.

Big Handy’s Ground is located at Brgy. Cayumbay, Tanay Rizal and welcomes camping, star gazing and other stuff. For more information in the site you may send Mrs. May Serrano an email at mrs_mrs111@yahoo.com

For anything about astronomy, you may attend events of the Philippine Astronomical Society which is free and open to the public. Clear Skies!

Photos by:

Kashogi Astapan


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Crescent Moon


Solar Observing with Students

We were greeted with a warm shine from the sun during our club meeting so we went to the roof deck to have a closer look at it.

The school roof deck is actually a good observing site, except for the lights from the North Express Way.

Basics of setting up a telescope. Next time they will have to do it by themselves.

Checking out the sun.


Image

Jupiter and Io’s Shadow

A quick test image on Jupiter last November 21, 2012 using Philippine Astronomical Society’s  Celestron c8 SE known as Rica Jane.  Io’s shadow on the side can be seen.


Moon 10/31/2012

Two Days after Hunter’s Moon

Taken using  Meade ETX125 and Agfa Optima 147 

Crater Endymion  (center)

Taken using Meade ETX 125 and Philips Toucam


Last Transit of our Lifetime.

One of the reasons why the transit was very much anticipated, observed and documented  is its rarity. In fact the next one won’t happen till the next century, not within our lifetime. Things could be very different by that time, whatever that is, what is important is to keep the passion of Astronomy passed on to the next generation, we can never tell where the science can lead them to.

Here is a short article of the event written by my student:

Last June 6, 2012, we went to Manila Observatory at the Ateneo de Manila to see a very rarephenomenon: it is the “Venus Transit”. Venus Transit or Transit of Venus happens when the planet Venus passes directly between Sun and Earth. What is special about this phenomenon is that it occurs in a pattern that repeats with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gap of 105 years. Apparently, the last transit occurred last June 6 and the prior to that was last June 8, 2004. It is expected that the next appearance of Venus Transit will beon December 10–11, 2117, and in December 2125.

The planet Venus appeared to be very small and very dark. It actually looked like just one of the sunspots of the Sun and every minute the Venus moved around the face of the Sun.  We are able to observe this by using telescopes. We are given so much chance to look on different telescopes that are settled up. Different telescope gave us different colours and perspectiveswith the on-going transit.Seeing the Venus Transit was one of the things that we enjoyed for staying there for almost 9 hours.

The whole experience was extremely fun,though it was from the morning until the afternoon which was very tiring. We also had a chance to have a small talk with Sir Edmond. From that short time talk, we gained so much knowledge about the transit and other phenomena that are happening inside and outside the Earth. We are so much honoured in meeting and talking with him. And of course, we are also thankful to the persons behind this event for giving us opportunity to witness this extraordinary event.

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Seeing the marker of the capsule makes think If I could still see it by then, but..

..let’s keep on passing the light of the stars till then.


Global Star Party 2012

The Philippine Astronomical Society in collaboration with the National Museum Planetarium co-celebrated Global Star Party last April 28, 2012 at the Planetarium grounds and at the Rizal Park in Manila. Approximately 70 warm bodies of different ages and walks of life joined the event. Clouds were scatteredthrough the sky but nevertheless gave way to treat the visitors with a good view of the Moon, Venus, Mars and Saturn. Most of the participants were thrilled seeing these objects for the very first time.

 

 


Star Apples and Stars

Light pollution is a cancer on an urban place like Manila. City lights could glow 30 degrees above the horizon, hiding most of the stars on the background. One has to go to areas which is free or atleast with less light pollution in it.

We went to a place some where in Montalban, Rizal which is approximately 31kms away from Manila.

Orion and a Lonely Tree on a Quarried Mountain. Rizal is one of the places where lots of quarrying activity happens.

Faint hint of Orion Nebula.

Big Dipper Asterism of Ursa Major.

And of course , Star Apple which is locally known as caimto (Chrysophyllum cainito).  The taste is true to what the picture depicts – sweet, creamy and juicy.


Clouds, Planets and DIY Spectrometer

We had an overnight stargazing activity at school. Thanks to <insert sarc mark here> the LPA, clouds quickly hid the view of Jupiter, good thing we savored a few minutes observing Venus.   As minutes of hopelessly waiting for skies to move bit, the rain started to pour. We have  to move down stairs and stay for there rest of the night, good thing is that we’re a bit prepared so we just did the DIY Spectrometer. It’s something made from a cd, box and razor blades and works by diffraction grating.

It was around 4am when the skies got a bit clear and we had the chance to enjoy the sights of Saturn in its majestic ring, Mars with polar caps and the crescent Moon.