A Stargazer’s Tale
I wrote this article for the UP Astronomical Society’s Sidereal Times Newsletter. It was about my observations last 2007.
A Stargazer’s Tale
My deep interest in Astronomy started when I received my first serious telescope on May 2007. Since then, I’ve been observing the night sky during my leisure time or whenever I want to be alone with the stars. I also learned to write down my observations in a journal and to take pictures of celestial sights (if possible) as a remembrance.
I consider every observation as an achievement because it’s not often that you can witness an astronomical event. A lot of factors which are beyond your control such as the weather, degree of atmospheric seeing and transparency, light pollution and even location can hinder you from viewing the night sky. Therefore, when I have the opportunity to observe certain astronomical sights and events, I make sure I’ll see and record them.
Below are the astronomical phenomena that I have observed last year and my notes about each experience.
Total Lunar Eclipse
The Total Lunar Eclipse on August 28, 2007 was really disappointing. Thick clouds covered the night sky due to bad weather. Despite this, I never lost hope. The eclipse was supposed to start as soon as the full moon rose at 6:00 pm and ended at around 8:00 pm. I was on the roof deck with my telescope and waited patiently for the event because this would be my first time to see a total lunar eclipse. But after 2 hours of seeing nothing but clouds, I gave up. The full moon finally became visible at 8:30 pm but it was no longer in contact with the earth’s shadow. I just realized that what I’ve witnessed was an eclipse of the eclipsed moon by clouds, hahaha.
On the early evening of November 2 2007, I began my search for Comet Holmes. Its sudden explosion last October 24 brought excitement to the astronomical community. The comet was previously of the 17th magnitude then it surprisingly brightened to a million times reaching a 2nd magnitude overnight. Even in light-polluted skies, you could see this object. For a comet to increase in brightness to naked eye visibility in a very short period of time was a rare event. For this reason, I was very determined see it for myself. I used a sky chart I got from the internet to track this mysterious body. It was located in the constellation Perseus near its alpha star, Mirfak. As soon as I found the comet using my 6 inch telescope, I was totally mesmerized. Unlike other comets, this comet has a fuzzy concentric shape without a tail when seen through binoculars and telescopes. Luckily, I got an image of it and this image was the best I could get using a digital camera.
Geminid Meteor Shower
The GeminidMeteor Shower last Dec 7-17, 2007 was the most spectacular meteor shower I’ve ever watched. The meteors seemed to radiate from the constellation Gemini. The shower was predicted to have a zenithal hourly rate of 60 meteors. I have observed this celestial event during its peak from Dec.14-15. On Dec 14, around 12:40 am to 3 am in the morning, I saw 26 meteors in just 3 hours of observation. At 8:00 pm, I was on the Sun deck of PAGASA Observatory, watching again the meteors again but this time, I had company. Over 100 people came to UP AstroSoc’s Public Viewing of theGeminids. All of us were enthralled as we saw the meteors streaking through the night sky. Some of them were faint but most were bright and yellow. The night of the observation was perfectfor meteor watchers because the sky was almost clear of clouds and the moon was in its crescent phase, already in the western sky at 8:00 pm and after 11:00 pm, it had set below the horizon providing a moonless night. Overall, I saw 50 meteors from 8:00 pm of Dec. 14 to 5:00 am of Dec. 15. The busy atmosphere of the event prevented me from seeing more meteors. However, my fellow AstroSoc members counted over 100 meteors. It was definitely an unforgettable night.
December 2007 was the best month for observing the red planet. Mars reached its closest approach to Earth on Dec 19 and Mars was at opposition on Dec 25. The planet then was bigger and brighter.
Though the night sky on Dec. 19 was very cloudy, I still tried to observe Mars because that day would be its closest encounter with Earth until 2016. Moreover, because it was close enough, it would appear bigger; providing a clearer view of its major features such as the polar caps. I did see an increase in Mars’ apparent size when I saw it through my 6 inch telescope but, unfortunately, I didn’t see any major features as what was said in astronomical magazines. I told myself not to give up and so I tried to observe again on Dec. 25. When the day came, I still didn’t see Mars polar caps. The good part wasthat even though I failed, a lot of interesting things happened to compensate for that loss. On that date, Mars reached its opposition where it would be nearly opposite the Sun in the sky. The planet would rise at sunset, shines highest around midnight, and sets around sunrise. I observed Mars after midnight of Dec. 25 therefore I noticed its remarkable brilliance which can be compared to that of Sirius. It was indeed a beauty! Also on this day, the Moon and Mars were in conjunction, that is, they appeared close together in the sky. It didn’t end there. The full moon was later covered by a thin cloud showing off a beautiful lunar corona, an atmospheric phenomenon where rings of different colors surrounded a full moon. Of course, I took images of the sky as a remembrance. It seemed God knew what I really want for Christmas, hehe.
I always find it rewarding to marvel at the sky and see all that is happening up there. There’s nothing that I know of that could make me happier than to be closer with the stars. I hope my recounted experiences will inspire a lot of people to watch and love the heavens.
Happy Observing Everyone!
Ad Astra Per Aspera!