Stargazing Report


February 9-10, 2006

Report by Allen Yu

Images by James Kevin Ty % John Nassr


While having dinner with James Kevin Ty and Tommy Tan after the ALP monthly meeting last February 5 (Sunday) , James invited Allen  to join him meet Mr. John Nassr on Thursday (February 9) , and perhaps we can rendezvous there in Baguio City. Allen thought  its was a great idea and immediately obliged.  Well, after 3 years of that fateful
day when Allen  faced fear itself and ran for his  life.  He still have that doubt if  he and Baguio were compatible, seems harmony is always the last thing that would welcome him there.

His doubts turned into nightmare at high noon, when the bus , Philippine Rabbit,  he rode couldn't even make it through the entrance of NLEX  (North Luzon Expressway) due to activists holding a protest rally along  A. Bonifacio Avenue thus blocking the only road to the highway.  In turn, motorist going through NLEX , as well as the bus had no other choice but to crawled its way through the sickening MacArthur Highway till they reach Sta. Rita,
Bulacan to go back to the main highway. That's a whole 4 hours (after 9:30am) mind you, and he hadn't  really started the journey yet!

Another spine-chilling incident occurred as they were on NLEX!  Their bus had to evade a sudden halting Innova car and almost made its way to the rice fields some two stories below. What in heaven's name..will he ever arrive in
Baguio in one piece?  James shake his head in disbelief as he monitor Allen's trip as he said he never encountered
such adventure in his more than a decade of going up and down Baguio!

To cut the long journey short, Allen arrived in Baguio City about 9:30pm and  went straight to John's residence.  Upon reaching Mr. Nassr's doorstep, he had to call James on the cellphone to ask him come down and introduce him to John's dog, Dusky, a big rottweiler :)  The rottweiler seemed very peaceful and at ease, and his   impression of him was wrong. Dusky  was a peace-loving dog, pag tulog (if sleeping) :)  hehehe just kidding.

Mr. Nassr came down from his observatory to greet him too, and it was a  060209-c.jpg (87137 bytes)very special moment that is.  Allen don't know if  John was smiling to saw him arrived in one piece, or Allen smiling back at him without the silent groans that he had experienced  3 years ago. Hehehe funny story.  James already related to John what happened during the trip.  Allen  felt blessed to arrive safely.

He had a short dinner and afterwards, the 3 of them went straight to Stardust Observatory.   Now, Allen will be  sharing to all of us that his dream observatory suddenly materialized exactly in front of him. Through the
years, He have been fantasizing on its design, on what it should contain,  on   exactly how the roof will roll off, and how accessible it is in the house.   Allen really like it as a part of the house as it is the easiest way to fight
off weariness and cold.  (He always believe weariness is a sensation one finds away from home). The Stardust Observatory is an epitome of amateur astronomer's dream. It is pure magic Mr. Nassr has created, and he couldn't ask for more.

060209-e.jpg (89352 bytes)The roll-off shelter is a generous 12 feet by 16 feet in floor area, and the walls are about 5 1/2 feet tall, just enough for the telescopes to clear any obstruction. A 14 inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain rides on a fork mount, and a 5 inch Astro-Physics refractor on an Astro Physics 600 series German equatorial mount, a bed, a table, bookshelves for maps and references, another shelf for accessories and the walls are adorned with Mr. Nassr's astrophotos done during the hyper-kit era. A tektite collection nicely framed greets the visitors upon entrance. On another corner was the Padre Faura Award he received for genuine contribution to the advancement of astronomy in the Philippines (I recalled he was the first one to blaze the trail of astrophotography, impressing everyone in the Planetarium for his hypered Astro images). The observatory can contain about a maximum of 4 people only, with ample space to move around and not be too crowded. It was perfect for imaging and observing as well as sketching through the eyepiece.

The Moon that night bathed the sky but there were still so many 060210m42-c.jpg (41360 bytes)stars to see. Transparency was very good (8/10) , but seeing was not at its worst either (5/10) , just enough to render Saturn soft through the 14 inch Celestron :( James had just finished assisting Mr. Nassr with some configurations on his new Dragon Fly CCD webcam/camera.  and that was  perhaps the most important work done during the night. Mr. Nassr would now be happy to take planetary images on his own, as he declared: “Mars, yari ka bukas!” (Mars! Your mine tomorrow!)   James continued to inspect the mounts and its performance, using his Canon 300D to take various deep sky images like the Pleiades Star Cluster, the Great Orion Nebula as well as M41 open star cluster, and also inspected star trails to reveal the mount's tracking accuracy. One after another, some suggestions were made to further improve what is existing, and Allen   too learned a lot from James and Mr. Nassr. M42 images was taken with C14 with Canon 300D at prime focus while M51 image below was taken with C14 with Canon 300D at prime focus and f/4.4 reducer.

They tuned into the Trapezium with the C14, and James was surprised to see the very close grouping Trapezium spaced far apart from each other! The Trapezium looked like an open cluster, and all these visuals were done
in the spirit of visual observers 60 years ago, that is, straight through eyepiece without a diagonal! Mr. Nassr argued it is the purest way to see stars, and Allen agreed. Components E and F revealed themselves after
driving off the dew, but another problem was slightly off collimation of the C14, which sort of prevented them from getting a good view of Sirius B also popularly known as the Pup. The Pup is now 7 arcseconds from Sirius, while Component E of the Trapezium is just 5 arcseconds away from the host star, there can be any chance to catch a
glimpse. Well, the culprits? Mediocre seeing, a bit of miscollimation, and Moonlight. To see Sirius B, he believe one has to rid these problems first, before rating one's chance to glimpse it.

060210m41.jpg (52218 bytes)They called it a night at around 1:30am.  Mr. Nassr was getting sleepy, so was Allen too. Through the session, they  endured 10 to 11 degrees Celsius of biting cold winds, and it stung Allen's neck!  He had 3 layers of clothing, but
the more minutes he stayed there, the more he felt like an old man hounded by arthritic knees and cold-soaked shoulders. One really needs a scarf to  protect the neck.   Allen had several runs downstairs to answer the call of
nature, and so did Mr. Nassr. The truth is, Allen was  just excusing himself from the cold ambience around the observatory.  Actually, Allen  was surprised to find Mr. Nassr still affected by the cold,  He presumed Baguio residents would be use to it, but Mr. Nassr stated a strong body resistance is still very important to prevent one
from catching cold.

They continued to  joked around  while at the same time taking photographs of themselves, and one good idea was
to take Mr. Nassr’s latest pose with his C14.  He  told James it would be fun to pair this with the picture of him in the book “The Second Coming” done 20 years ago!  So, this is John Nassr circa 1986, then present 2006, ever
smiling and still love the stars very much.

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Mr. Nassr has a collection of interesting things: a fossilized Giant Nautilus from the Permian-Triassic Period of 250 million years ago (older than the dinosaurs), perhaps a victim of Earth’s biggest mass extinction event courtesy of a bigger celestial impact. John also showed them some tiny fossils on rocks, and his tektites were not “bought”, but
personally collected from the mines of Abra.  He also had a 120+ grams (estimate) of a Canyon Diablo meteorite, the one that shook Arizona 50,000 years ago and left the most visible scar of violent cosmic history.  Allen expressed fascination on this, as he also  had a small collection of meteorites too, and he know each specimen shares an interesting story.

Mr. Nassr officially signed up for ALP membership that night, the star of Baguio City shares his delights with the country’s finest astronomical group which actively shares the same love on anything astronomical. Thank you Mr.
John Nassr and welcome aboard!

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