Stargazing Report


November 22-23, 2003

by Allen Yu and James Kevin Ty

Images by James Kevin Ty


The November starparty held in the town of Buso-Buso was a trade-off of sorts both to the camaderie of fellow ALPers and the observational side of this gathering. Touch of Glory Prayer Mountain hosted by Bread of Life Ministries through Rev. Alice Villa-Real once again extended its warm and unselfish hospitality to accommodate members of ALP for an evening of gracious dinner and provision of site well dark enough from city lights for any observations made to be of scientific value.

ALP welcomed the attendance of Dr. Jett Aguilar, who brought 031122-a.jpg (34310 bytes)with him his newly bought Nextar 5i, and Stellarview AT1010 refractor acquired from Arch. Joel Munoz. A picnic package (along with tent and food and drink stuff) completed his provision. Another surprise appearance was Benjamin Aramilla, once thought forgotten, but well in the shadows of astronomical activities happening since the beginning of this year. His presence is a great revival in the interest of skywatching, a biology mentor by profession, he brought with him his big smile; his wits and friendly impressions will certainly stick to the minds of those who have met him. He confirmed participation to ALP by signing in this day as an official member.

This was almost one of the biggest gathering of ALPers in a starparty. Though some key members were not able to make it due to personal reasons, It  would be an honor to name those who contributed to the cast that night: James Kevin Ty with his TV101 apo-flourite refractor on GP-DX mount with SS2000,  Henry So and his Orion Starmax 127mm with Astroview equatorial, Edward Tan with his 6" Orion Dobsonian reflector, Joel Munoz with his 8" 031122-e.jpg (21562 bytes)home-made truss type Dobsonian reflector , Dr. Jett Aguilar with his Nextar 5i, & Stellarview AT1010 refractor on Telepod mount and Allen with his Vixen 4" reflector on CG4 equatorial and completing the manpower: Rich Pijuan, Atty. Rosemarie Gonzales, Ice Ponce, and Benjamin Aramilla. Hey, that’s a 1:1.43 person to telescope ratio. Talk about dedication!

ALPers who were not able to join tonight but we knew their hearts are always with us:

Rev. Alicia Villa-Real who simply has to give herself time to rest (from jetlag and hectic schedules), Mr. Alfonso Uy due to some personal reasons, Elena Moya also with personal reasons, Russell Limcangco who has to go back to Bataan for his balikbayan relatives, Oscar Lei still busy with PAWS affairs, and Prof. Edmund Rosales with a busted radiator.

031122-s.jpg (49565 bytes)Order of the night was to hunt down Comet Encke from Cygnus/Vulpecula region. But early evening cloudiness rendered the mission futile. Imaging was also next to impossible. What the previous stargazing last month failed to deliver, it still fell short tonight. Seeing was supposed to be a complement from the transparency (hazy!) they had, but according to Dr. Aguilar, even while observing Saturn near the zenith does not hold a lot of promise. Lack of transparency failed to bring out the brilliance of stars, Orion was conservative, and so did the other deep sky objects.. Visual naked-eye magnitude estimate is only about +4 at best, not better, compared to near mag. +6 last month! A threatening overcast shifted the group’s energy to casual story telling and under-the-sky lectures by Rich Pijuan (with her Turn Left at Orion!).

It was quite a while for the group to finish completely the equipment set-up (delays courtesy of Allen!), then they posted for posterity, taking some 15 minutes. They were treated with various impressions of M45, the Pleiades, under different types of telescopes. M45 was so far the most decent celestial showcase at that time, as I’ve noted, haze wrecked havoc on the remaining deepies. James’ TV101 was the one that brought respect 031122-x.jpg (32328 bytes)to the Seven Sisters, as his oculars encompassed the whole field so the observers can appreciate its beauty in entirety. Mam Rich, in her first attempt to be an astro artist, drew her first impression of the M45. A pity that the Andromeda region was not visible tonight. Benjamin wanted to see galaxies, but persistent cloudiness till 2 a.m. brought him back to bed, unfortunately, galaxy-starved.

Allen was energy-sapped by midnight, the repeated uphill climb with not-so-light loads has taken its toll on his legs and brought sensation back to his ankle. Before he can lie on his back, he accompanied Mam Rich to comfort room downstairs, and there shared her a small book called The Observer’s Sky Atlas by E. Karkoschka. It’s a handy deep sky map, separated by regions of constellations, and areas in focus magnified further for detailed hunting. She noted a list of Messier objects in the appendix, along with numerous marks and notes, and asked why.  Allen explained to her he mark them after he had observed them, but she was quick to reply that every object has been marked! And to think of my unfair advantage over the group in case we had a Messier Marathon! Hehehehe J

He had to explain it’s the thrill of discovering and rediscovering that were the reasons for his proposal of Messier Marathon. Its not about winning or losing, its our heart in sports este the sky. So when they went back up, it was still overcast and he hit Joel’s sleeping mat and underwent to semi-alpha state (really!) :)

There was a time  when Edward was trying to pin down M78, the brightest reflection nebula in the sky  in Orion but to no avail. He had been persistent on outdoing himself since the last successful bagging of difficult objects in the last starparty. He wouldn’t just sit back and let Kevin and I do the honor of finding it! Though Kevin and I had join in the manual hunt, still it failed to materialized. They compared with the view they had on Dr. Aguilar’s Nextar 5i, which had graciously found it for us. Not impressive tonight I noted, it has not been this faint. But the magnified manual hunting on Edward’s 6X30 finderscope was of little use, it was simply never easy to pin down the approximate location of an object in the sky, time to graduate to a red dot finder, heh, Edward? J

The midnight nap (with Joel, Edward, and Rich) of almost 2 and a half hours left Kevin and Jett chatting, observing whatever is missed by cloudcover, and imaging alone. During the course of lying on Joel’s mat, Joel, Allen and Edward witnessed a "tumbling" bolide cutting across Orion, estimated to about magnitude –7 to –9 (so much brighter than Venus, and almost that of a crescent Moon’s brilliance), with bluegreen train and smoke. "Tumbling" because it seemed to traverse a not-so-smooth direction.

Kevin has to be rewarded by his persistence, it seemed he can get 031123ngc2024-b.jpg (89157 bytes)whatever he wants even under mediocre skies! He successfully imaged NGC 2024 beside Alnitak! Then hold on to your breath guys, the elusive Horsehead Nebula! Although Polaris was not visible when he did his alignment, he was able to get away with some trails but the image is there.  He hoped in their next outing , he will be able to get a good alignment and image at high res, but for now.... it will suffice for him and share his images to members as well. His Pleiades image now boasted the Merope nebula too! Now, is that talent, sheer luck, or simply dedication! What a leader for ALP! Bringing and inspiring the rest of us to step higher, further!

Around 3:30 am,  they woke up to see an improving sky. Orion and Sirius now noticeable brighter, transparency has gained about three-folds. M42 looked better now, but starting to hug the Metro Manila lights in the west. Nevertheless, it finally offered a clear window to cap the event. Edward noted the reflection of the Big Dipper on the 031123m45.jpg (31856 bytes)pond, encouraged me to image it for aesthetic reasons. Joel began hunting the galaxies of Leo, and what strucked me was the good definition detail on M65, M66 and NGC 3628, all in the same field of view! I remembered seeing only M65 and M66, but missing the NGC thing, the 8" has lorded over my 6" IMHO, t’was like seeing M81 and M82 and another galaxy!

Joel devoured the southern contellations, Edward identified the False Cross, the asterism sharing two constellations of Vela and Carina. Joel hit on the Eta Carina Nebula, a very rich open star cluster (joel, please supply the details), a rich, small, star cluster with a "hole" in it. 5:00 a.m. Kevin summoned everybody to see an Iridium flare, predicted to shine at magnitude –5! What transpired was a slow moving satellite, barely magnitude +1, crossing the Gemini area! It seemed Kevin has miscalculated the event, he failed to take into account the great distance of Binondo to Boso-boso for the flare to effectively lit the area! He later rechecked the location via Heaven's Above site and it does indicate that it was only a -1 iridium flare.  The +1 mag they saw was due to some haze and thin clouds that further dimmed the iridium flare to around +1.

The group departed Buso-Buso at 6 a.m with happy memories once again, had breakfast at McDonald’s Katipunan, and each went his/her own way afterwards.   They will be looking forward to the December 20-21 event again Buso-Buso with the hope that next time around, they will all be blessed with a magnificent crisp dark sky then!

031122-s.jpg (49565 bytes)

For more activity images from this report, click here.



I finally got to try my 8" truss-dob in a dark site this weekend. Having upgraded from my 80mm refractor, I can now say that aperture truly wins. There are trade-offs, of course. The evening began with a cloudy sky so it was apparent that trying to capture Comet Encke was futile. Quite a disappointing, but the other objects I ended up observing more than made up for it.

TAURUS – The Pleiades (M45) readily shone thru the haze on031123m45.jpg (31856 bytes) the early part of the star party, so all scopes were pointed at it. My lowest power eyepiece, a 2" Widescan 30mm, afforded me a magnification of 40x and a field of view of about 2degrees. (This is the eyepiece I used mostly throughout the observing session but occasionally switched to a zoom eyepiece when I preferred to increase the magnification.) This combination gulped the whole open cluster entirely. The bluish stars just blew me away! I could almost hear David Bowman say: "My god, it’s full of stars!" (I’ve also had a spectacular view of it thru the 80mm Stellarvue f/6 refractor with a Meade 24.5mm Super Wide eyepiece. Although lower in magnification, the wide view framed the cluster nicely.) I don’t think it was the nebulosity that I could see around the brighter stars, but there was some haze in them which were absent in the dimmer stars. Perhaps there is some ghosting in my optical system but I can’t be too sure. Nevertheless, I was very much pleased with the view that I went back to see M45 every now and then throughout the night.

ORION – I can see why the Orion Nebula (M42) continues 031122m42-a.jpg (32872 bytes)to be a favorite. Not so impressive at first due to the haze and unsteady seeing, but the view improved dramatically as the night wore on. Especially so at around 3am, when most of the clouds had dispersed and the seeing was much better. The tendrils of M42 extended beyond what I’ve ever seen before and the bright glow was quite eerie. I definitely saw nebulosity on M43 as well. Again using the 30mm Widescan accommodated NGC 1980 all the way to NGC 1981 (open clusters) with M42 at the center. To concentrate on M42 itself, I switched to a zoom eyepiece to increase the magnification and thereby darkening the background sky. The Trapezium was very crisp but I could not see more than four stars. This somewhat puzzled me as I saw six stars easily in the Trapezium during the first light of this telescope a few months back – from the city with all it’s glare. Either the seeing was exceptionally good that night (same night that I thought I may have seen the Encke Gap on Saturn, but I may be mistaken), or my telescope was not collimated well on this evening in Buso-buso. But in and out focus of a star at high magnification indicated that collimation was quite good, and the six stars on the Trapezium should be within easy reach of an 8" scope. It was strange, indeed.

AURIGA – well M36, M37 and M38 in Auriga are familiar friends, all open clusters. M37 is my favorite among the three and the central orange star on this one is the reason why. I used to strain to see this orange star with my refractor but I could readily see it now.

CANCER – M44, or the Beehive Cluster, was unmistakable even with the naked eyes. There are some objects that actually look better thru a pair of binoculars than thru a telescope. This is one of them. I used a 10x50’s on this one rather than a scope.

PERSEUS – The Double Cluster in Perseus (NGC 884 & 869) is also an all-time favorite of many and views thru a pair of binocs could rival that of thru a telescope. But once again, the large aperture of 8" showed me more stars than I have seen before.

LEO – This was the highlight of my session because it was my first time to see galaxies without straining so hard to see (with the exception of Andromeda Galaxy, of course). M95, M96, M105 and NGC 3384 were seen but not as impressive as seeing M66, M65 and NGC 3628 in the same field of view! The first two were on the left side while the unmistakable elongated wisp of NGC 3628 was on the right with a star in the middle of the grouping. I motioned Allen to have a look and I believe I have convinced him that a 2" ep is worth investing!

CARINA – dawn was going to be upon us shortly so I was in a frenzy to bag more objects. I showed Allen what I thought was the Jewel Box but I now know that I was mistaken. It was actually IC 2602 or the "Southern Pleiades". Yes, it was similar to its northern counterpart, only dimmer. Visible even with the naked eyes from this blessed dark site was Eta Carinae Nebula. James was the first one who showed this to me a couple of summers back in Binangonan. We used my refractor back then and I asked myself what was so remarkable about that object. Well, to see it now with a much larger aperture has changed my impression. The glow is not as bright as Orion Nebula but the gap between the upper and lower nebulosities makes it oh so interesting! But time was short as dawn was approaching so I had to move on. Last object was NGC 3532, an open cluster that was so rich, my eyepiece was filled with stars to the brim, and I felt I actually drowned in them!

COMMENTS – This is the first time I have really taken 031122-y.jpg (26211 bytes)out my truss-dob for a spin. I am very pleased with the light-gathering power and the ease of use. My previous refractor was also in an altazimuth mount. There is something I find so pleasing about the simplicity of such a system. It’s drawback however, is when it comes to high-power planetary observing. This is when I begin to miss my equatorial mount. I find it annoying having to nudge the scope every few seconds just to keep the object centered. Lastly, it really is better to prepare a list of objects to observe prior to a session. I came ill-prepared and pretty much covered the sky haphazardly. I realized now that I could have observed more objects had I prepared a program. Going thru the charts at home the day after, I realized I missed certain objects only a few starhops away from objects I observed on that evening. And I missed them only because I didn’t know they were there! And of course, it would be nice to do some reading beforehand on the objects just so that you would know what it is you’re looking at, and what features to look for. Perhaps on the next session, I will be more prepared.


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2003 Astronomical League of the Philippines Inc.