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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pocketful of Stars

This is one of the most romantic games around... Collect as many stars as you can, jump as high as you can, to the soothing music in the background.
Treat the stars as your little dreams, and see if you can reach them. And tonight, look up into the night sky, and know that the beautiful stars are there, twinkling away. Slow down, start looking around, and you will find that life is so beautiful sometimes...

Scobbers go to RP!

Yesterday morning was great to sleep in... The morning was cold and rainy, I could sleep forever with the soothing and soft pitter patter of rain... And my bed was cosy and warm...

Nonetheless, I dragged myself to work to join Andrew, as we set off to REPUBLIC POLYTECHNIC for Portable Planetarium!!!

A trolley of really heavy equipment, which Andrew pushes.
Holding a little tupperware of torchlights is yours truly....... Look at the background... RP has a pretty swimming pool! OK that's a pond... no... a... lake?
the STARLAB portable planetarium. We coincidentally conduct portable planetarium sessions in Science Centre's Starlab too! The lab is called starlab. The planetarium is also called starlab...
After setting up and before you blow it up... it's as flat as a pancake...
And when you blow it up, it looks as yummy and as squishy as a steamed bun... Sorry I'm thinking too much about food...
Andrew popped out of the steamed bun... OK I shall say no more... :p

It was an Interest Group Fair I think... Where students go around booths and sign up for the ones that interest them. We were situated and hidden in a corner, so when students occasionally popped by and found us, they would walk/run away, afraid of the steamed bun...

So we had to think of ideas to attract these students and get them to join us in the stargazing... The portable planetarium is such an amazing experience that you would be sorry to miss! My attempt...
Andrew's attempt...
Andrew's second attempt.
This one worked! 3 girls walked past, saw Andrew the mummy, and giggled..... They eventually stepped inside the portable planetarium to see what we had to show :)
Talk to you again soon!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A cross, a centaur and a boat

Lately, the weather has been very hot day and night, it can be very uncomfortable at times but its not all bad. For one thing my laundry drys alot quicker (however that can mean the ironing pile increases faster also), secondly, it seems the hot weather is creating some very clear skies which is great for stargazing particularly as we're coming to one my favourite times of the year.
During the months of May and June, you may want look outside one night and find somewhere that has a clear view of the southern sky.

As long as your not looking directly at a street light or at somebody's house you should be greeted by two (possibly three) bright constellations. I'm talking about the fairly well known Southern Cross and the constellation Centaurus.
Below is a representation of these constellations as they would appear when looking South:

The Southern Cross (officially known as Crux) has a distinctive diamond/kite shape formed by its four brightest stars. The bottommost star is called alpha crucis (or Acrux) it is the brightest of the four. Clockwise from Acrux are the other three stars are beta, gamma (the top star) and delta crucis, in that order.

Surrounding Crux like an arch are the stars of the centaur (Centaurus), named after the mythic creature possessing half the body of a horse and half the body of a man (obviously, the horse's body forms the lower part of the creature and the man's body the top part, not the other way around). The brightest stars in Centaurus are Alpha and Beta Centauri located just to the left(East) of Crux. Alpha centauri (Rigil Kentaurus) represents the front foot of the centaur and is the closest star system to the Sun. Through a telescope this star actually consists of two yellow stars. There is even a third star, a faint red star which is barely visible.

What make these constellations interesting to me is the wealth of other objects that lie around them. This includes some bright star cluster. My favourite would have to be the Jewel Box cluster (kappa crucis). Located close to beta crucis (Mimosa) it is a tight cluster of 50 or so shining stars one of which is distinctively red in colour.
Almost all the stars of Jewel Box can be seen through a telescope (depending on the sky conditions). The cluster can even be seen with binoculars. In fact this area of sky is great for exploring with binoculars, there are many other star clusters nearby.
In the diagram above, I've indicated the positions of the 7 other clusters. On a clear night, I find it most enjoyable to grab a pair of binos and scan this area. Most of these clusters will look like small fuzzy or misty patches as the binoculars will not be able to resolve the individual stars within each cluster, except maybe in Jewel Box. Here is a list of the other star clusters.
1. Omega Centauri globular cluster - a densely packed ball of thousands of stars
2. Open Cluster NGC3766
3. Open Cluster NGC 3532
4. Eta Carinae Nebula (NGC 3372) - a gas cloud and star cluster surrounding the explosive star eta carinae.
5. Open Cluster NGC 3293
6. Open Cluster IC 2581
7. Open Cluster IC 2602 - known as the Southern Pleiades
You may notice that many or these clusters lie next to the constellation Carina (representing one part of a sailing ship). The stars of Crux, Centaurus and Carina lie in front of a distant edge of our galaxy, The Milky Way. Although this dense band of stars is to faint to be seen in Singapore, we can still get a glimpse of some of its wonders like the Jewel Box star clusters.
A few weeks ago, I was at an astronomy event at East Coat Park (area D1). Below is a photo I took of the Southern Cross in the sky together with the star alpha and beta centauri, to the bottom left of the picture. (FYI, I took this picture with a regular Canon Ixus 8MP set to a 6 sec exposure/shutter speed)
I also couldn't resist a spot of light painting with a light stick. There was a new star in the sky that night - andrew centauri :) ....... sorry if that was a bit lame.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Last Friday...

...we had a really fun session! While visitors at the main telescope looked at Saturn and the Full Moon, Andrew conducted a really nice talk thrice so that most visitors gets to join in!

Some photos of friends and visitors that I took standing at the stairs... If you find your photo here and you do not like it, let me know and I'll remove it immediately ok?

The evening before the session was a beautiful one... (Taken at the junction in front of Science Centre.)

Using a pair of binoculars to look at the moon...

Young budding astronomer and her daddy... :)

A family looking at the huge orange moon that had just risen...

Looking at the stars low on the horizon are...

...2 sisters here with their family.


Sunday, April 5, 2009


Just this Friday we looked at Saturn, then the moon!

The moon was at a beautiful first quarter. Some of the visitors took pictures (when there were less people in the dome), and Mr Albert Ho pointed out a very interesting part of the moon to me.

Do you see an almost straight line in the picture above? That is the Rupus Recta, also called the "Straight Wall".

During the first quarter of the moon, the Straight Wall casts a shadow on the moon's surface, which is what we see in the photo now. However in the last quarter, the Straight Wall will appear as a bright line!

It blows me away to find out this interesting fact. More interesting facts are bound to be discovered next Friday (Good Friday), when it is Full Moon.

Hope to see you all there, we love the MOOOOOOOOOOONNNNN!!

And let's all wish Huiting best of health as she is still recovering from the operation. Get well soon Huiting! We miss your sweet smile! :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dark Adaptation of Our Eyes

To view objects in the sky which are sometimes dim, our eyes need to first adapt to darkness.

Dark adaptation takes time. The eye’s pupil expands to its maximum diameter in seconds after the lights go out. The main cause of dark adaptation, however, is chemical and not related to the size of the pupil. Over the first 5 to 10 minutes in the dark, cone cells in our eyes reach their maximum level of dark adaptation. But over the next 20-40 minutes our eyes can gain 2 or more magnitudes of sensitivity. - MIT

This often makes a difference!

Red flashlight, however, helps protect your night vision. The rod cells in our eyes are not sensitive to red light. Rod cells are those that helped our eyes gain 2 more magnitudes of sensitivity after dark adaptation as mentioned above. The lamps in SCOB are covered with a red film, and red pocket flashlights can be purchased from Astronomy shops to read sky maps with during star gazing.

So the next time you are gazing at objects in the sky - stars, planets, nebulae... Do not blind yourself with bright flashlights from cameras. They often leave white spots in front of your eyes which hinder your own vision! :)