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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rainy Days and Shooting Stars

Tis the season to be jolly fa la la la la, la la la la.
We're in the middle of the holidays and Christmas is approaching, there's a relaxed atmosphere in the office as most people are clearing leave, thinking of year end parties and planning secret santa gift exchanges, which remains me I must find a good day to pop out at lunch to buy my gift for D-day this Friday.
Of course this does not mean that we scobbers are just sat around the office surfing the internet feeling all merry, of course not no no no... half of us are on leave sat at home surfing the internet or even off on holiday somewhere feeling even merrier :)
For those of us still in the office, its all work work work, there's still shows to perform, visitors to entertains, events and programmes to prepare for, even surfing the internet and this blogpost is work related...-gives oneself pat on back for working so hard-... Although I probably would be on leave now if I hadn't used it up earlier in the year.

Anyways back to work.... at SCOB there's alot of planning to be done. We're currently working on developing a planetarium programme for our friday night stargazing using our new inflatable STARLAB planetarium, which requires further testing but will probably be ready early next year.

Stargazing on Fridays has been severely limited by the rain. December is actually great for stargazing as there are several bright constellations and interesting objects around, its just unfortunate that this period is one of the most cloudiest and rainiest in Singapore.

It was a similar story last month, especially during our big event "The Festival Of Stars" held on the eve of the Hari Raya Haji holiday on 16th Nov. A few thousand people turned up expecting a look at Jupiter through the many telescopes provided by TASOS and SCOB and hoping to stay overnight to witness the shooting stars of the Leonids Meteor Shower.
Instead, we were all witness to a tremendous rain shower:

The observatory and stage area was literally flooded. No stars or meteors visible on this occasion. However, it was decided that the show must go on, as all the outdoor festivities, performances and movie screenings were moved to the indoor auditorium at the Annexe Hall 1, the Science Centre Exhibitions were also opened for all.

At the SCOB, things remained rather quiet, with just a handful of families remaining to participate in the arts and crafts activities. Only thing left for scobbers to do was to regrettably inform new arrivals of the wet weather and usher them to the galleries and annexe auditorium. We also put up a temporary sign to help guide visitors along and reduce the amount of times we had to repeat the information.

Now dare I say that there is another meteor shower coming this December, in fact its happening this very weekend. The Geminids Meteor Shower peaks around December 12th & 13th every year. This year is supposed to be a pretty good one as the Geminid Meteors are expected to be brigther and more numerous than meteor showers in previous months.

Having said that, its best not to get your hopes up. Remember, watching any meteor shower in an urban environment like Singapore will yield a relatively low number of shooting stars. Whereas the expected number of Geminids is supposed to be 40-60 meteors per hour, you are more likely to see one or two per hour, somemore its rainy season so expect more rain than meteors.

SCOB we will not be organising any event for the Geminids. For those who wish to view it from home, it is best seen on the evening of 12th December between 12am and 5am (which technically is early on 13th Dec). Meteors will originate from the North-East direction and can travel in any direction (up, left, right).

If you do manage to see any meteors let us know how many and where from. This Friday 10th Dec on Friday Night Stargazing we'll also be giving a talk at 8:15pm, giving more information on the Geminids and other meteor showers.

Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Festival of Stars - Shooting Stars, Jupiter and Movies!

Its that time of the year again for the Leonids Meteor Shower. The best time to see the shooting stars will be Tuesday 16th Nov and Wednesday 17th Nov (Hari Raya Haji), between the very late to very early hours of 12am and 5am.

Scanning through various astronomy-related sites, I see that the expected rate of meteors for this year's shower is about 20 meteors per hour. Now, as I'm sure many found out last year, watching a meteor shower in a light-polluted urban environment such as Singapore yields significantly less than the expected number of shooting stars. You will be considered extremely fortunate indeed if you manage to see just 20 meteors over the whole night.

To make matters worst, The Moon's brightness also reduces the number of meteors, meaning you're most likely to see the shower after 3am when the Moon sets.

All it not lost however, The Festival of Stars is here! Science Centre and TASOS (The Astronomical Society of Singapore) have teamed up to provide an evening of entertainment at the SCOB, Omni-Theatre and Snow City on 16th Nov.

Besides telescope viewing of Jupiter and the Moon, there's live stage shows, performances, talks and Movie screenings (Transformers 1 & 2.... i think) into the early hours of the morning, just in case you get bored of looking out for those elusive meteors. Events start at 7pm. Science Centre will also remain open until 10pm.

Festival of Stars - Star Maps and Jupiter's Moons

Over the past months, you may have seen a very bright star-like object high up in the night sky. That is actually the planet Jupiter.
During the Festival of Stars on 16th Nov, look straight up above your head to see Jupiter joined by a Gibbous (oval-shaped) Moon (see Star Map below):

After midnight, Jupiter and Moon will be low to the ground. In their place high above you'll find the stars of Taurus, Orion and Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). Its at this time that you start to see the occassional shooting star, which originate from in front of the stars of Leo, low to the eastern horizon (see Star Map below). Meteors can shoot out in any direction across constellations like Orion,Gemini and others above left and right of Leo.

Although the meteor shower sets the theme of the Festival of Stars, the planet Jupiter will be the highlight of the telescope viewing. Being a Gas Giant, Juipter is covered by "bands" of clouds. For many years, two dark bands have been the most visible but this year one of the bands (The South Equatorial Belt or SEB) has disappeared, covered by whiter, higher clouds. When will it return? Nobody knows but this past week dark spots have begun to appear in the white clouds and if they continue to spread it could cause to SEB to reappear.
View some of the most recent images of Jupiter and its missing belt at astronomer Chrisopher Gu's website:

Image Credit: Christopher Gu

Also visible around Jupiter will be its four biggest moons - Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. As they are in constant motion around Jupiter, they are in different positions each night. Here are their approximate positions during Festival of Stars 16th Nov:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I love the mooooon!

Scobbers are just back from STAR+MOON gazing tonight! The widely publicised event for the partial lunar eclipse saw more than 3000 visitors tonight. Thank you for visiting the Observatory!

Enthusiastic visitors under a beautiful evening sky
Yong and our wonderful volunteers
Setting up and making some final checks before visitors use the telescopes...
Attentive visitors enjoying an interesting talk by a NASA professional
Crowds going crazy over the delicious snacks!

After a long wait, we were finally awarded with a glimpse of the beautiful eclipsed moon, peeping from behind the JTC building. When the moon finally rose from behind the JTC building, we used telescopes and binoculars to look at the interesting shadow cast by the earth on the full moon. The shadowed part of the moon looks a bit greyish, and using binoculars, we could make out some details.

Did not get a chance to capture a photo through the telescopes. It looked something like this.

So what did we look at tonight? We were so lucky to get a clear night sky, very very rare given the recent rainy weather. We saw Scorpius, Southern Cross (Crux), Alpha Centauri, Jewel Box, the Big Dipper, Saturn, Venus, Virgo, Libra, Saggitarius and so on. It was an awesome evening.

Some visitors enquired about the Google Sky application on the Android phone. As mentioned in a previous post, it is an excellent tool for stargazing. It is also available for free on the Android Market. So at the moment as far as I know, you have to own an Android phone to use the app. Some examples of an Android phone will be several HTC models, as well as Motorola Milestone, and Samsung Galaxy S.

It was a spectacular night, and I believe many visitors couldn't get enough. Fret not, the Science Centre OBservatory is open every Friday night 8pm to 10pm, and the main telescope in the dome will be opened up for public viewing.

Entrance is free and all members of the public are welcome. Stay tuned, and see you at the Science Centre OBservatory soon!

Note: Title of post is copied from Sponge Monkeys - We Like the Moon. It is so funny. Check out the embedded video below.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Jewel Box

In the previous post we talked about an Android night sky application. If you do not possess either an iPhone or Android, an online version is available too.

If the night sky is clear later, we at the Science Centre OBservatory might look at The Jewel Box tonight.

The Jewel Box (N4755) is present in the Southern Cross (The constellation also known as Crux that acts like a compass in the Southern part of the sky). Hardly visible to the naked eye, the Jewel Box is a dazzling cluster of stars through the telescope.
A closer look:

Looking at the Jewel Box is a once a year event, because in Singapore on the Equator, we only get to see it for a short few weeks a year.

To catch the amazing beauty of this star cluster, allow your eyes to adjust to the dark first before you look through the telescope. You should be able to catch a few stars forming an outline of the letter "A".

Good luck finding the Jewel Box tonight! Hope to see you here at the Science Centre OBservatory!

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Google Sky Map for Android Phones

There are plenty of Sky Map apps on the iPhone, but how about the droids? I recently came across a really cool one by Google.

Google Sky Map allows you to explore the night sky just by pointing your phone to space. The screen serves as a window onto the sky, whereby you can explore the relative positions of planets, stars, constellations, and more, in realtime.

In the auto mode, Google Sky Map works just like a compass. As you move the phone, the view on the screen moves. Pointing the phone to a particular star allows one to find out its name. To find out what our fellow stargazers can see from the other side of the earth right now, point the phone to the ground. To find out what is in the sky in the afternoon, point the phone to the ceiling if you are indoors.

If you prefer, the traditional manual mode is also available. Just open up a zoomed in sky map (the whole celestial sphere) and explore by sliding your fingers across the screen.

An extensive database is also available for you to search for a particular object in the sky.

Everytime I play with this app, I am mesmerized by the dazzling array of stars that surrounds the Earth from every angle, and at any time of the day.

If you are holding on to an Android phone, go try it out now!

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SCOB Color Wall

Good Tuesday dear SCOB bleaders!! Thanks for standing by us and coming by to check our blog :) Here are some photos we can't wait to share with you...

The Science Centre OBservatory Colour Wall!!!!
Almost at its completion, the Color Wall is made up by you visitors. Each and every tile (color card) painstakingly created and coloured by visitors of all ages from as young as 3 years old to as young as 100 years old!!) These color cards contain beautiful memories and declarations of love between couples and earthlings for planets/the moon/stars.

Here are some examples.
"I am King"

"I Love Life"

"Love the Earth and Jupiter"

"I would chart the milky way (and) the universe and map it on your heart."

Hope you had a great long weekend last week :) This Friday we will be open again for all visitors.

See you there ok?

Bye for now!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Astronaut Photography of Earth

Dear all, long time no see... It's been a busy start of the year for all of us at Science Centre, and we finally made it to March! The Science Centre Observatory will be open as usual tonight, and because it is the start of the 1 week school holidays, we are expecting a surge in visitors. Feel free to come and join us! Our Colour-Wall is reaching completion soon, and since a few weeks ago, visitors have been making their own sundials and bringing them home as souvenirs.

If you have always been a fan of our Omnitheatre movies, Forces of Nature is an upcoming movie all about natural hazards such as earthquakes, tornadoes and volcano eruptions. While doing a research on natural disasters, I came across a really cool website by NASA.

The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth

Packed with 481,761 rare photographs from the International Space Station, you can search for any feature on Earth, and get a vast list of stunning photographs from their database.

A search for "volcanoes" gave me a list of beautiful volcano pictures, much like looking down on Earth from an aeroplane. A colleague searched for "Tokyo at night", and got this:

For those who love beautiful pictures, or anyone who needs a photo resource of the earth, this is definitely a webbie worth bookmarking.

Friday, February 5, 2010

February's Night Sky 2010

Below is a star map representing the Singapore night sky in February:

One of the highlights this months is the planet MARS, getting higher and higher above the eastern horizon. If you have binoculars, its great to try and use them to spot MARS this month. The red planet is steadily moving past the open star cluster known as the Beehive Cluster (M44) in Cancer. See diagram for details:

The constellation of Orion is very high and bright in the sky at the moment.

Orion’s seven brightest stars can easily be seen in Singapore’s light-polluted sky.

Betelgeuse (alpha Orionis) is a massive red supergiant that varies in brightness. Bellatrix (gamma Orionis), is blue giant star. Its name means “female warrior”, indicating that Orion may not have always been seen as a male hunter. Bellatrix is the closest of Orion’s stars (243 light years away).Out of Orion’s Belt, Alnilam (epilson Orionis) is the closest and brightest of the three. Rigel (beta Orionis) is a large blueish-white supergiant star. Sometimes it becomes the brightest star in Orion, when Betelgeuse occasionally fades.

Scanning Orion with binoculars or a telescope can reveal many more stars and wonders.
One of the most famous deep sky objects in Orion is the Orion Nebula (M42)

The Orion Nebula is a large cloud of gas (mainly hydrogen) part of which has collapsed to form young white stars.
It is visible to our naked eyes as a tiny speck below Orion’s belt. Binoculars show a hazy glow around a tight cluster of stars.

The diagram below illustrates the view of Orion Nebula through a telescope:

The tight group of four star is known as the Trapezium (theta Orionis).
Surrounding the trapezium is part of the hydrogen gas cloud, which is being illuminated by the energy from the Trapezium stars.
A number of other stars within and in front of the nebula are also visible.
The Orion Nebula is a large cloud of gas (mainly hydrogen) part of which has collapsed to form young white stars.
It is visible to our naked eyes as a tiny speck below Orion’s belt. Binoculars show a hazy glow around a tight cluster of stars.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday 15th Jan - Partial Solar Eclipse

Watch this eclipse at Science Centre OBservatory!
Observatory opens at 3pm
Free eclipse glasses for every visitor

How to view an eclipse
Bring a mat (to sit on)
Bring a hat or an umbrella (for shade)
Wear eclipse glasses (for protection)
or use a Pinhole (we'll show you how)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Festive cheer at SCOB!

Christmas decorations are replaced with Chinese New Year ones for SCOB spring cleaning today. It was cheerful and merry putting up decorations with my fellow Scobbers. The starting of the year fills one with hope, its such a great feeling :)

Scobbers Andrew and Eng Wen taking down the weather-beaten mistletoe along the stairs.

Christmas decorations to be put away until December!

Scobber Yong figuring out how to use 3M plastic hooks...

Scobbers Eng Wen and Alvin working on a tangled mess of plastic hearts and string...

Scobbers Andrew and Alfred putting up the plastic hearts. Randomness rules!

Scobber Andrew with our new year decorations! The redder and the golder the better.

Scobber Yong putting up more plastic hearts. Scobbers Eng Wen and Alvin working on even even more plastic hearts. Its Valentine's Day on Chinese New Year too, you see.

Scobber Andrew with the untangled plastic hearts

Scobber Yong!

This year's Chinese New Year coincides with Valentine's Day as well. Come to the Observatory with your loved ones and spend a romantic night under the stars!

Reporting behind the camera, Scobber SK.

January Star Map

If the sky is clear, Janaury is an excellent month for stagazing. Quite a number of the brightest stars in the sky are visible. Most notable, are Sirius (the brightest of all nighttime stars) and Canopus (2nd brightest).
Sirus is the "king of the twinklers". Its bright white light becomes highly refracted as is passes through our atmosphere, causing it to the twinkle more than most stars. You may even see it flash with some colours of the rainbow.

One the highlights is of course Orion. Located almost right overhead, its 7 brightest stars should be clearly visible, including the three stars of Orion's belt. On Fridays we'll be focusing our scopes on a tiny speck in Orion, The Great Orion Nebula, great to look at especially in the big 16" scope, where we can see the tight cluster of stars known as the trapizium and hopefully the glow of the gas cloud that surrounds them.

Of course, I have to mention the return of the red planet Mars to our evening sky.
Probably, visible around 9:30pm, low towards the east, Mars will reach opposition (in direct line with Earth and Sun) on 29th Jan, where it will be at its brightest for the year.

January's Star Map: