Friday, June 29, 2012

9 days old Moon Tour!

the moon today annotated

The Moon is 9 days old today! Many interesting features to observe from the telescope!
Clavius Crater
First off is this very special crater. It is a very old crater bombarded with many smaller ‘craterlets’. There is a total of 21 craterlets recognized and given numbers according to their proximity to the main crater.

Step 1

credits :
So, regarding to the number of craterlets on this crater, how old do you think this crater is? Theories says that it was formed 4 billion years ago during the Nectarian period (marked with an ‘N’ on the timescale) For more information of the periods, visit :

Copernicus is a very prominent crater in the 9-days old moon and exhibits a really dazzling ray system. Based on the timescale above, guess when was Copernicus formed? :) It was formed 800 million years ago, in the Copernican era that extends until today.

There is an interesting story behind the naming of the Copernicus crater. One Italian Jesuit named the prominent crater after Copernicus to show his opposition to the heliocentric solar system model advocated by Copernicus – as the crater is located in the Oceanus Procellarum (Sea of storms), he said that he ‘flung Copernicus into the Sea of Storms’. What was his true intent? To really throw Copernicus into the lunar sea of storms, or actually enshrine Copernicus’s name on one of the most prominent craters on the Moon?  

Landing of the Apollo 15 and the very first ‘Mythbusters’ episode (confirmed)

Apollo 15 was the first mission to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the famous buggy that ran on the moon. It was also the first lunar mission to not land on a Mare but near the hills at Hadley Rille. Effieciency was greatly increased with the use of the LRV and many lunar rocks from many craters were sampled and brought back to Earth.

In this mission, astronaut David R.Scott also demonstrated a classical experiment theorised by Galileo, dropping a feather and a hammer at the same time and see if they would land simultaneously. Of course, they landed at the same time due to the lack of air resistance on the lunar surface!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

List of Astronomy Clubs / Contacts in Malaysia

This is a non-exhaustive list of astronomy clubs and societies in schools, colleges, and communities. Their Facebook groups and webpages (if available) are all listed. If you are not sure of which group to contact, just send a comment below.

- Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Collegiate Societies
1. Methodist College Kuala Lumpur Stargazer Society (Brickfields, KL Area)
2. Astronomer Society of HELP University College, (Damansara, KL Area)
3. UNITEN Astronomy Club (Kajang area)
4. Astronomy Club in INTI College Subang Jaya
Contact : Brindha Kanniah
5. UTAR FES Astronomy Club

6. NEW MEMBER! SMJK Yu Hua Astronomy Club (Kajang)
In cooperation with Astronomy Exploration Club at Kajang -

- Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley Public Societies
1. Astronomy Exploration Club (Kajang)
2. The Equator (Petaling Jaya, especially A&W near Amcorp Mall)
3. StarHunters Astronomical Society (Selangor area)
4. StarFinders Astronomical Society (Kepong Ulu)
5. Planetarium Negara Kuala Lumpur - National Space Agency (Kuala Lumpur)
6. FalakOnline - Online Astronomy Forum
7. AstroMas - Astronomy Blog

- Penang/Kedah : USM Astronomy Club!

- Perak : Aerospace Education Services, Bernam River Airfield

- Negeri Sembilan : INTI IU Astronomy, Nilai

- Melaka : Melaka Planetarium
Kompleks MITC, Hang Tuah Jaya, 75450 Ayer Keroh, Melaka

- Johor/Singapore : Singapore Astronomy Group (conducts observations in Johor occasionally)

Last Update 19/7/2012

Touring the Summer Milky Way Superhighway Part 1/2


The Summer Milky Way is a treasure trove of eye candies - star clusters, nebulae and the likes of it. On my recent trip to Mersing I had the pleasure to try my newly acquired Oberwerk 22x100 giant binoculars on what I dubbed the ‘Milky Way Superhighway’. And oh boy was it such a treat!

Guide map to the 'Milky Way Superhighway’. M(number) is the ‘code’ for the said deep sky object, a list compiled by a French guy Charles Messier in 1771. The lists includes some of the best views in the night sky and the Milky Way Superhighway are home to quite a few of them.

milky way superhighway

1. Identify the twin stars on Scorpio’s tail, Shaula and Lesath (yes they have their names). Draw a line in between these two stars and extrapolate to reach your first star-tourist attraction – M7 Ptolemy’s Cluster. Pause for a while and gaze at this beautiful star cluster, discovered by Ptolemy in 130 AD and described as ‘the nebula that always followed Scorpio’s tail’. Obviously it is not a nebula, but telescope observations didn’t take place until the 1600’s. And Charles Messier made it his 7th celestial object of comet wannabes.


image2. Well then, you noticed that there seems to be some ‘tendrils’ protruding from the fairly straight 5-star formation. Follow the direction of the two ‘tendrils’ with the lesser separation to reach M6 Butterfly Cluster. Note that as the night progresses the orientation of the cluster in the binoculars/telescope might not resemble the one shown in this page so take note!

The Butterfly Cluster lives up to its name, it is a beautiful cluster shaped like a butterfly. The only lone red star in a sea of blue only adds to its uniqueness.

image3. Now we will take a slightly long hike and leave the province of Scorpio.

The hike to M8 Lagoon Nebula is a little tricky. First, go back and forth from M6 to M7 to gauge the distance between the two clusters. Then, at an angle of 90 degrees to the side where the red star is at M6, turn your knobs three times that distance, then turn another 90 degrees to the other side to find M8.

You might not find it the first time round. Try to ‘scan’ the right side of the sky when you’re turning the knobs (as indicated with the yellow arrows) during your hike to the Lagoon. If you are using a finderscope do also check your positio with Alnasl and the other star to gauge your distance and check whether you’re heading in the right direction.

Well then, you think you’ve reached M8! Why don’t you see the characteristic red glow of the nebulae? If you’re expecting that, sorry to tell you that our eyes will never see the colour of a nebula, it is simply too faint. Only cameras can capture that red glow. In fact, we don’t even see colours in our own Milky Way, it just appears as a thin hazy cloud to us.

If your sky is good you can see some wispy hazy smudges in your telescope/binoculars. These are really the best you can see already, it’s called the ‘nebulosity’ of the object. But if you don’t, do not fret! We have a way to I.D. the M8 -


This is a 1-second exposure from my telescope. Notice the pattern of stars in the red circle – it resembles a three leaf clover :-) yeah, that’s how you identify this fella!

Just beside the clover you will see another few groups of stars. Take your time to identify the patterns of stars if you can observe no nebulosity. It’s hard, but it’s quite worth the hunt. The M20 Trifid Nebula is actually a very nice and colourful two-coloured nebula.


4. Now let’s go on to the M23 “Heart-shaped” open cluster.


Draw a line from the clover formation of M8 and the triangle formation on M20 and extrapolate to navigate to M23. M23 is at a magnitude (brightness scale) of 5.5 so it might be a little tough to find it under city or suburban skies or with telescopes with less aperture. I did it with my 4-inch though.


The “heart-shape” name was my moniker for this cluster because it was the way how I identified it. The heart will be quite distinct if you manage to locate this cluster. This cluster is pretty small though, be prepared to see a small heart unlike the picture featured here.



Well then that’s all for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mersing Trip & Introduction to High Level Astrophotography

On a hot afternoon last Friday I woke up to find myself in the middle of Bandar Muadzam Shah, a small town somewhere on the peninsula. “What the hell am I doing here,” I thought; but it has turned out to be one of my greatest dark sky trips ever! :D

I joined a bunch of hardcore astronomy enthusiats from Singapore in their monthly imaging sessions. The location is in Sri Kandi Resort, Mersing where they frequently do their monthly photon collecting. The resort is just beside the South China Sea, perfect for beachgoers too! Mersing is 6 hours bus from KL, about 5 hours from Singapore… quite a tiring ride. =A=



This is Kelvin’s setup – An Orion Optics 8 inch Newtonian telescope on an Astro-Physics Mach1 GTO. The wires going in and out of the imaging setups are too much! The smaller scope on top is the guidescope used to guide the telescope to point towards the objects intended to be imaged. Note the DSLR used for imaging, a cooler was attached to it to reduce noise during imaging – the temperatures of the camera can reach sub-zeroes during operation! If you are interested in rigging your DSLR that way please visit They call it the ‘Super 450Da’ haha!


Left is Remus’s Takahashi 8 inch reflector on a Losmandy G11. Right is Michael’s Takahasi FSQ on a Losmandy G8. All are very professional scopes, no Orion stuff! Orion is kinda like Tesco or Carrefour in the telescope world lol.


The Observing Gang! From left, a Celestron 3-inch, a Borg 77mm ED Apochromat Refractor, and my own awesome 22x100 Oberwerk Giant Binos! On the right pic is a Takahashi CN-212 8-inch Newtonian on a Losmandy G8 too, we observed a breathtaking Omega Centauri through this telescope! Not to mention all the Nagler eyepieces they used, makes you feel like you’re among the stars when you’re observing. Ah the pleasure of wide field goodness ^.^

IMG_1274 - CopyBasically there are a few steps involved in setting up telescope for imaging. First you have to do polar alignment, i.e. pointing the polar axis towards the North Celestial Pole. If the pole star, Polaris is visible then you can point the polar axis towards the star, but in Malaysia Polaris is barely visible so we had to do it the hard way – drift alignment. This basically involve pointing the axis towards North using a compass. Then, by turning the motors on and observing the star’s movements through the telescope, we adjust the axis accordingly until there is no more star movements observed, then the alignment is good.

Take note that the North Grographical Pole, North Magnetic Pole and the North Celestial Pole are in all different directions!

When you’re done, next step is to point to your target! The GoTo mount will do their jobs, but if you don’t have one you’ll have to resort to the venerable method of star hopping :) Also, focusing on the object is important as you want to get crips pictures of nebulae and star clusters, not blurry ones! What do they do? They use this thing called the Baltinov Mask (pic left) to help them in focusing. The fringes in the mask creates a distinct diffraction pattern around a star (pic right) when the telescope is properly focused.

ScreencapOkay, the guidescope – it is used to make the target remain focused on the telescope. Our polar alignments can never be 100% perfect, and slight vibrations caused by winds or even someone stepping on the wires will make the mount vibrate! The guidescope and its program will send commands to the telescope mount to make the necessary adjustments to keep the subject in focus. In particular, they use a freeware called PHD Guiding to do the guiding. Very intuitive and effective, this has became the norm for all astrophotographers.

The DSLR will then take several photos of the target. Usually what they do is they take a test shot of 30 seconds exposure first to frame the target correctly, then an 8 minutes exposure to capture the image. The DSLR is of course controlled by a computer, many types of software can be used, one of them is BackyardEOS. I think you can also use the camera control program supplied by your camera manufacturer to control your DSLR.

Take multiple shots of your image, at least 8! When you’re done, then use DeepSkyStacker to stack your images. The program will use a mathematical median to help stack up your images and make a very stunning end result!

Well that pretty much sums up most things on astrophotography.. but easier said than done! You still have to edit it with Photoshop or any image editing program to enhance your image. To the skeptics, Photoshop is only a tool to bring out data that is ALREADY inside your raw file. There is no ‘fake’ in Photoshop, and all the amazing astrophotos out there. Oh and of course, you must have good skies and good equipments to begin with!

Well what do you think? Does it make you appreciate the images of galaxies and nebulae that appears on your Facebook more? :D Next up! A guide/journal driving through the Milky Way Superhighway through the 22x100 Oberwerks!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hilal Observation at Port Dickson & types of refractors

‘Hilal’ observation, or otherwise known as the sighting of the new moon, is a traditional Islamic practice where once the new moon is sighted, a new month begins in the Islamic calendar. Now, the tradition remains, and is further pursued by the latest technology and astronomy instruments.

Yesterday, Simpson and I followed prominent Malaysian astrophotographer and our ‘sifu’ William Chin to join the Muslim folks in searching for the new moon. The location is at Klana Beach Resort, Teluk Kemang.

Klana Beach Resort is I think an astronomy-themed resort at Port Dickson. It sports its own observatory with a 24 inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope, the largest of its kind in Malaysia!

Over at the observation deck the folks are starting to set up their equipments. It was sunset and the young Moon is just 10 degrees above the sun. After the sun sets there’s a small window of opportunity to see it before the Moon sets too below the horizon.
The sun sets on the sea, a nice vantage point but there are some clouds near the horizon.
Well there’s no time to lose! William and his gang sets up the 10 inch Meade LX200 telescope in a jiffy!

A note about this ‘smaller’ telescope on top of the Meade. William called it one of the legendary ‘weapons’ in the astronomical world! It is an apochromatic refractor.

Basically there are three types of refractors – chromatic, achromatic and apochromatic. As refractors work around the principle of refracting light, light of different wavelengths gets refracted to different paths when it passes by the lens, sort of like how you played with the triangular glass prisms to make rainbow colours :) This effect is undesirable in astronomy as it makes the image focus at different points. Hence, there exists these types of refractors to counter this problem.

This is a basic lens with no corrections whatsoever. You can see that the different spectrum of the light focuses on different points. To counter this, :

A better lens was designed, named the Achromatic lens. This is now the standard for most entry level refractors including my Astroview 100mm. :) However, as you can see there are still quite some difference between the focal points, and this produces an effect called chromatic aberration where a violet halo will form around bright objects such as the Moon. It doesn’t affect viewing but take note, the colour isn’t real!

Now, to further improve the refracting telescope, another new design was created – the Apochromatic lens, or more usually known as “APO” which now use 3 lenses instead of two to bring all the focus to a point! APO scopes are really awesome scopes, but they come with a hefty price tag not just because the manufacture process is more complicated, but the materials of the lenses (not glass, mind you) are rare and expensive.
Image credits :

The price difference let’s say for an 80mm refractor (both Orion products – ) :
Orion GoScope 80mm TableTop Refractor Telescope (Achromat type)

120 USD
Orion ED80 80mm f/7.5 Apochromatic Refractor Telescope (Apochromatic)

500 USD – note that this doesn’t come with the mount, which can easily cost a few hundred bucks more!

Now this here is a 9 inch apochromatic refractor in Penang, the largest refractor telescope in Malaysia. Guess how much does it cost? :P

After everything is set up they’re ready to go! Many other people are also joining them for the observation, bringing along mostly the same telescopes lol. You can see a radically different one here though – a surveyor’s scope!
The sun sets over the horizon in this computer screen which controls the telescope remotely. In the end, too bad that day we didn’t get to observe the hilal due to too heavy clouds near the horizon. However a trip to see the 24’’ giant RC, as well as getting tips from William for stargazing, is more than worth it! :)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Starry Journey at Pulau Perhentian

My very first dark sky journey to an island!

Pulau Perhentian is an island off the coast of the state of Terengganu in Malaysia. It is a quiet, serene island with an awesome night sky – you can see the Milky Way with your bare eyes! I went there with a group of stargazing enthusiasts, needless to say I had fun there – learning stuff from the more experienced ones, getting to use droll-inducing professional equipment and enjoying the starry skies with like-minded fellows :) Over ther eI took pictures of a few types : Milky Way pics, startrails, moon shots and the general island shots :D

Here are some pictures of the Milky Way, added with description. All was taken in a Canon 550D using a 18-55mm kit lens.


Milky Way with Scorpio and Sagittarius. It’s not the best shots I have, been experimenting with the color tweaking over at Digital Photo Professional and haven’t decided on which shade I like the best. The Milky Way is thickest over here as we’re facing the centre of the galaxy we’re in! 60s f/3.5 ISO 1600 guided


Left : Scorpio sinking into the horizon 25s f/3.5 ISO 1600 unguided                               

Right : The Summer Triangle asterism which is composed of three of the brightest stars in the summer sky – Vega of the constellation Lyra the harp on the left, Altair of I on the right, and Deneb of Cygnus the swan down below. In between is the Milky Way. 30s ISO 6400 unguided


What colour of the Milky Way do you like the best? I decided to go with a tinge of blue for this one to bring out the nebulous clouds you can see in the centre of the galaxy. You can even spot some of the star clusters in this picture! :) 65s ISO 1600 f/35 guided

Full size :


Another experimental  shot of the Milky Way, 302 secs ISO 400 f/3.5


Composed and stacked by successive shots of stars in the night sky, it shows the movement of the stars across the night sky and are beautiful portraits in astronomy. Here are some of my very first attempts in startrails.

Startrails 1Startrails 2Up : A startrail of the Summer Triangle rising above the eastern horizon. Can you spot the tracks left by Altair, Deneb and Vega? Stack of 66 photos, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Left : Scorpio setting in the west. You can faintly see the glow of the centre of the Milky Way in this startrail. There’s a meteor too in the right corner, did you spot it? :) Stack of 88 frames, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Below : Spica and planet Saturn setting in the west. The brightest ones in the centre of the picture are Spica and Saturn of course :D

You can see that this photo sports a slight hourglass trail. This is distinctive of the equatorial region. Stack of 44 frames, 25s, f/3.5, ISO 1600.

Startrails 3 

Earthshine on 26-days old Moon

Earthshine - why is it so special? It is the light of the sun reflected from the earth and reflected from the moon back to Earth. It pretty much goes like in this diagram. That's a handful, but it's why it is so special.

Earthshine is essentially the light of the Earth. As much as Venus, the Moon, Uranus reflects light from the sun, Earth does too! But usually we don't get to see it because we are basically standing on Earth. However one way to observe the Earth's light is by observing Earthshine during a crescent moon.

Nowadays, astronomers aim for Earthshine to study the light of the Earth, which reflects off crops and our atmospheric nitrogen, oxygen and other gassies - and use the data collected to assist them in analyzing lights from other stars to detect life on other exoplanets.

IMG_1131_1 earthshine

You can see the hills illuminated on the ‘earthshine-ed’ part of the Moon! :)

Other than that, we will also see the craters of the moon of course, and determine the craters on them!

IMG_1150_map annotated

Full size :

The shadow of the moon now features the edges of the side of the Moon visible to us, and it's craters all the way. Now have a look at Nasmyth and Phocylides Crater. You notice that they are overlapping. Which crater was formed first? :)

When you're bored you can also start reading up on the names of the craters, which are actually names of astronomers over the centuries. For example, Aristarchus Hills is actually named after Aristarchus of Samos, a Greek astronomer that...actually... was the FIRST to present a HELIOCENTRIC model of the Solar System. Not Copernicus, but Aristarchus.

The Moon is 26 Days old. The Moon can only 'live' for 28 days so we are looking at a very 'old' moon now. On different days we can see different longitudes of the Moon. It is becuase as the Moon revolves around the Earth, the play between light and shadow illuminiates the different longitudes of the Moon. For example, notice the different craters lighted up during the 23rd and 26th day of the moon.

23 day old moonIMG_1150_map

The trip there was fun on its own too, you can do snorkelling and diving in the Perhentian Islands as well as the islands nearby. Here are some pics of the island.


Our stuff on the trolley. The guides literally popped their eyes out seeing our mountain heap of astronomical equipment.


The jetty at Perhentian Island.


The Beach.


Some photos from the Island. It’s a beautiful place on its own :)

And finally, a surprise! One of the uncles who joined the trip, we call him Dr. Jeeva, gave me this rare giant binoculars, an Oberwerk 22x100! The aperture is 100mm! He said he has many equipment in his place already, he rarely use it so he gave out this along with some of his other equipment he brought to the island!

This binoculars with its 2.6 degress field of view, will be superb in viewing the Moon and clusters! It’s truly an awesome pair of binoculars!