Saturday, 21 November 2009


55 days to go till the annular eclipse. Am still having doubts that Qingdao would give a good view but am really praying it would. I have contacted two folks from the area through Couch surfing and they are interested.

There's no mileage promo yet in PAL so I might take the Shanghai route via Cebu Pac after all.

Youtube seems not replete of good annular eclipse videos... Here's one of the acceptable ones I stumbled upon.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Team Shanghai Solar Eclipse Expedition Video Tribute

A video tribute to Team Shanghai of UP Astronomical Society.
An 11-man team that defied the odds and went to a foreign land to document what would be the longest eclipse in our lifetime.

Annular Eclipse Pic

Am hoping to get a picture similar to this.

This photo is taken by Dennis Mammana

Am having doubts right now though if Qingdao would be the place to go since a maximum eclipse at sunset is a bit risky..

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Video Tribute

Been on hiatus for quite some time..

Anyway I hope this small tribute to Team Shanghai makes up for my absence

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Haven't updated my site for quite some time grrrr...

80 days to go till Qingdao..

Good thing my boss requested me to support our Beijing site.. Gives me the chance to do an ocular for the Qingdao expedition.

Hostel we intend to stay looks quite promising

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Perseids Meteor Shower Rewind

A repost of an entry made 4 years ago..

Six years ago, this date, August 13, fell on a Friday – yep your regular, much dreaded Friday the 13th,, an unlucky day that has spawned many horror movies and unfounded fears.

I know of people who had unfortunate experiences to associate with this day. Why, just 3 months ago, a coworker while cruising through the NLEX, had an accident on a rain-drenched Friday the 13th. He survived the collision with a broken neck; his car though was a total wreck.

Despite its sense of foreboding, miracles have happened for me on Friday the 13ths. I recall at least 3 dates which had been memorable moments in my life.

On a Friday the 13th in 1992, I felt the full blast of the magic called love.

On a Friday the 13th in 2001, I reached the peak of Mount Matutum – a long-sought dream.And 6 years ago, a Friday the 13th , I had a meteor shower of a lifetime.

The year was 1999; I was a Science Grade 7 teacher then. I was on my third month of teaching the kids who were all enthusiastic to discover life’s mysteries through science. That Friday night, I organized an overnight stargazing session.

August 13th marked an annual astronomical event – the Perseids Meteor Shower. I explained to the kids that on a normal night one could see a handful of sporadic “shooting stars”. But occasionally the earth, during its annual journey around the sun, passes through a region in space with high concentration of dust particles. Such instances are a feast for sky watchers; the particles entering the atmosphere provide a spectacular and abundant display of nature’s fireworks.

I had looked forward to the event because my first experience of a meteor-shower observation in college had been an intimate and liberating one. Vicariously feeling the child-like wonder and amazement in my students I knew that if only the skies would cooperate they were in for in a marvelous treat, a rare experience that would anchor in their childhood memories.

If only the skies would cooperate and that had been the big if. Perseids Meteor Shower Observations had always been a tricky battle with Mother Nature. August skies are almost always overcast.

That morning did not provide any glimmer of hope. Ominous black clouds hovered above us. Neither was the official weather news encouraging. Even my horoscope for that day was not cooperative (okay okay I sometimes check out the horoscope for a sense of validation). On hindsight it did seem that all odds were against us.

I knew that all I could do was just hope. I prayed to God for a clear sky (I recall praying the rosary the night before, an act I rarely do). The prayer was not for me, it was for the kids. How would they handle the disappointment? How would they handle the brutal blow to their anticipation ?

And so it happened. On the night of August 13 in 1999, a Friday the 13th, there had been a heavy downpour in the villages sorrounding Mt Matutum (as we’ve learned the morning after).

The sky unloaded its watery weight and flooded the villages with its wrath.
On the foot of the mountain where the school is located, the scenario was entirely different, oblivious to the storm occurring in the nearby areas. The clouds had parted ways- as if an answer to my prayers- providing us a magnificent view of the clear imposing sky, teeming with stars.

We lay down there on the school field watching in awe and admiration as the awaited shooting stars zoomed intermittently in front of us. The kids screamed and shrilled at each find as if a treasure, their eyes glued to the sky lest they miss the next spectacle. Amidst their oohs and aahs I offered a prayer of thanks.

From the countless stories jubilantly told and retold in the days that ensued I knew it had been an experience they would cherish.

It has been six years since and yet I could still feel the exhilaration. I could still hear the echoes of their screams. I could still see the awe and excitement on their faces.

I could still fondly recall the miracle that happened 6 years ago on a Friday the 13th.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Astro Factor

A repost of an old blog entry in 2005

Last night my buddies from UP Astrosoc had a get together.

It still amazes me to think that Astrosoc has endured through time and distance. In terms of bonding I think it has gone far better than the other orgs I have joined or most of the fraternities I know of.

So what was it? What is the Astro factor that made that uncommon bond, a bond that makes us talk the same stuff over and over again every time we meet (and yet never seemed to get tired of it)

Astro probably provided solace for each unique individual. It was a place where one can just be one’s self and not fear being labeled weird or different.

It was a group where athletic mountaineers coexisted with introverted bookworms.

It was a group where electrecution-thrill-seekers blended well with role-playing-game fanatics. It was group that never raised eyebrows to a twenty-old year old who still plays GI Joes, or to a lady who refuses to give her birth date or to a lass who shaves her hair for the heck of it.
It was and still is a group that thrives on differences and eccentricities.

Yet despite the range of idiosyncrasies we realized we are the same.
We go to the abandoned and desolate hill on a Friday night to look up at the wide expanse.
We leave behind our thoughts on a make-or-break exam, or the fast-approaching thesis deadline, or the looming MRR at the end of the term.
We take part in the continuing saga of creation that unfolds in front of us.

For that brief respite we forget our hang-ups, our broken hearts, our fears, we all become innocent kids once again basking at the overwhelming creation that surrounds us.

We all find the searchers and the poets in us as we navigate through the skies. We become one.

And after that celestial journey we go down the hill and back into each of our own lives. We deal once again with the usual banalities that grind us down.

And yet we feel a spark of hope and a sense of longing. We have the energy to go through the week because come Friday night we once again come home.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Shahai Total Solar Eclipse Multiple Exposure Shot

Here's a cool shot taken by Kin Enriquez one my teammates in our Shanghai Solar Eclipse Expedition..

Link of this original photo as follows. Please acknowledge photographer when reposting.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Tips to save on travel : Tip 2 : Book in advance

Eclipse hunting requires a long term commitment. This ain't for wimps and folks who back out due to some last minute changes. It takes planning not just weeks but months ahead.

The event unlike ordinary movie premieres, birthday parties, get-togethers or what have yous isn't changeable. It becomes a sacrosanct mark on your calendar where all other activities would revolve.

Six months in advance should be a good rule of thumb.

The plane fare is the big bulk of the expense of hunting. In our last hunt the fare amounted to almost 60% of the budget. One can drastically reduce this by eyeing on airline promos. (One member got his trip for 8K, while another got it for 17 K.. do the math)

One would just have to be on the constant lookout. One can even get as low as 60% discount.

So always visit the websites of the airlines or better yet sign up for email reminders.

But be forewarned. Once you booked the itinerary any changes would mean penalties.

We had a member of the team who was penalized 50% of the whole ticket cost because of rebooking and cancellation.

The drive to reduce cost should be balanced with acceptable risk.

But risk-tasking is a character that defines a hunter.
Once you've confirmed the itinerary, take the plunge.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Eclipse 101 : What is an Eclipse?

Of course if you happen to stumble by, one assumes that you have a baseline knowledge of what an eclipse is.

Nonetheless should you need to brush, here's a cool video from from video jug of what an eclipse is

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Tips to save on travel: Tip 1 : Establish Contacts

1. Travel Tip No. 1 : Establish Contacts

There's a kewl site called Couchsurfing.
It provides a great way to trot around the globe without spending so much by booking in the so-called couches. It's also a great way to establish meaningful contacts.
What I like about the concept is that it somehow works on a Pay it Forward principle.

Our spot in Jinshanwei was identified because a fellow Couchsurfer provided the link in a meeting event.

Totality Video Shanghai 2009

Here's a kewl video taken by Kin, a fellow astronomer, of the totality in Jinshanwei, Shanghai.
More videos to follow.

This video is posted at

Friday, 31 July 2009

Eclipse Hunter Pack

Headed for China this January 2010 for the Annular Eclipse?

What’s an eclipse hunter without his tools ? Get that checklist and see if you have considered bringing this stuff. Give yourself a point for every item considered.

1. Passport… Perhaps the most important piece of your luggage. No passport no entry. Nuff said. And be sure it’s at least 6 mos. valid. China requires visa. Allot 4 regular days for processing

2. Toiletries… hahaha.. A hunter needs to be vain at times to look good on the camera. But don’t bring the whole set.. One thing you might miss out is lip balm.. Weather will be very cold in January, you ‘ll need to moisturize your lips regularly.

3. GPS… This tool comes in handy to get your exact latitude, longitude and elevation. Essential for contact timings. Don’t forget the AA batteries

4. Cash… Most hostels don’t accept credit card.. Bring lots of mooolah.. Better bring dollars and have it exchanged at an accredited bank. Changing dollars at the airport is not advisable because they charge a considerable fee.

5. Wristwatch.. For the timing of the contacts

6. Digital Camera.. ..Of course while you’ll be using a DSLR for the sun shots it pays to have a point and shoot cam handy.

7. Hotel Info… In Chinese characters.. Most taxi drivers can’t read the alphabet. Have your hotel info in Chinese characters handy and you’ll never get lost

8. Cellphone… Of course you would want to answer that incoming call.. It’s PhP 80/minute for int’l roaming . But then it pays to have it handy for emergency purposes. Besides you can receive text message from your envious friends in the Philippines for free. Texting back though is PhP 20/ text.

9. Photographs… Some hostels have this sort of shrine for travellers (Think Mt Pulag Shrine). Leave your mark by posting a good photo of your group.

10. Mini-flashlight… I just squeezed this in.. Flashlights might come in handy in case of power failure. We had that experience when we’re in Shanghai. A small key-chain would do the trick.

11. Mini-tripod… Big things come in small packages. Comes in handy for those spur of the moment group shots. This toy elicited hearty response from my foreigner friends when I whipped it out for a group pictorial.

12. Credit Card… While most establishments don’t accept credit cards, having one is a good insurance.. You’ll never know when you need one.

13. Mementos…. Bring memorable stuff from the Philippines or from your group. Chances are you’ll meet a cute lady whom you’d like to leave something to help her remember you by.. (ehem ehem, sounds familiar to someone I hope)

14. Chargers… As Lady Gaga said… Russian roulette is never fun without a gun. Your gadgets are useless without the power.

15. Calling Card… Chances are the person sitting beside you on the plane is a fellow eclipse hunter or a media personality or has a contact to where you’re headed There is always wealth of opportunities of meeting folks on trips like this.. Have these cards handy so you can give your contact details in a jiffy.

16. Thumb drive… Handy for swapping files.

17. Pen… Need to fill out that entry form? Need to write down the address of your hostel? Need to scribble the cute girl's number? Need I say more?

18. Scissors and Cutters.. They come in handy in most unexpected circumstances.. cutting ropes for your banner… constructing a box… devising a filter for your cam.. Throw in a baggage tape and masking tape to complete the set . Just make sure you pack it in on your checked in baggage as sharp objects are not allowed in the cabin.

19. Medicines… A hunter is only good if he’s not sick.. Make sure to include paracetamol, ascorbic acid, ibuprofen and loperamide in your pack.

20. Laptop.. Kinda bulky but essential for storing thousand of bytes of digital images and videos.. Besides you would need to stay connected with the gang.

That’s it folks. Hope this list gives you a head start on your hunt.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Viewing the Setting Sun

My next goal will be to observe the Annular Eclipse in Qingdao China on January 15, 2010.
It has been my long-term goal to see an annular eclipse during sunset and this celestial event by some stroke of coincidence will just happen perfectly.
About 6 months after my recent conquest in a place very much accessible.

Qingdao, China has been my choice for 3 major reasons :

1) It near the centerline thereby giving the longest possible duration

2) It is accessible by plane or train from Shanghai or Beijing and

3) Maximum eclipse will occur near sunset.

The timing afford me the chance to view the sun directly.

Intuitively, viewing the setting sun without any filter should be safe. However I made sure there's a valid basis for this. The link herewith gives a comprehensive discussion on why it's safe to stare at the setting sun.

Incidentally in this link I stumbled upon an article that debunked an astro Urban Legend that Galileo got blind because of improper usage of the scope while viewing the sun. On the contrary he became blind at the age of 72 from a combination of cataract and glaucoma.. =)

172 days to go.. Qingdao here I come..

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Shanghai Total Solar Eclipse 2009

The weather in Shanghai a day before belied the sky condition that would greet us on Wednesday, the day of the eclipse.

We conducted a dry run of our equipment on Tuesday in front of the hostel under the sweltering heat of Shanghai sun and everything seemed good to go. Our strange-looking equipment gathered curious glances from onlookers. Some Chinese folks don’t have a concept of privacy or territory; they would just peek on our stuff without even asking permission.

Fortunately Wang, our ever-reliable interpreter kept on shooing off the nosy folks. Beng, our team official documentation head had a brilliant idea; she had someone scribbled a sign in Chinese characters that somehow said.. “ We are observing the sun. Please do not disturb”

All the set-ups were tested: multiple exposure setups, magnified shots of the sun through various phases, one on video tracking of the sun piggy-backed on a tracking scope, wide angle shot of the sun to capture nearby heavenly objects during totality, sun’s projection on astroscan, and shadow bands set-up.

Later that day, I, Aaron (one of official student delegates), Wang and Kale ( an enthusiast from Chicago who wanted to join our group) went to Jinshanwei for an ocular inspection.

Jinshanwei is a coastal suburb around 70 km south of Shanghai city proper. It is near the centerline and the southernmost part of China along the eclipse path giving us the advantage of the longest totality (our computation was 5 min and 58 s).

I was quite surprised that I haven’t heard of any Philippine team setting up in Jinshanwei. I have heard of folks flocking to She Shan observatory, Shanghai city proper and Jiaxing. Then there’s also a team at Wuhan.

I admit I was a bit apprehensive that a coastal setting might give a fickle sky condition which would have explained why no other astronomical team had set up in the location.

We arrived at Jinshanwei around 1230 pm.. We spotted 3 ideal locations and first choice was near the beach area with no entrance fee. (The other option was inside another beach that charges 30RMB /head, the third one was a park in front of a bus station).

Our chosen location did not meet two of our original requirements : must be near an electrical source or power supply and with WiFi.. But it was best there was in terms of unspoiled view.

We took the GPS setting of our chosen location ( latitude, longitude, elevation) as these were crucial for the contact timings. Bamm was our contact in the Philippines who supplied the eclipse data based on the exact location.

Cloud cover on Tuesday afternoon was promising. Thought there were scattered cirrus clouds all over, they were not alarming since they were the type that would fleet by easily. There was a smog buildup on the horizon up to about 30 deg altitude; not high enough to spoil the view of the sun during first contact.

We had 2 back up options in Jinshanwei and our ultimate back up option would have been a drive westwards towards Jiaxing area should cloud cover be nonnegotiable.

Kale had been tracking the cloud patterns the night before and the storm brewing from Beijing had all indications that it would cover the entire Shanghai area the following day.

Our call time that Wednesday was 5 am at the hostel lobby. It was quite surprising that everyone seemed all revved up when clock hit 5. ( I surmise some of them had a restless night, like me which just had a 2-hour nap) .

We left for Jinshanwei at 530 AM. Two enthusiasts from UK , Milly and Doug joined our team since we had two more slots in the vehicle Traffic, unlike what we originally thought was surprisingly light.

Ominous cloud cover was all over Shanghai and the same scenario greeted us in Jinshanwei. It was a stark contrast from the fair weather that greeted us the day before (sigh). (Sometimes I still ask God why He couldn’t have just swapped the weather for two days)

A drizzle greeted us when we were setting up. I told the team that transferring to Jiaxing was no longer an option given the extent of the overcast. We were far better off by staying put.

We had to adjust our location a bit to have a cover in case of heavy downpour. I admired the team for its professionalism. Despite the bleak scenario they set up their equipment as if all things were normal. Our equipment were all set up an hour before first contact.
Onlookers trickled in as early as 8 AM.

Some of the team prayed the rosary hoping for the clouds to open up a bit.

Our prayers were answered partly as we had glimpses of the sun between first and second contact. As the team official timer I had to announce every two minutes, the countdown for multiple images shot and the number of minutes prior to totality. In most instances the presence of the mylar prevented us from getting a good shot since the cloud provided additional filter. The settings we used during the dry runs were almost not applicable.

In other instances the sun would peek but not on the determined time that we’re supposed to get for multiple exposure. Kin and Erika nonetheless took shots of the sun since its appearance was becoming highly-prized.

Our last shot of the sun was taken 5 minutes before totality and the clouds as if a curtain, gave the sun its final bow.

We never got to capture the corona. We did however capture in video the change in the surrounding light as we approached totality.

When countdown for 2nd contact was being done we were looking at the imaginary sun. The onlookers joined us as we made the countdown. One could really feel the emotionally charged atmosphere as we were nearing zero.

As a team lead of the expedition I was supposed to be professional in the countdown. But I admit a few seconds before totality I totally lost it. I just realized I was just a child lost for words basking in one of nature’s grandest spectacle.

On hindsight I was lucky I had a point and shoot camera with me to capture on video my lunacy during totality. (And the camera was not even part of the set –up)

It all made sense to me that astronomy while it thrived on rigid numbers was not about the cold equations. True, one could find handy the timing of the contacts, the altitude of the sun, or the duration of the totality. One could utter with astounding command the declination, azimuth, hour angle, right ascension or absolute magnitude

But without the heart and the human vulnerability, these numbers make no sense.

For more fundamental are the raw emotions that a celestial event would evoke. I realized that inherently we are still very much like our ancestors when they first glanced at the skies and partook in the ancient of sciences.

We may have come a long way since our caveman days but no mathematical advancement could ever rob us of that awe, of that child-like fascination, of the magical wonder.

This is the heart of astronomy.

While we were disappointed that we never got a shot of the corona, we were still blessed to feel the change in temperature and the surreal darkness that blanketed us.

We could proudly claim that we felt 5 minutes and 58 seconds of darkness, a record that would only be surpassed in 2132.

In many many years time we could tell our children and even our grandchildren that the longest total solar eclipse of our lifetime passed in 2009.

And that we, UP Astrosoc Team Shanghai : Beng, Sharon, Kin, Rej, Sig, Erika, Andre, Aaron, Kiel, Am, and I , were bold and lucky enough to be there.

The Journey Begins

Hooray ! This blog official marks my goal of chasing eclipses. Join me in my journey.. As of today there are 173 days to go before my next goal... The Annular eclipse which I plan to observe at Qingdao.

Hopefully my third attempt to capture the climax of the eclipse in photo would be successful this time thereby disproving that I have "balat sa puwet".