Friday, July 29, 2011

Astro Potty

This is how a toilet in the space station looks like:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Crater Named Balagtas

The surface of the planet Mercury is pock-marked with numerous craters, and the International Astronomical Union names them after famous artists and writers. 

One Philippine writer was immortalized with a crater on Mercury named after him - Francisco Balagtas, which was the pen name of poet Francisco Baltazar. He wrote, among others, the opus Florante at Laura

The Balagtas crater is about 98.82 kilometers in diameter, located at 22.6 ° center latitude and 12.75 ° E longitude. 


Wolfram Alpha

[Pictures are screenshots from USGS (top) and Wolfram Alpha (bottom)]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Red Moon

A total lunar eclipse occurred last June 16, 2011, and I was able to observe the astronomical event at the PAGASA Observatory inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

Together with some members of the UP Astronomical Society, we observed the eclipse - the first one in 11 years - at the sun deck of the observatory. The eclipse started around 1:25am and reached maximum at 4:12 am.

This is my second major eclipse observation in recent years, the first was the total solar eclipse in China in 2009. 

pics, from top: the red moon at totality; the umbra becomes apparent at the start of the eclipse; members of the UP Astronomical Society with their observation gear; observing the eclipse

[cross-posted at Kin's Ant Farm, the 2 eclipse pics are courtesy of UP AstroSoc member A. Geronimo]

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Castor and Pollux

Castor and Pollux, birthed by Leda and fathered by Zeus and King Tyndareus, the twins were legendary characters in Greek and Roman mythology. Because Pollux's father was a god, he was born an immortal, while his twin died.

They were immortalized in the heavens with a constellation of their own - Gemini (or The Twins). The brightest stars in the constellation were the stars named Castor, which 49.8 light years away from Earth, and Pollux, located 34 light years away. There is an extrasolar planet orbiting Pollux.

I saw these Roman statues (ca. 3rd AD) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Sundial Umbrella

A Japanese designed came up with this nifty design of a parasol that also functions as a sundial. Align the umbrella using the built-in compass, and you can read the time from the sun's position along the grid lines.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ophiucus and the 13th Zodiac

With the brouhaha about Ophiucus in the media lately, I am re-publishing this article I wrote about the 13th zodiac, back in 2001, originally titled 'Written in the Stars'. It was first published in (now defunct), and portions were quoted in Yahoo Answers.


In the ancient times people had lump together celestial objects with the realm of the gods, and with it comes the conclusion that since gods control the stars and the planets (sometimes gods are the embodiments of the objects themselves – Roman deity Jupiter, The Egyptian god Ra and Aztec god Quetzacotyl are associated with the sum, for example), maybe humans could have a glimpse on the whims and wishes of the gods by reading and interpreting the positions and movements of celestial objects. People believed that one could gain favors from the gods if he can interpret what the gods are telling him through the positions and movements of the stars and planets, otherwise terrible things will befall him – a disaster (aster is Latin for ‘star;’ dis- means ‘not,’ therefore not following the stars would mean misfortune.

As the human affairs got more complicated and societies and cultures see fortunes created and destroyed, and times got more uncertain there came the need for the correct interpretation of the celestial phenomena. Thus born astrology, the science of reading the messages of the stars (aster, star, and logos, science of).

This task was given to a class of priests – the mediator between men and the gods. They were the ones who institute the ceremonies and rites that will please the gods, and ensure the proper observation and interpretation of the stars. As time goes by all the knowledge gained by these priests were codified into a simpler system that can be easily understood not by just the priests but also by lesser mortals. One of these “systems” involves zodiac signs. Simply put, a person can determine his zodiac sign by referring his birth date to a table of zodiac signs and corresponding dates, like the following:

Aries - March 21 (autumnal equinox) -Apr 19
Taurus - Apr 20 - May 20
Gemini - May 21 - June 21 (summer solstice)
Cancer - June 22 - Jul 22
Leo - Jul 23 - Aug 22
Virgo - Aug 23 -Sept 22
Libra - Sept 23 (vernal equinox) - Oct 23
Scorpio - Oct 24 - Nov 21
Sagittarius - Nov 22 - Dec 21
Capricorn - Dec 22 (winter solstice) - Jan 19
Aquarius - Jan 20 - Feb 18
Pisces - Feb 19 - Mar 20

To take my birth date, which is October 29 as an example, we will see that my zodiac sign is Scorpio. Scorpios were described by astrologers as having revolutionary minds, coupled with truly remarkable force of will. Furthermore, they tend to focus on the task at hand and are so often mistakenly perceived as rude or unsympathetic. They also have the infamous temper. They either fascinate or frighten all the opposite sex they meet… they are magnetic, lusty and endowed with mysterious power.

Now the problem with this setup is there are actually 13 zodiac signs, not twelve, the 13th being Ophiucus (the Serpent bearer), a small constellation between Scorpio and Libra. Maybe the priests have forgotten about it, or maybe they simply ignored it for reasons that we will never be sure about. Maybe they feel that 13 is unlucky and so on, or maybe because 12 corresponds to the number of months we have on the calendar…

Just as an exercise I went out to find out if the birth dates and zodiac signs would still correspond to the original setup if we include the 13th sign, because if we really want to be accurate with our reading the gods’ whims, then everything should be accounted for.

Using just a Palm Pilot running a sky map program called Planetarium 2.0.4, I simulated what the sky would look like back in different dates. I plugged in my birth date to see what my zodiac sign is. To my surprise, I turned out not to be a Scorpio, but a Virgo! That is two signs down. I also tried other dates to see if they still fit with the traditional zodiac signs table and discovered that it was totally out of whack. After several simulations I have come up with a new table:

Aries - Apr 19 – May 14
Taurus - May 15 - June 21
Gemini - June 22 - July 20
Cancer - Jul 21 - August 10
Leo - August 11 - September 16
Virgo - September 17 - October 31
Libra - November 1 - Nov 23
Scorpio - Nov 24 - Nov 29
Ophiucus - Nov 30 - Dec 18
Sagittarius - Dec 91 - Jan 19
Capricorn - Jan 2 - Feb 16
Aquarius - Feb 17 - Mar 12
Pisces - Mar 13 - Apr 18

I also found out even these dates are still not very accurate, on February 16, 1950, the sun is in Aquarius, and not in Capricorn as predicted in the model. On March 12, 1925 the sun should be in Pisces, not in Aquarius. The Zodiac sign for November 23 1904 should be in Scorpio, and not Libra as predicted. For somebody born on Sept 17 2031, his zodiac sign should be Leo, not Virgo as predicted.

So it turns out the astrologers have got everything all mixed up, that is why astrological predictions never turn out to be true. While I still believe that the cosmos has everything to do with our existence, studying the stars to predict all the trivial things about our personal lives, of when we are suppose to give money or call our friends or who to meet on a particular day is just a dead end.

On the lighter side, I’m still disappointed that I’m not a Scorpio after all. I mean, I liked being described as having a revolutionary mind, with a truly remarkable force of will and that I either fascinate or frighten all opposite sex I meet, and that I am energetic, lusty mysterious being. Virgo people turn out to be lovely, delicate persons who like everything to be perfect, but with no sense of proportion. Virgo folks always wastes time controlling and analyzing themselves and as a result of it – they often lose excellent chances.

But then again, who I am to argue that I would rather be a Scorpio that a Virgo? It’s written in the stars…