Watching the planet Jupiter in Cebu City

- Bobit S. Avila -
Here’s something of great interest to those who believe in the capability of the Filipino as a world-class achiever. Last Feb. 24, a relatively unknown Cebuano planetary imager, amateur astronomer and member of the Astronomical League of the Philippines Inc. (ALP) named Christopher Go was peering into the dark skies from his home at Ma. Luisa Estate Park and looking at the great planet Jupiter with its famous Red Spot, when suddenly, he noticed that an area near the Red Spot was changing color from white to red and lo and behold, he found what US astronomers now call "Red Spot Jr.," south of the Red Spot. It was a discovery made with Go’s backyard telescope right here in Cebu City.

Last April, two teams of astronomers were given permission to use the famous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to observe Red Spot Jr., which is an "Earth-sized storm" also called "Oval BA." Nope, BA doesn’t stand for Bobit Avila. Chris Go’s discovery made waves in the worldwide astronomical community and his feat was featured in The Freeman a month ago and in all astronomical magazines and websites around the world. He is the first Filipino I know to have used the Hubble Space Telescope.

I’m writing about Chris Go today because tonight, he is my guest on my talkshow Straight from the Sky. After seven years of doing the show, finally I got a guest who peers into the sky! It is only now that I realized that the Philippines and more notably Cebu is very conducive to stargazing.

Last Saturday evening, Chris invited me to his home in Ma. Luisa and there I met his fellow planetary imager, Tomio Akutsu, who is also well-known in astronomical circles worldwide and has a business at the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ). Akutsu lives in Cebu because he knows he can get a good resolution if he does his stargazing here. Chris uses a Celestron C-11 Schmidt Cassegrain telescope mounted on an AP-900 equatorial mount and a DMK21BF04 monochrome camera to get images of Jupiter.

Indeed, Jupiter was a sight to behold! I was glad that I brought my family along so they themselves could see what few Cebuanos have ever seen right in their own backyard. Unfortunately, we were only given a 30-minute opening in the clouds… but it was well worth it!

However, for our readers who are into stargazing, you can check the website of ALP www.astroleaguephils.org or look at the photos taken by Chris Go in his website http://astro.christone.net/. If you go to Google and type his name, Christopher Go, you will get to see all the photos of the planets, including Jupiter and Saturn, the Moon and yes, the Sun with its spots and solar flares. All the time I thought you need to go to high-tech observatories like Mt. Palomar Observatory to take photos of solar flares, but now we know you can also do it right here in Cebu City. But you need special filters to do that, which are quite expensive.

It was a pleasant surprise when Chris Go told me that as a planetary imager, he found out that the resolution of photos taken in Cebu City often matches or is even better than that of images taken in the great observatories like those in Hawaii or high up in the mountains of Chile. He showed me his photos and compared them to those of other astronomers in places like Chile, Japan or even Barbados! That means Mayor Tomas Osmeña can now add astronomy to the growing list of the advantages of living in Cebu City.

Another surprise that Chris Go told me was that one of his idols was a Cebuano scientist named Dr. Casimiro "Miroy" V. del Rosario, who just happened to be the father-in-law of my eldest brother, Rene, who married Del Rosario’s oldest daughter Nanette. I have met "Noy Miroy" many times in the past and have always known him to be an astronomer… but I never realized that he was a National Scientist until now. I just learned from my sister-in-law that Miroy del Rosario was the Dean of Filipino Physicists!

I recalled one time that he asked me to visit him in his home so I could watch the planet Saturn on his homemade telescope and true enough, I saw Saturn in a size smaller than my shirt’s button! But wow… I saw that from his house (not far from Chris Go’s) on a telescope he made himself! Yes, during his retirement, he made telescopes as a hobby.

Dr. Miroy del Rosario hailed from Bantayan Island. He was the dean of the Department of Physics at UP Diliman and director of the weather bureau (now PAGASA) and restored the Manila Observatory, which was destroyed during the war. He was also elected as an officer of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). He was even the roommate of Ernest O. Lawrence, a Ph.D. who won the Nobel Prize in 1938. One of his legacies was the establishment of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS), which produces the brightest Filipino students. He died on Sept. 15, 1982.

Last Saturday evening was an unforgettable experience for me looking at Jupiter on a high-tech telescope. Knowing that we have amateur astronomers like Chris Go right here in Cebu City gives us hope that surely the dreams of Dr. Del Rosario (he certainly was ahead of our time, knowing that Cebu was a great place for stargazing) continue with our youth, especially now that Chris Go has a group of amateur astronomers at the University of San Carlos (USC) and he also dreams that someday, they would build a planetarium and observatory. When this happens, Cebuanos can join and play a major role in world astronomy right here in their own backyard.
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There’s a renewed debate on whether journalists or media practitioners should be armed or not, especially now that the Arroyo administration has agreed to allow them to carry firearms outside of their residences. Firstly, let me point out that no one can stop a determined killer from getting his prey.

Secondly, the major issue being raised in the media is that the quick resolution of the murders would surely deter would-be killers from targeting journalists in the future. It is when our police authorities cannot or worse, even refuse to find the killers of journalists that others are emboldened to go out of their way to kill journalists.

I’m not totally against journalists packing a piece because like what happened to my good friend broadcaster Choy Torralba two years ago, he was shot as he left his radio station. Luckily, he had a gun in his car and fired back and his assailant left in a huff. But I also believe that a journalist carrying a gun would demolish the often used phrase, "The pen is mightier than the sword/gun." That means journalists with guns carry two deadly weapons!
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For e-mail responses to this article, write to [email protected]. Bobit Avila’s columns in The Freeman can also be accessed through The Philippine STAR website (www.philstar.com). He also hosts a weekly talkshow, "Straight from the Sky," shown every Monday, at 8 p.m., only in Metro Cebu on Channel 15 of SkyCable.











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