Sunday, November 19, 2017

Stargazing with JAO

My mentee, Sobina Yu, approached me once to talk about setting up an astronomy organization in her school. Part of the projects she had in line for the Judenite's Astronomical Organization was an out of town stargazing trip. On October 7 an agreement was made between the Manila Street Astronomers and JAO to facilitate a stargazing trip at Big Handy's Grounds.

With my mentee,
the president and founder of JAO
Sobina organized and facilitated mostly everything: from talking to teachers and school administrators, securing permits, parents consents, transportation, budgeting and accounting, and coordination with Big Handy's Grounds. This was her first time handling an activity of this sort so she was very much out of her comfort zone. Even when she got all stressed out - messaging me late at night, contacting various people, explaining to parents, etc. - she handled everything pretty well, and I am very proud of her for doing so. Assisting her from JAO to deal with school documents was her VP, Janina Uygongco. I on the other hand organized the manpower who will serve as facilitators, and telescope providers. I had a bit of problems at first with the changing line up of facilitators since most of the MSA core group had sudden unforeseen work concerns (which can't be avoided, I've had my share). Fortunately I had some reliable individuals to catch the ball - Rheanne Odessa Jimeno and Kenneth Bailador. As hiking was a necessary part of the trip the three of us used portable telescope setups. I brought my Celestron TravelScope 70 and my Celestron C90, while Rheanne and Kenneth brought a PowerSeeker 80 EQ. Also with us were Kashogi Astapan and Khristian Dimacali.

The group left Mendiola at around 1:00 PM on November 15. It was my first trip to BHG. It was cloudy when we got there but fast moving wind currents kept the clouds moving through the night. Unfortunately we missed out on several of the southern targets. Even Saturn was hard to resolve with the poor seeing. In the west we could see the sky glow from Manila, and in the east another bright light source was present. Fortunately It was gone some time past midnight. Friends who have been to BHG said it wasn't there before. For a moment when there was full cloud cover the sky was bright as clouds glowed white from the light sources.

We were able to observe several deep-sky objects including star clusters, nebulae, double stars, and the Andromeda galaxy. In the morning we watched the waning crescent Moon while waiting for the sunrise.

Facing south west, Manila sky glow

Facing East

If you want to read more about this activity visit The Cosmic Wonderer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Space Medicine

Let's face it – at the moment we don't have many opportunities for professional astronomy in the Philippines. The truth is, our government simply does not have that much of a priority for the sciences. We've all heard about scientists moving to other countries for better opportunities, and inventors selling their patents abroad because no one is willing to support them. When I entered this field I have worked in the academe, educational service companies, and non-profit groups. I have also seen the kind of jobs my students have been able to find. Sadly, there are a lot of students with potential out there who had to extinguish the flames of their passion for more lucrative careers.

Among the students I've talked to, the field of medicine seems to be one of the most common choices. Not wanting to put their potential and passion for astronomy to waste I usually point out a direction that they can put into consideration – space medicine. Space medicine involves proactive and reactive care of humans to optimize their performance and well-being under the extreme environment of space.

In the environment of space the human body is subjected to various effects like bone and muscle loss, reduced cardiovascular function, radiation exposure, microgravity, and even effects on mental health. These factors can result to symptoms such as: loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia, dehydration, skin inflammation, back pain, respiratory infection, eye irritation, UTI, abnormal heart beats, muscle strain, diarrhea, constipation, ear problems, and lung inflammation. These symptoms have to be diagnosed correctly for the effects and treatment may be different on the ground and in space.

Be it on the ground, or out in space, there are many ways in which space medicine is needed. Among the tasks involved are the production of documentation for medical requirements; medical selection and certification of astronauts; biomedical training on medical protocols; flight health evaluation and monitoring; provide preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic care; environmental health and monitoring; crew rehabilitation and fitness evaluation; and emergency medical services.

With humanity's plans to go to Mars in the relatively near future, there will eventually be a need for medical students entering space medicine to serve as future doctors in space crews. Who knows, maybe one of the students I've talked to will get to be one of them.

For those of you who wish to learn more about space medicine, here is a listing of some useful references:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Philippine Astronomy Portal?

As astronomy in the Philippines is slowly gaining popularity, the bulk of activities still revolves around outreach and telescope viewing activities. I was in college when I first organized these kind of events, and I've been doing this ever since. From an organizers perspective, it isn't uncommon to hear questions like:

“I only knew about this now”
Ba't ngayon lang nagkaganito?
“Can I know when your next event is?”
Open po ba sa public?”

We've all had to deal with them one way or another and we can only do so much to market these events. Because of this some members of the astronomy community have tried to establish a single access portal to learn about these kind of activities.

Philippine astronomy was the first web portal of all astronomy related activities and events for the Philippines. It was maintained by Raymund Ang who was a member of the Astronomical League of the Philippines at that time. Unfortunately, Raymund didn't get much support for the project as not much content was shared from the community. He was also based in Bacolod so most content was gathered from social media.

Philippine Astronomy Directory was a single-page directory for links to various groups and institutions. There is not much information about this site and it hasn't been updated in years.

Philippine Astronomy Forum was originally a yahoo forum group that eventually turned into a Facebook group. It was initiated by James Kevin Ty of the Astronomical League of the Philippines. The forum talks about anything astronomy, and there are lots of content on astrophotography.

Dark Sky Network
Dark Sky Network was a Facebook group designed to share astronomy events to the community for collaborative participation. This was an open-access initiative by Anthony Urbano that allowed members who were available to take part in these setups. The group was eventually removed in Facebook years later when the objectives were not met and the content was filled with members' astro photos rather than events.

Many of us astro-bloggers promote events from different groups. On my part, my postings and listings of Philippine astronomy content was eventually shifted to a tab on this blog as a directory which I maintain to the best of my knowledge.

Filipino Astronomy Community is another Facebook group that discusses astronomy content from the Philippines. It was initiated by Jerome de Leon and contains more of an academic content, as well as opportunities here and abroad.

Astronomy PH is a quarterly e-zine that promotes science communication and collaboration between members of the local astronomy community. This is a project of the GAIA-Open Research and Collaborative Learning Experience. The content is crowd-sourced from the different groups, and news and announcement of past and future events can be found in the finder section. It's most recent initiative is it's twitteraccount where the community can tweet their news/events.

While some of these have been discontinued either due to lack of time or support from the community, content not matching objective, or the over-loading of astro-photos, they are worth mentioning to provide us with insight as to future efforts. Currently there is a discussion between different astronomy groups being initiated by Kashogi Astapan of creating a new web portal for Philippine Astronomy content. I have high hopes for this initiative and wish that past examples can guide this project into a truly collaborative direction where everyone can benefit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Astronomy PH

Astronomy PH is the very first collaborative e-zine in astronomy for the Philippines. It is a community-based magazine that allows readers, organizations, and institutions to communicate their activities and insights to the rest of the astronomy community and the general public. The e-zine is open-source, non-profit and is non-discriminatory, thus allowing free access to participation and information irregardless of affiliation.

Astronomy PH is a project initiated by the GAIA-Open Research And Collaborative Learning Experiences (ORACLE), and is published quarterly. Submissions can be made at the GAIA-ORACLE Facebook Page or through Deadline of submissions are during the last weeks of February, May, August, and November.

Issues can be downloaded for free at the GAIA Resource Page, or through Facebook.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

What Are You Doing Now?

There is a question that I have been avoiding recently. Every so often, I find myself being asked “So what are you doing now?” (or any variation thereof like: ‘where are you working?’; ‘are you still teaching?’; ‘what astronomy projects are you doing?’). I’ve been avoiding this question not because of its difficulty nor because I find it embarrassing. I have been avoiding this question because I cannot simply put it in a few words. The thing is, I’m doing all sorts of stuff right now that I usually pause and think which to mention, or in which context I am asked before giving a response.

My Past Work
I studied physics and astronomy in college and graduate school because I used to dream of becoming a research astronomer. Heck, I still do. My first job was as a college instructor at the Department of Earth and Space Sciences of Rizal Technological University. Simultaneously, I also held a contractual position in the department as their Scientific Coordinator and Laboratory/Multimedia Assistant. I also spearheaded the formation of the department’s solar research program. I was also very active in the Astronomical League of the Philippines – being a constant lecturer and present in multiple events. I also worked in the Andromeda Mobile Planetarium which went around the Cordilleras for weeks at a time – limiting my time to take up a teaching load for my college classes. These were the few tasks in which (to borrow the university president’s words) I started to ‘create a name’ for myself in the local astronomy community.

Fast Forward Now
As my work with Andromeda was almost over I had a lot of time in my hands that I decided to focus on a number of my close astronomy students to create an environment for them to continue their training and exposure to different astronomy and astro-related tasks. Professional astronomy work is relatively new in the Philippines so there are limited options for growth. This environment for my students became the Guild for Astronomy Innovation and Advancement which focused areas of their development such as: publication, observation, outreach, instrumentation, and research. GAIA also extends its reach to the public by providing citizen science and collaborative opportunities through its Open Research and Collaborative Learning Experience program (ORACLE). I also devoted my time to the Manila Street Astronomers, as one of its co-founders, and created a linkage for GAIA in MSA for their Observation. The MSA is a non-profit collaborative sidewalk astronomy group who goes around different areas to provide free telescope viewing events. Alongside GAIA and MSA, I am currently the adviser for the Philippine Union of Student Organizations for Astronomy (PUSO for Astronomy; puso is the Filipino word for heart), and just recently the National Coordinator for the Philippines of the Astronomers Without Borders.

These collaborative astronomy work is where I spend most of my free time on. All of these are non-profit – and hence enters the paying job. Outside the astronomy scene I am working in Specializing in Modern Interactive Learning Experience (SMILE Group PH). Smile is a STEM/STEAM education company who provides the STEM methodology of teaching through their different programs and classes. They also hold the franchise for international STEM programs such as Engineering for Kids and Challenge Island. My work in Smile involves teaching and curriculum development – especially in robotics where I am currently the lead faculty of. Of course, my love for astronomy and physics won’t drift away as STEM provides for learning across disciplines. We have different astronomy and physics related concepts from space-based robotics to aerospace engineering. I allocate roughly 80-95% of my earning working as a STEM educator to provide for my astronomy work. And because my paid-job is full-time, I squeeze my astronomy work in during coffee breaks, weekends, rest days, and during the night.

Don’t get me wrong, I also take my STEM work seriously. I know I can opt to further my career path by focusing on my professional development like achieving that elusive Ph.D., but the work I’m doing is of equal importance. I believe that in order to develop the local astronomy community we need to provide opportunities and develop our learning culture. We need to inspire learning and thinking beyond traditional means to create solutions and innovations. I believe we need a culture that provides opportunities for everyone regardless of age, status, background, etc. When we develop the learning culture we empower the community. We create learners who create solutions and seek to develop themselves. It may be idealistic to some, and some people in my field may look down on me, but every journey begins with a simple step.

So… to answer the questions vaguely, “I am currently working to make tomorrow better than yesterday. Would you like to join me?”