Buzz Aldrin completes 80 Orbits – Send him wishes

Today Buzz Aldrin turns 80. And you have the opportunity to send him wishes. The Planetary Society is gathering good wishes from all over the planet to present to Buzz. They will be personally delivering all the messages in a giant birthday card! Wish him now!

Buzz Aldrin (born Edwin Eugene Aldrin, Jr.; January 20, 1930) is an American mechanical engineer, retired United States Air Force pilot and astronaut who was the Lunar Module pilot on Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing in history. On July 20, 1969, he was the second person to set foot on the Moon, following mission commander Neil Armstrong.

I’m affiliated a multinational organization called Space Renaissance Initiative (SRI). Last year Buzz joined for one of SRI committee meeting via telecon. It was fascinating to interact with him. All the words he spoke were very inspiring.

Buzz in 2009

Buzz Aldrin
Astronaut Bio: Buzz Aldrin

Image credit:NASA/ Phil Konstantin

Ring of Fire – An unforgettable experience

Over the years I have being involved with many outreach events,but never was so excited as this, adding to that excitement, it was the first time all of us went to Jaffna – North of Sri Lanka.

Eclipse Team

Expedition to Northern Sri Lanka to catch the Ring of Fire started around 7.00pm on the 13th.

1. Thilina Heenatigala – Sri Lanka Astronomical Association
2. Anuradha Jayathilaka - SkyLK
3. Hasitha Karunaratne - SkyLK
4. Imesh Perera – Astronomy & Space Study Center
5. Prasanna Deshapriya – Sri Lanka Astronomical Association
6. ArunaGammanpila - SkyLK
7. Plashthi Kanaththage - Astronomy & Space Study Center
8. Thishan Pavithra - Astronomy & Space Study Center
9. Bhasura Gunawardhana – Royal College Astronomical Society
10. Shamil Asitha Kuruppu - Royal College Astronomical Society

By the time we reach Jaffna, it was about 12noon on the 14th. First thing to do was to schedule a time to check our observing location. Around 5pm we went to Jaffna Hindu College ground, and checked for a good place to set up our equipments.

Observing a good observing location for the big day

discussing arrangements with the Jaffna Hindu College, Principal and the Staff

On 15th early morning we came to the grounds, the sky was clear and was promising a good view. Everyone started with whatever the duties they are assigned to, I went and gave a talk for the students of Jaffna Hindu College. It was bit difficult as we had to use a translator, Uma (Express Media) who was very helpful throughout the program. Communication had been a problem from the time we got to Jaffna, as majority of the people only speak Tamil. But regardless of the language barrier, we were able to communicate and get the message of the Eclipse across.

Testing the webstream

more testing

setting up the photography equipments

Good to GO!

just before Eclipse talk for the students at Jaffna Hindu College

interview for the Virakesarai Media

From the start of the Eclipse, we had the crowd flowing, from all ages and different backgrounds. One of our main goals was to do a live stream of the eclipse. But from the morning we had troubles as we couldn’t get a good signal to keep the connection. It was disconnecting every 2-5minutes which was very disappointing.

This Eclipse was particularly interesting as it was involved with many technological aspects. There were many groups who uploaded live photos from Colombo, Aunuradhapura, Chillaw, and Jaffna. And some tried to web-stream as well. Interesting the last eclipse to cross Sri Lanka was in 1955 where there were hardly any technology around, and the internet was yet to be born. It's interesting how things have evolved over the years and now people from the other side of the world or those who couldn't travel to catch the glimpse of the eclipse could easily experience it live via internet.

You can read an interesting view point by Nalaka Gunewardene, how Main Stream Media and New Media covered the event.

But regardless of the technical difficulties, we managed to share the beauty of the eclipse with the 2000 participants. The annular phase was screened to a projector, so that everyone can see at once. It was very interesting to see the enthusiasm of the local crowd, and the endless questions on Solar Observing.

first set of students came in. such a long line!

students waiting for their opportunity to view to eclipse

I'm next!

all the teacher were given proper instructions for safe viewing.

just before the annular phase, everyone eagerly waiting...

2000 participants were difficult to handle during the annular phase!

all eyes on the screen! Maximum annular phase!

Many groups from Colombo joined as well. Plenty of amateur/professional photographers joined together to capture the Ring of Fire.

Group from Colombo

photographers sharing their images

Eclipse Images

Regardless of the language difference we had, the Eclipse truly brought everyone together. Some of the Jaffna local participants expressed their views on our efforts and the experience they had, even though we didn't understand most of it, their faces showed how delighted they were.

"Fellowship of the Ring" - The Eclipse Team

All the 10 members of the Eclipse team worked hard to share the joy of this beautiful Ring of Fire with the locals and other visitors. It was an effort to remember for the rest of our lives. Hats off to all the team members. And we are thankful to all those who helped us to put this together, specially the Express Media staff.

Photo Credit: Thilina Heenatigala/Eclipse Team/Sinhalaya Travels.
Please feel free to use the photos and share them.

Big Dipper to Southern Cross

Brilliance of the southern Milky Way which can be so bright on a clear moonless night that you can even cast a shadow from its light is something that people living in Northern Hemisphere only heard of. Same way, the never ending beauty of the Northern sky is such a mystery to Southern people.

Big Dipper to Southern Cross” brings these two hemispheres together making “One sky, One people.”

Remote Observing Project
The year 2009 has been a truly astronomical year for earthlings from every corner of the world. It has inspired and given the opportunity to many to discover the beauty of the Universe. Using the momentum given by IYA2009, Astronomers Without Borders has organized a remote observing project – Big Dipper to Southern Cross – giving a kick start to 2010 bringing the celestial experience, living up to AWB’s motto – One People, One Sky.

There will be two telescopes -- one in the northern hemisphere and one in the south -- on two different nights will be going live. No experience is needed. This is a chance to watch as an experienced telescope operator and guide show how they capture the wonders of the night sky.

This event, part of the activities of Astronomers Without Borders’ Remote Observing Project, will be possible thanks to the support of the Virtual Telescope Project and Global Rent-a-Scope

In case of bad weather at the observing stations, the event will be run using backup images or rescheduled.

How to take part:
a) you just need a computer connected to the internet, with loudspeakers or headphones.
b) you also need to install the free Flash plugin. (If you can see and hear videos on YouTube then your system is ready).
c) just enter this page at the dates and times of the "double" event: 8 Jan 2010 (20:00-22:00 UT) for the northern event and 10 Jan 2010 (12:30-14:30 UT) for the southern one!

Northern Hemisphere – Virtual Telescope (Italy)
Virtual Telescope from Italy will broadcast images and narrative live, allowing people around the world to share in viewing and imaging the best northern celestial objects.

Date - Friday 8th of January 2010
Time – 20:00 UT – 22:00 UT

Southern Hemisphere – GRAS (Australia)
The brilliance and special objects of the southern sky will be captured by the GRAS Remote Telescope in Southern Australia.

Date – Sunday 10th of January 2010
Time – 12:30UT – 14:30 UT

Go to the Virtual Telescope's Big Dipper to Southern Cross page at the dates and times of the event.

Northern Hemisphere – Virtual Telescope (Italy)
Telescope: C14-f/8.7
Aperture/focal length (in mm) and f/d - 356/3100; f/8.7
Mount - Paramount ME robotic mount
Scale 0.62"/pixel
Filters – LRGB, H-alpha 6nm, BVRI (Bessel)

Southern Hemisphere – GRAS (Australia)
Telescope: Deep Space - RCOS 12.5" - FL 1950 @ f/6.3
Design: Ritchey-Chrétien Cassegrain
Camera: SBIG ST-8 NABG
FOV Arc mins: 24.1 x 16.8
Resolution (Arc secs/pixels): 0.95
Pixel Array: 1530 x 1020
Megapixels: 1.5
Pixel Size: 9um
Filters: L, UBVRI, Ha, SII, OIII, Blue

Background info
I thought of sharing how the project came alive as well. It’s always interesting to see how much work put to get a good project going.

During IYA2009, there were plenty of Remote Observing sessions. One of the biggest advantages remote sessions have is the opportunity of being part of an observing event even if it’s day time for you, or if you are not able to access a good telescope.

Living in an island – Sri Lanka – closer to the equator, we never could see the North Star – Polaris or the beauty of the Magellan Clouds, unless of course you travel out. This gave me the idea to use the remote observatories around the world making it possible to witness the Northern and the Southern celestial beauties, thus giving birth to the Project – Big Dipper to Southern Cross.
First to approach was of course Mike Simmons of AWB, and he was more than happy to make it an AWB remote observing project. I had Gianluca Masi’s Virtual Telescope in mind for the Northern Telescope. Discussion and planning started, Mike brought Terry Bridges (100HA) and Gianluca Masi who confirmed his support by giving telescope time at the Virtual Telescope for the Northern phase. Arnie Rosner of Global Rent-a-Scope (GRAS) was very keen on giving telescope time at one of their telescopes in Australia and Tony Farkas (GRAS) helped through accessing GRAS telescopes.
For the Northern phase there were no problems as Gianluca Masi is very experienced handling remote sessions. We had to find best ways to access and host the GRAS telescope in Australia.
Finally with so much of discussion, testing and efforts from all of us, the project came alive. I should specially thanks Terry and Gianluca for spending time doing testing for the Southern facility.

Big Dipper to Southern Cross (BDSC)
Virtual Telescope – BDSC
BDSC at Facebook
BDSC at IYA2009

Expedition to Northern Sri Lanka – Annular Solar Eclipse 2010

An Eclipse of the Sun is one of those spectacular displays of nature one must watch in your lifetime. Eclipses have fascinated humans through recorded history.
The next Solar Eclipse to cross Sri Lanka on 2010 January 15th is an Annular and visible in Northern Sri Lanka. The northern territory was not accessible to public until recently due to civil war in Sri Lanka.

This will be a historical moment as it will be the first time most of us are traveling to North after 30 years of war. It is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the Peace in Sri Lanka through this natural phenomenon – Annular Solar Eclipse 2010.

Annular Eclipse of 15th January 2010 is visible within a narrow stretch of 300 km width across Central Africa, Maldives, South Kerala, South Tamil Nadu, North Sri Lanka, Burma and China. It will visible as a partial eclipse in much of Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia.

Path of the Eclipse

For Sri Lanka, the annular is visible in Northern region. The Annular phase will have the longest duration of over 10 minutes from about 1:20 to 1:30 PM (local time) at an altitude of 55 degrees at the center-line of the eclipse which crosses Jaffna (North). About 84.2% of the center of Sun will be covered by the Moon, and the Sun will look like a ring of Fire. The instant of greatest eclipse occurs at 07:06:33 UT when the eclipse magnitude will reach 0.919.

The southern border (Blue) of the path crosses just north of Chilaw on the west coast and north of Nilavali on the East coast. The border crosses south of Anuradhapura, just north of Eppawala. The center-line (Red) crosses Jaffna where the Annular phase will have the longest duration of over 10 minutes from about 1:20 to 1:30 PM at an altitude of 55 degrees. About 84.2% of the center of Sun will be covered by the Moon, and the Sun will look like a ring of Fire.

Sri Lankan Observers

Groups from Colombo Planetarium, Arthur C Clarke Center, University of Moratuwa and Sri Lanka Astronomical Association will be traveling to North for the Eclipse. Some will be producing scientific data while others will enjoy the eclipse doing public out reach programs.

Expedition to North

Group of us representing Sri Lanka Astronomical Association,, Astronomy & Space Study Center and Royal College Astronomical Society will be traveling to North to catch this ring of fire as well.
Our motive is to do a live web-stream the eclipse via SkyLK website. We will be getting the local crowd to join us to experience this wonderful phenomenon as well.

Jaffna (North), has better skies than Colombo, night of 15th we have planned to hold a little star party to bring more joy to the people from North as well.


1. Thilina Heenatigala – Sri Lanka Astronomical Association
2. Anuradha Jayathilaka – SkyLK
3. Hasitha Karunaratne – SkyLK
4. Madusha Dedigamuwa – SkyLK
5. Imesh Perera – Astronomy & Space Study Center
6. Plashthi Kanaththage – Astronomy & Space Study Center
7. Prasanna Deshapriya – Sri Lanka Astronomical Association
8. Thishan Pavithra - Astronomy & Space Study Center
9. Bhasura Gunawardhana – Royal College Astronomical Society
10. Shamil Asitha Kuruppu – Royal College Astronomical Society

For more information please contact:
Thilina Heenatigala
p: (+94) 0716 245 545

IMPORTANT: NEVER Look at the Sun directly with your naked eye.

Solar Eclipses
Solar Eclipse on 15th January 2010
NASA Eclipse Site
Fred Espenak’s Eclipse site
Lakdiva Eclipse page

Sources: NASA/GSFC, Prof. Kavan Ratnatunga, Fred Espenak, Thilina Heenatigala

Getting ready for another orbit around the Sun 2010

Dear Earthlings,
We just finished a wonderful orbit around the Sun. I know it had its usual ups and downs, but astronomically speaking it was a year to remember.
It’s amazing how one program – International Year of Astronomy 2009 – managed to get people to discover the Universe we live in. The best part about IYA2009 is that it’s not over! The momentum given by IYA will continue to this year. Already there are some wonderful events to take place in 2010. Much to expect!

Apart from my usual celebrations in a 31st night, I managed to capture the Partial Lunar Eclipse. It was a wonderful view of the lunar eclipse against the dark sky.

This full Moon known as a Blue Moon as well. I wrote an article for the local paper during the last Blue Moon.

Don’t forget its 2010: Year We Make Contact!
If you are a Science Fiction fan, you’d probably know what I’m on about. This year signifies the 2010: Odyssey Two which is a best-selling science fiction novel by late Sir Arthur Clarke published in January 1982. It also adapted to a movie in 1984 called 2010: The Year We Make Contact!

You can see a nice article written regarding this topic by Nalaka Gunawardene at his Moving Images, Moving People! Blog.

I wish all my friends and Universe Café readers a wonderful year ahead. Let’s make this year a memorable one!

Ad Astra!