On 10 January 2015, Singaporeans were treated to two rare astrological phenomena - A recently discovered comet visible through the use of telescopes and the largest gathering of telescopes in Singapore.
Comet Lovejoy, SG50 and a passionate community of astro-enthusiasts were factors resulting in the gathering of 58 telescopes of a variety of types and sizes, almost all of which are privately owned, including the public début of Singapore's largest telescope - a huge 22-inch Newtonian telescope designed by Richard Low who created it as a hobby over a six-year period.
Much larger than the Science Centre Observatory telescope (16-inch), Richard's telescope was one of an array of telescopes available for the public to gaze upon the wonders of the universe.
While the event's highlight was on the passing of Comet Lovejoy, which was discovered by Amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy on 17 August 2015, several telescopes had also pointed towards other astronomical bodies such as the Orion Nebula and Jupiter as it began raising above the trees during the latter part of the event.
With clear skies and cool winds, the event had a great turnout, with friends and families enjoying the view and learning more about the universe.
Many also took the opportunity to see space through an actual telescope for the first time, making this Saturday night out one to remember.
I got a chance to interview the head coordinator of the public viewing, Remus Chua, who recalled the initial conceptualisation of the event as an innocent Saturday night with a few friends.
"With SG50 being the theme of 2015, we thought why not aim for that. Coordinating more than 10 telescopes was very challenging. There is also no central organisation, making communication very segmented. We even paid for Facebook advertising to get the word out. But once we hit a certain number, such as 20 telescopes, it became big enough to encourage other astro-enthusiasts to work around their schedules to attend." said Remus Chua.
The local community of astro-enthusiasts, like many other communities in Singapore, was driven almost purely by passion and a willingness to share and welcome.
Each visit to the different telescopes sparked a new conversation about astronomy and science.
Some between veteran astro-enthusiasts who, due to their busy schedules, found this a great opportunity to catch up, and others between astro-enthusiasts and newcomers, seeking knowledge in a more engaging way than using Google search.
"It was definitely worthwhile to coordinate such an event. To be able to look through all these instruments is itself a rarity. To experience that for free was the most important thing, to allow the public to see whether this hobby suits them, and also to gain an appreciation of the universe, especially since we live in a light polluted country where you do not expect to see things like this nightly. That's the message we hope will be brought back." added Remus Chua.
As one of those who had benefited from the warm welcome of the astrological community of Singapore, I sincerely thank everyone who had contributed their prized instruments for the event.
While Remus has currently no plans to organise another public viewing of this scale any time soon, he is hopeful that when the next astronomical event is upon us, the passion of the local community will result in a call for action.
One major event that is on everyone's calendar is March 9 2016, where Singapore will get to see a partial Solar Eclipse.
For those who did not get a chance to attend the event, fret not, as there are other ways to join in the fun.
The forum, www.Singastro.org, is THE online meeting place for all local astro-enthusiasts. Sign up to learn more about telescopes if you are looking to invest in the hobby and find opportunities such as monthly expeditions to Malaysia and more.
2. Astronomy Sidewalk
Taking astronomy to the heartlands, Astronomy sidewlk is a segment of the local astronomy community who contribute their knowledge and equipment to the general public at a location near you - think HDB estates, open spaces near libraries, etc.
While there are certainly more than what I am about to mention, here are three links to get started: Singapore Sidewalk Astronomy, Sengkang Star Astro and Ang Mo Kio Sidewalk Astronomy. (P.S. it was with Ang Mo Kio Sidewalk Astronomy where I experience my first viewing through a telescope, and even saw Saturn!)
3. Science Centre Observatory Singapore
Every Friday night, from 7:50pm to 10pm, The observatory at Science Centre Singapore is opened to the public. Click here for more information.