Alice lives in Manila, Philippines; is in her 40s; single; has a degree in psychology; and as an amateur woman astronomer, is quite a rarity in her country.
I befriended the people at our local astronomical society through email and hosted a pleasant dinner for them at my place. Little did I know that the person I invited was the very president of the Philippine Astronomical Society. I had a great time with him and another member, and instantly, we just started sharing our love for the heavens. A few weeks later, I was recruited into the society, and I was so happy about that. :-)
I acquired my new telescope from the president of the society. He was selling it because he had to upgrade his mount. The GoTo Celestron Nexstar 5" has been my equipment for the stargazing sessions I've been conducting.
I must admit that I've changed from the inside out ever since I've been studying and observing the sky. I've changed for the better and how amazing it really is.
My sleeping habits have changed, too. For the past month, I've been going to sleep at 4:30 a.m. because I'd observe the motions of the constellations from where I live. And if the night sky is transparent and seeing conditions are good, I take out my telescope which I fondly call "Elisha".
Astronomy is now my passion, and at times, I don't get to sleep anymore because of the awesomeness and beauty of the heavens. Astronomy is also making me a better person. It is shaping my character and my physical appearance, too. (Talk about dieting and losing weight...I've lost 15 lbs. just by sky gazing!!! Really!!! :-)
I don't know if others have the same story as I do, but it's very real and precious to me. I am encouraging more women to get involved and learn to love the sky. Who knows what doors may open.
Alice C. Villa-Real
Alice's other interests: theater arts, drama, directing, writing, bowling (former Philippine team member), teaching, commercial modeling (television, print-ad and poster ads). I used to conduct values education to junior and senior high school students and to the Philippine National Police. I enjoy reading books of inter-disciplinary nature, love to dance, love being with people. I love gadgets and gizmos and the latest trends in Information Technology. I love dogs! (we have a black Labrador). Aside from bowling, I enjoy mountain biking, table tennis and badminton. I typically love the outdoors, too, especially when it has to do with sky-gazing! :-)
(Alice has been writing to me since February. She is truly an inspiration. Below are a few of her updates to me telling of all the "stellar" work she is doing for her country. DLD)
To date, I've conducted two star parties for kids, the most recent one was just a week ago. Fifteen kids ages 4-12 pitched tents and enjoyed roasted mallows and hotdogs in the bonfire. Several tents were pitched and we spent the night just studying the heavens with some fathers and mothers. I mounted my Celestron Nexstar 5" and slewed it to many DSO's.
The most popular objects that elicited much delight, awe and excitement from the children and adults were:
It was a great experience showing these kids and adults the summer night sky. I just love it!
Aside from the two kids' star parties, I've been invited to conduct stargazing sessions for different groups (a group of 130 mothers, a mixed adult group of 142, a mixed adult group of 47, and next week, another mixed group of 40 adults) Whew! I never expected that this hobby was going to contaminate so many people, especially kids!
I live in a third world country and expensive telescopes are non-existent. We have to buy from your country and have it shipped here. Just to mount a GoTo telescope is already something to most people.
Now, my days are starting to get filled up with scheduled stargazing sessions, and I don't make the schedule. People hear about it, they contact me and give me a schedule. I never ever imagined that it would reach this magnitude. But again, as I said earlier, "I just love it."
I've also started ordering several eyepieces to add to my scope, a 2X Barlow lens, a moon filter, and very recently, a Mylar solar filter. All accessories I have to order from Japan and have it shipped here to the Philippines.
The most memorable and fulfilling experience I have had since starting four months ago, is to work with children. I tell you, the young girls who've joined the stargazing sessions are already so very excited in Astronomy. And I know for sure that whatever they've observed in the clear night skies will forever be imprinted in their hearts and minds. One five-year old girl can already name many bright stars and constellations. Isn't that wonderful?
Just last night, I had two guests who came to visit and they were media people. They work as broadcasters in a leading television network here in my country. I was observing the beautiful quarter moon and locating the areas where the different Apollo missions landed. I let them peer through my scope and showed them a map of the moon. Oh my! Were they spellbound! Shirley, the radio broadcaster told me that she'll be inviting more of her media colleagues for a future star party and asked if it was all right with me. I agreed with great delight! Wow! Something's happening. I guess they can see the passion and enthusiasm in me every time I talk about the skies, and they get contaminated by it. :-)
I'm preparing for another stargazing session next week. I was requested by a medical training center to conduct one for the medical technicians, doctors, nurses, etc.
Many women want to join me wherever I conduct sessions out-of-town. It's really funny. Some just want to be around just to carry the Celestron hard case. Wow! In fact, I'm starting to form my own "Skygazer" team.
Some private schools have also expressed their interest in having lectures and stargazing sessions. It's amazing coz I only started last January 2002! But I've been voraciously consuming Astronomy books, browsing the web and listening to Levy's Internet broadcast. It's unfortunate that Astronomy is not being offered in any of our big universities here as a full course. So, I'll just do some self-study and lots of observations and participate in our society's activities.
All I know is I just love the sky and love Astronomy. I guess that's all it takes.
The following morning, I set up "Elisha" again for solar observation. The sunspots were very few in number. But I guess it will still multiply since we're in its 11-year cycle.
Many were surprised to see a white ball with dirt-like spots. They were expecting to see a flaring, red ball with solar prominences. I explained to them the different solar filters, and told them that if they wanted to see a flaring, red ball, it would cost me thousands of dollars for a hydrogen-alpha filter. They were shocked to hear that. They were very much content after I explained it to them. :-)
My next weekends are scheduled again for sessions with various groups. Wow! It's already a lifestyle. For now, I've been pointing to them the awesome, spectacular alignment of the 5 planets which will climax on May 5-6. Talk about the wonders of celestial mechanics!
Eight telescopes will be mounted at the park to first observe the sun. Then when sunset comes, the general public will be treated to a view of the 5-planet grouping in the Western horizon. The event will be on May 15, 3pm to 8pm.
I'm already nervous and scared. But I know it'll be such a great opportunity and privilege to be the only woman there. The other seven scopes will be operated by men who're engineers, doctors and lawyers. I'm excited and nervous at the same time. The event will be televised on a local channel, channel 13. Will take photos.
But as I stare into the sky, my eyes begin to adapt to it and I noticed the hazy patch deep within Sagittarius. I realized I was staring deep into the center of our galaxy, right at the arm of Sagittarius. Astronomy is such a breathtaking hobby. I can stare into the evening sky all night, but I have to remind myself to sleep. :-)
Even more interesting was that the sunspots were so pronounced amidst the Moon's shadow. It was truly an AWESOME sight to behold! A thrill of a lifetime for me. Wow! The media folks caught the "electricity," joining in with their cameras pointing at the Sun, too. (With filters, Of course.)
The entire event was like we were watching a "box-office hit" flick. We packed up and parted ways by 8 a.m.
The Milky Way was in its greatest splendor in Antipolo! Breathtaking! The clusters in Scorpius were AWESOME! As I pointed them out, I again heard the familiar "Wow!" The people couldn't take their eyes off the eyepiece. They were glued to it.
Hearing "Wows!" in the early morning and again late at night. What a way to start one's morning and end one's
evening, right? That is so RARE. With all these experiences, one can truly say life is beautiful.