Feature: Cebuano discovers Jupiter "Red Spot Jr" from his backyard
By Minerva BC Newman
Cebu City (18 September) -- Christopher Go, a Cebuano amateur astronomer, is making waves in the international scene, particularly in astronomy after he discovered the "Red Spot Jr." of the planet Jupiter from his own backyard.
Go has a degree in Physics at the University of San Carlos and has been an avid sky watcher since he was in high school and has been imaging planets since 2003. "More on documenting the changes in planets by taking electronic photos using various types of telescopes," Go explains.
This young Cebuano astronomer is also a businessman, exporting furniture, but it seems skyward is his directions since he discovered the smaller red spot around Jupiter during one of his routine imaging. Go describes himself as a 'planetary imager.'
"I take electronic pictures of Jupiter whenever it's Jupiter season." He beams, and what exactly does it mean by Jupiter season? "It starts as dawn until evening, and I discovered the red spot at 4:30 a.m. Philippine time last February 25, 2006," he quips.
His discovery sent the astronomers worldwide in a magnificent panic. NASA website, on March 3, 2006 read: "Backyard astronomers grab your telescopes. Jupiter is growing a new red spot. Christopher Go of the Philippines photographed it on February 27th using an 11-inch telescope and a CCD camera."
Astronomers all over the world report their achievements directly to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers based in Georgia, USA, which usually broadcast them. Go, in an exclusive interview with the Cebu Daily News, described his discovery of "Red Spot Jr.":
"The spot was an existing storm on planet Jupiter, called Oval BA. It started with three spots in the 1930s and 1940s, and during that time there was a disturbance in the south tropical zone of Jupiter. It created three south temperate spots, and in the 1998 to 2003 the spots merged and formed the Oval BA. It was still white during that time and it remained white for five years until December of last year. I think that on December 1 to 9, 2005, the spot turned red. It took about three months for the discovery because of the condition of Jupiter. It was very low so nobody in the earth's northern hemisphere was able to see it. It's a little higher here in the Philippines compared to other places in the northern hemisphere. Higher in terms of latitude, which means, Jupiter is more visible in Cebu."
Life has changed so much for this young amateur astronomer. He has come a long way since he started imaging the "most dynamic planet in the universe. According to him, he has been filing his reports on all his observations to the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers in Georgia since three years ago. "It's a standard operating procedure when you have an image; you have to make a report directly to them," Go added.
According to Go, anybody who images Jupiter is a significant contributor because it increases our understanding on the planet. "I made one of my most significant contributions in 2004, when a white spot on a south equatorial belt turned into a rift. Basically, it's a lightning system in the south equatorial belt and it created a break in its band. Most of these we could not understand why," he explains.
Go further said, the reason there is much publicity on his discovery of 'Red Spot Jr.' is because this is the first time in history that the world is able to witness a major anti-cyclonic white storm that turned red. "I'm part of the group of researchers based in Berkely California, USA that is studying the discovery. We will have a presentation next month in Pasadena, California during the annual meeting of the American Astronomers Association Division for Planetary Sciences," Go said.
This young Cebuano astronomer is having fun right now as he is one of those amateur astronomers that would pit his brains with the giants in the field. He said, his companions have doctorate degrees in Physics and Astronomy. The group will present his discovery in a poster presentation entitled: "Junior Red Spot: The Evolution of Red Spot Junior" in front of bout 3,000 astronomers all over the world that will attend the meeting that is sponsored by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The presentation, according to Go, would focus on detailing his documentation. It would also include the images which the group took using the Hubble space telescope and the two observatories in Mauna Kea, the largest telescope in the world.
Go went on to say that there are many Filipino contributors like him but he lamented that most of them are not recognized in the country. He said, there is Fr. Leo Boethin, an SVD priest based in the northern province of the country that discovered one of the planets that will be targets of Deep Impact, a satellite in the U.S. There are other Filipino contributors and scientists, like Edwin Aguirre and Imelda Joson, the first couple to have a comet named after them, he reported.
For Christopher Go, being an amateur astronomer that comes from a third world country like the Philippines, his journey was a hard road. When he started making waves, he was accused of plagiarism. He sighed and said, "At first, nobody believed me… It is difficult for a Filipino to reach the top in the international arena because we belong to a poor country. You have to persevere and be the best because not just people from abroad but also people here will put you down, telling you that your efforts are useless."
Currently, Christopher Go, a Filipino from Cebu is the top planetary imagers in the world! He was recognized in the October 2005 issue of the Sky and Telescope Magazine as "one of the planetary masters in the world."
Recently, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) urged Malacanang to confer to Go the highest presidential honor, the Order of Lakandula for discovering the Red Spot Jr. (PIA-Cebu) [top]