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The history of astronomy in the Philippines since it started in 1897 will be described. The development of astronomical resources, activities and education after its hundred years of existence will be emphasized.

C.P. Celebre*
PAGASA, Science Garden Complex, Agham Road, Diliman
Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Old Manila Observatory

Work in astronomy in the Philippines started in 1897. It was one of the functions of the "Observatorio de Meteorologico de Manila" (OMM), which performed not only meteorological and astronomical services but also seismological and terrestrial magnetism services. Its astronomical activities were mostly limited to timekeeping and observation of solar and stellar phenomena.

The OMM began as a private institution in 1865 and became a government agency as the Weather Bureau in 1901 with its observatory in Manila as its central office. During the Second World War, the astronomical observatory was destroyed and a new observatory was constructed within the campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City in 1954. It remained there up to the present time, now under the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), as the only government observatory. From 1954, the observatory has not seen any major change until 1998. The construction of a planetarium in the PAGASA Science Garden in Quezon City in September 1977 is the only addition to the facilities of the agency [1].

Likewise, its activities are practically the same, except for the publication of astronomical data and the conduct of occasional telescope and stargazing sessions up to 1993.

New observatory
At present, there are only two institutions in the country that perform astronomical functions. These include the PAGASA and the National Museum (NM) Planetarium, a government institution, which is under the auspices of the Department of Education (DepED).

The succeeding paragraphs describe the development of astronomical resources and activities in PAGASA and education in the Philippines.

PAGASA is presently under the supervision of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and is composed of nine branches or divisions, which in turn is composed of sections. A section in astronomy is under the Atmospheric, Geophysical and Space Sciences Branch (AGSSB), which is basically the research and training arm of PAGASA. The Astronomy Research and Development Section (AsRDS) is staffed by 19 professional-level employees who hold college degrees and graduate studies and by 16 sub-professional-level employees.

As earlier mentioned, PAGASA has an astronomical observatory and a planetarium, which are both managed by AsRDS, AGSSB. In addition to its seven (7) small telescopes of various sizes, the largest of which is the 30-cm, the observatory acquired five (5) 25-cm and an 18-cm MEADE telescopes in 1998. Four (4) of the above-mentioned 25-cm telescopes where distributed to Legazpi, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro, the four regional field stations of PAGASA that are located at various parts of the country. The telescopes were being utilized to promote astronomy in the countryside.

45cm telescope The greatest addition to the observatory is the 45-cm telescope that was donated by the Japanese Government through its Cultural Grant-aid Program. To be able to accommodate the donated telescope and its accessories, the observatory was renovated in 1999. It was installed in 2000 and was inaugurated in 2001, replacing the 30-cm reflector type telescope that was formerly installed thereat. The donated telescope has a photometer and a spectrograph as its accessories. Unfortunately, in 2003, the photometer was stolen at the observatory.

In 2001, Gunma Astronomical Observatory (GAO) of Japan donated an ST8 CCD. The spectrograph was also repaired so that the donated CCD could be attached to it, instead of a photographic camera.

In addition to telescopes, the observatory is also equipped with a Rb/GPS Timing System that replaced the old quartz clock on 20 February 2004.

The timing system is being utilized for determining the Philippine Standard Time (PST) up to the nearest tenth of a second. The atomic clock is also equipped with a Network Time Protocol (NTP) system that allows the general public to check their time pieces through the Internet.
The PAGASA Planetarium at the Science Garden can seat 100 people. The AsRDS personnel give astronomical lectures to visitors, who are mostly students and teachers in elementary and high schools.

Minor repairs were done inside the dome of the Planetarium in 2005 including the replacement of its worn-out chairs. Such renovation enabled the agency to increase the entrance fee being charged from 0.10 to 0.50 cents that is being used to help defray part of the maintenance expenses.

In as much as most of the astronomical facilities of the country are located in Luzon, particularly in Metro Manila, the children and other astronomy enthusiasts who live far from these places are being deprived of making use of the said facilities. With the objective of reaching more people in the countryside thereby promoting astronomy to a greater number of people at a lesser cost, a mobile planetarium was acquired by the AsRDS in 1999.

The said planetarium has been traveling to various places upon request of interested parties on a first-come, first-served basis. Requesting parties in return shoulder all the expenses pertaining to the activity.

The principal activities of the AsRDS consist of sunspot and lunar occultation observations and observations of the satellites of Jupiter and the transits of Mercury, of comets and other planets. It also observes astronomical phenomena that are seen in the country.

With the approval of the application of the Philippines as Associate Member of the IAU during the General Assembly in Manchester in 2000, a cooperation between the IAU/TAD and PAGASA was signed in 2002. In 2003, an astronomical observation program was established at the observatory through the assistance of Dr. Armando Fierro, a visiting lecturer of the IAU/TAD. Hence, in 2004 through 2006, the AsRDS personnel conducted variable star observations using the 45-cm telescope and CCD. At present, reduction of data is being done using the IRAF software.

The AsRDS also publishes data that are derived from computations based on subscribed international publications. The publications are one of the principal sources of income of AsRDS.

The other important activity of AsRDS is time-keeping. The agency was designated by law to be the official timekeeper of the country. Hence the Rb/GPS Timing System previously mentioned is used to perform this mandate.

Lastly, AsRDS engages in the promotion of astronomy, including space science in the Philippines, through its planetarium shows and publication of astronomical posters. Its staff conducts and/or serves as resource speakers in lectures and seminars on astronomy and stargazing and telescoping sessions in various parts of the archipelago. It coordinates and collaborates with other agencies or institutions in this field, such as the fifteen (15) organizations of astronomical societies in the Philippines.

In 1997, in celebration of its centennial year in astronomy and also to promote the science, various revitalizing activities in astronomy were conducted.

Some of these include the information, education and communication programs in astronomy press releases and radio/TV interviews, seminar/ workshops for science teachers and students, grant of honor and recognition awards to five outstanding Filipino astronomers and conduct of Astro Olympiad, a contest in astronomy [2].

Astronomy is taught as a part of the general science subject in elementary schools where it is normally given a three-hour per week period in Grades V and VI classes in the Philippines. It is an elective subject, which is taken in one semester (four months) in the first year high school level.

Before 2002, there is no single university in the country that offers an astronomy course. In School Year (SY) 2002-2003, the University of the Philippines through its National Institute of Physics offered an astronomy subject entitled "Physics and Astronomy for Pedestrians" [3].

SY 2005-2006 marked a great change in the history of Philippine education in the field of astronomy. For the first time, the Rizal Technological University (RTU) offered a graduate program leading to a degree of Master of Science in Astronomy. The course, which is descriptive in nature, is designed for students with any B. S. degree, who are interested in astronomy.

The RTU has taken undisputed leadership in the field of Space Education in the country. Hence, on the first semester of SY 2007-2008, a 5-yr Bachelor of Science in Astronomy Technology will be offered in the said university. The course will introduce astronomy to younger people who will make science and technology their lifetime careers. The designed course is customized to be wide in scope where research and observation will be given priority, to push the frontiers in these fields at least in the Philippines for the meanwhile.

In PAGASA, the personnel of the AsRDS who are performing all the previously mentioned astronomical activities do not have a formal education in astronomy. The knowledge in astronomy that they possess is obtained through the infrequent in-service training courses conducted by the agency and through the books that were procured, usually from overseas sources.

The Chief of AsRDS, undertook a course on Astronomy and Astronomical Observation at GAO in 2001. Seven (7) personnel also participated in the International School for Young Astronomers (ISYA). Three of them attended the ISYA held in Thailand in 2001 while the remaining four are attending the course, which is presently being held in Malaysia.

The signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the IAU/TAD and PAGASA in 2002 led to the conduct of the Astronomers Training Course in the agency in 2003. Five (5) visiting lecturers of the IAU delivered lectures on various topics. PAGASA is still waiting for the availability of a lecturer to complete the course.

Three (3) astronomy personnel are also presently pursuing an M. Sc. degree in Astronomy at RTU. They are expected to finish the course in 2009. An AsRDS personnel is also presently completing a course on space science in India with a research topic on variable star photometry.

In the last quarter of 2007, another personnel of the astronomy section will undergo and On-the-Job Training on Outreach and Astronomical Research Activities at GAO. The activity will be made possible by a cooperation between IAU/TAD, GAO and PAGASA.

Given the preceding information on the past and present resources, activities and education in astronomy in the Philippines, it is not difficult to make a projection of the status of the science in the near future. In 1996, it was foreseen that, in the next decade, the development of astronomy in the country will remain as lethargic as it has been for the past four decades, unless drastic positive changes were implemented.

With the successful implementation of some of the revitalizing activities that were planned in 1997, particularly the installation of the donated 45-cm telescope and the enhancement of astronomical knowledge in astronomy of the PAGASA personnel as well as other astronomy enthusiasts, the Filipinos can always hope for a better and brighter future for astronomy in the Philippines.

[1] B.M. Soriano, Jr. and C. P. Celebre, Astronomy in the Philippines, Developing Astronomy And Space Science Worlwide, Germany, September 1996.

[2] C. P. Celebre and B. M. Soriano, Jr., Revitalizing Astronomy in the Philippines, Astronomy For Developing Countries, Manchester, United Kingdom, August 2000, pp.49-58.

[3] C. P. CELEBRE, The Establishment of an Astrophysics Course in the Philippines thru the IAU TAD, 8th IAU ASIA PACIFIC MEETING, Tokyo, Japan, July 2002.

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It has come to the attention of the Office of the Administrator of PAGASA that a certain person has been using the name of Dr. Vicente B. Malano to solicit money from the contractors of PAGASA.

Dr. Malano wishes to inform the public that he has not authorized anyone to solicit money on his behalf and to warn everyone against dealing with unscrupulous activities of certain individuals.

payong pagasa on android The latest version of the official PAGASA app can now be downloaded on Google play store

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