Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Great Mitzpe Ramon Perseid's Meteor Star Party is Tonight

Mitzpe Ramon will hold its annual Perseid's Meteor Star Party tonight Thursday August 11, 2016. The event will be held in the soccer stadium at the main entrance to town beginning at 8:00pm and lasting until dawn. About 10,000 people from all over Israel are expected to attend. Many people camp out for the night. Just find some open ground and throw down a blanket or tent. If you've never heard 10,000 people cheer when a bright meteor passes overhead, you're in for a treat.

These grape-nuts kernels are a good proxy for the size of many meteors. The bright light you see in the sky is called a "meteor". The object that causes it is a "meteoroid" while still in the sky. If it hits the ground it's called a "meteorite". The streak of light we see in the sky is caused by the friction of the meteoroid with the earth's atmosphere, which causes the atmosphere to heat up and glow by incandescence.  Meteoroids can be travelling at cosmic velocities in excess of 100,000 mph when they enter the earth's atmosphere.

This year is expected to be very favorable for the meteor shower, since the earth will pass through the center of the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, resulting in perhaps twice the normal rate of other years. NASA has predicted a peak of 200 meteors per hour, instead of the usual 100 or so. Of course we're dealing with Mother Nature here so all predictions are jut estimates. Mother Nature can always surprise. The peak of the shower is expected to fall between midnight and dawn Israel local time on the night of August 11-morning of August 12, so times between midnight and dawn tonight are optimal. Also, the moon sets around midnight tonight, leaving the sky dark for the expected peak of the shower.

Predicted rates of the Perseid's Meteor Shower. The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the number of meteors that can be seen when the radiant of the shower in the constellation Perseus is overhead. You will be able to seee Perseids throught most of the month of August, but as you can see the hourly rate quickly falls in the days following the peak. 

Mitzpe Ramon turns off all its lights and the lights in the surrounding area, so the sky should be especially dark. There are usually food and drink vendors nearby, so no one should go hungry or thirsty. Admission is free.

Details of the Mitzpe Ramon Star Party

If you can't make it to Mitzpe Ramon, find the darkest local site you can with an open horizon on all sides. You need no optical aids to view a meteor shower. Your naked eyes are best. Throw a blanket on the ground and look straight up. Good viewing tonight!

Excellent article on the shower from EarthSky.Org:

Sky and Telescope:

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Transit of Mercury is About to Begin

The transit of Mercury across the sun begins at 2:11pm today, May 9, 2016, IDT. You will need a telescope with a proper solar filter to view it. More details at this excellent video:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

February 1 Mars and Last Quarter Moon Form Close Pair

For early risers on Monday morning, February 1, The red planet Mars and the last quarter moon will form a close pair in the southern sky about one hour before dawn. On February 3 the waning moon will appear close to Saturn and on February 6 it will pass close to Venus in the constellation Sagittarius. 

This image shows the sky as it will appear on Monday morning February 1, about one hour before sunrise. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Spectacular Alignment of All Five Naked Eye Planets in Dawn Sky

The five naked eye planets will align in a nearly straight arc across the dawn sky from January 27 through February 7. Mercury will be the hardest to see since it is the closest to the sun and therefore hugs the horizon.

After Mercury is lost in the sun's glare the remaining four planets, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will continue shining beautifully in the dawn sky. 

Jupiter rises much earlier than the others, around 9:30pm, and by dawn is high up in the south as the diagram shows. It's one of our main targets on our star tours. Come on down for your own view through our telescopes. 

052-544-9789 for reservations. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Taurid and Leonid Meteor Showers Light Up November Skies

Two meteor showers, the Taurids and the Leonids, light up November's skies. Just a few nights ago we were doing a star tour with a group and talking about fireballs, a meteor as bright as the full moon that lights up the entire area. I said that seeing one was quite rare and that most people go their entire lives without seeing one. Well, the Taurids are well known for fireballs. Shortly after I said this a Taurid fireball flashed through the sky, lighting up the desert all around.

While I can't promise you will see a fireball, chances are good to see at least some meteors this November. And some people have never even seen one of those. Come on down for a star tour and we'll see what the sky dishes up. 

More information on the Taurid and Leonid meteor showers here: 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Total Lunar Eclipse of September 28, 2015

Early in the morning of September 28 a total eclipse of the moon will be widely visible around the world. In Israel the moon begins to enter the penumbra of the earth's shadow at 3:11AM IDT, however the darkening of the moon will probably not be visible until the moon enters the umbra of the earth's shadow at 4:07AM IDT. Totality begins at 5:11AM IDT with mid eclipse occurring at 5:47AM IDT, just before sunrise.

Lunar Eclipse Events, Israel Daylight Time (IDT)

03:11:46  Moon enters penumbra
04:07:12  Moon enters outer edge of umbra
05:11:11  Moon completely in umbra
05:47:09  Mid-eclipse
06:23:07  Moon begins to emerge from umbra, after moon set in Israel
07:27:06  Moon completely out of umbra, after moon set in Israel
08:22:33  Moon leaves penumbra, after moon set in Israel

View to the West with the moon half-eclipsed at 4:31AM IDT
View to the West during totality, just before sunrise at 5:46AM IDT. This should be spectacular over the Mediterranean.

Timing of the circumstances of the lunar eclipse. Add 3 hours to the times shown to get local Israeli time.

This eclipse is notable for a number of reasons. 1) It's the fourth in a series of total lunar eclipses in two years. 2) It occurs when the moon is closest in its orbit to the earth, called the "perigee" of the orbit, and in modern times referred to as a "supermoon", although in reality it will only appear about 15% larger than a regular full moon in the sky. Nevertheless, everyone will marvel at how large it is, although this is not really observable unless you can compare the two moons side-by-side. 3) It is the Harvest Moon, the fulll moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox, used by farmers to extend the time they can see in the dark to conduct their harvest. 4) It is called a "blood moon", turning red from the diffraction of light around the edge of the earth into the shadow on the moon, essentially projecting all of the sunsets and sunrises into the shadow of the earth on the moon. The darkness of the eclipse and the reddening of the moon vary widely from eclipse to eclipse, depending on weather conditions on our planet and how central the eclipse is, i.e. how deep into the shadow of the earth the moon goes. Finally for Jews, this full moon occurs on the first night of Succot, no coincidence since the beginning of Succot always falls out on the 15th of Tishrei, the night of the full moon, as does Pesach in the month of Nissan.  A lunar eclipse can only happen when the moon is full and opposite the sun in the sky. Some have made alot of this "blood moon" hearkening back to the Prophet Joel (2:31) "The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD." I will let those better equipped to deal with Astrology deal with that one.

Since this eclipse occurs during the first day of Succot I will not be doing an early morning star tour but will merely be enjoying it personally. Star tours will continue normally during Chol Hamoed.

Want to photograph the moon? Here are some tips on how:


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