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:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Perseid's Meteor Shower Star Party in Mitzpe Ramon - August 12, 2015

We are on the run-up to the great Perseid's Meteor Shower Star Party in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, starting at sunset on August 12 and running into the wee hours of the morning of August 13. The star party is held on the infield of the soccer stadium at the main entrance to town. Admission is free. There will be dozens of Israeli astronomers present with their telescopes, and presentations are held throughout the night in Hebrew. The town turns out all of its lights, as do all of the military facilities in the area, making our already dark skies darker than ever. Thousands of people attend, and it is all a great party and fun celebration. If you haven't heard 10,000 people cheer when a bright meteor flashes overhead, you just haven't lived!

I will be there with my telescopes and will be holding a drawing to give away genuine meteor fragments every hour from 8pm to 12pm, 5 chances to win the no-cost lottery. All you have to do is show up at my booth, get a lottery ticket and get lucky!

Join Starman Ira at the Great Perseid's Meteor Shower in Mitzpe Ramon on August 12, 2015, sunset to whenever...Free drawing to give away a meteorite fragment every. hour from 8:00pm - 12:00pm in my booth

Of course, the "star" of the star party is the Perseids Meteor Shower which peaks that night with up to 60 meteors per hour visible in the wee hours of the morning. Please join us for this fun and entertaining event. Lear about meteors and meteorites, and if you're lucky, take a piece of star dust home!

The Great Mitzpe Ramon Perseid's Meteor Star Party, August 12, 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table

The night sky of Mitzpe Ramon from Four Trees

By Oliver Sacks, from the New York Times:

"A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.
I told my friends Kate and Allen, “I would like to see such a sky again when I am dying.”
“We’ll wheel you outside,” they said.
I have been comforted, since I wrote in February about having metastatic cancer, by the hundreds of letters I have received, the expressions of love and appreciation, and the sense that (despite everything) I may have lived a good and useful life. I remain very glad and grateful for all this — yet none of it hits me as did that night sky full of stars."

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

We Finally Know the Size of Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft is finally close enough to Pluto for its size to be accurately determined: 1,473 miles or 2,370 km in diameter. It is the largest object in the Kuiper Belt, the region of our solar system beyond the planet Neptune. Will this be enough to promote it back to planet from dwarf-planet status? Only time will tell, as it requires a vote of the International Astronomical Union, which demoted the diminutive planet to dwarf-planet status in 2006. Stay tuned and watch for updates from the New Horizons Mission as the satellite flies past Pluto in its closest approach today, July 14, 2005.

Pluto (right) and its largest moon Charon as New Horizons satellite approaches the system. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Lyrid Meteor Shower Peaks April 22-23

The Lyrids, the best meteor shower of the first half of 2015 peaks this Wednesday night and in the early hours of Thursday morning, Yom Haatzmaut. Peak rates are around 20 meteors per hour after midnight, although in some years the shower has surprised with peak rates of over 100+ per hour. A meteor shower occurs when the earth passes through the orbit of an old comet that has shed rocky and dusty debris as it orbits the sun. As the earth passes through the debris field bits of cometary particles burn up from friction with the earth's atmosphere, leaving behind a bright train of ionized particles we see as the "shooting star". Most cometary particles are no bigger than a grain of sand, bright meteors perhaps the size of a pea. The meteors appear to emirate from a region of the sky called the radiant. The shower takes its name from the constellation that contains the radiant, in this case the constellation Lyra. You need not be looking at the radiant to view the shower. Just lie down in a comfy spot on the ground or a reclining chair, stay warm with a blanket, and watch the sky. Keep count and see how many meteors you observe each hour, or fraction of an hour. No optical instruments required. In fact, they get in the way since you want as wide a field of view as possible which only your naked eye can provide.

I will be having a star tour the night of April 22. Call or email for a space. The weather is forecast to be clear that night, turning inclement the next day and night.


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