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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's a Small World After All

I had been speaking with "Don" for a few days about arranging a star tour for his family who had traveled to Mitzpe Ramon for Pesach. We had been using our first names, so it wasn't until we were out observing and talking that I found out that Don lived in Riverdale, NY where Pam had lived before we were married. As we continued talking Don mentions that he has a medical practice in Englewood, NJ where we had lived for 10 years before making Aliyah in December 2009. Now I'm beginning to think we're going to have one of those Jewish geography moments...As it turns out "Don" was Dr. Don Liss who has a rehabilitative and physical medecine practice in Englewood, NJ where I had gone for physical therapy after tearing my quadriceps muscle in 2003. So, I got to ask Don a few questions about my knee, which still hurts after all these years, while he got to question me about astronomy! My daughter later told me that she had gone to high school in New Jersey with Don's daughter Sarah, too.

We started out with a nice dark, clear night a little bit before moon rise.  As the evening progressed the wind picked up and started blowing in high thin cirrus clouds. Fortunately the worst of them didn't materialize until later in the evening. As we were watching, the moon came up out of the clouds and we all remembered at once that we hadn't counted Sefirat Ha'Omer yet. So, we had the unique experience of counting the third day of the Omer together while observing the stars and moon above Mitzpe Ramon.

Saturn was the star, so to speak, of the evening, as it usually is when it is visible. It doesn't hurt that it's bright enough to shine through all but the heaviest cloud cover. When it's cold and windy I frequently don't get to capture our guests on the plateau, since some people have retired to the warmth of their car before the viewing is over. But I did get to capture this shot outside the Liss' hotel. I hope everyone had a great Pesach, which is over now in Israel, but continues for another day for those of you in chtuz la'aretz.

The Liss family in Mitzpe Ramon after their star gazing tour.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Best Shooting Star Ever!

We were up tonight with N___ and G___ from Haifa (anonymity requested). It was the first really dark night in quite some time due to the full moon and many hazy nights earlier this month. It was great to see so many stars again - a host, a crowd of daffodils in the spring sky, but still quite cold and windy. We had to go farther up the plateau to get away from the campers who were out for the Pesach holiday, together with their blazing camp fires, dogs, and camp fire songs. Still, after the winds died down it was a nice night.

We saw the best meteor (shooting star) I have ever seen in my life. A long, very slow, incredibly bright streak across about 70% of the sky that took 5-10 seconds, maybe more, to burn out. It left a bight, smoky train behind and a very distinct separate nucleus as it burned itself out somewhere not far from us. I'd swear I could actually see the meteor itself! Toward the end of its transit, it started sparking. It lit up the whole desert around us. And then it was gone!

Friday, April 22, 2011

"When you are old and gray and full of sleep..."

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars. -- W.B. Yeats

This mystical and elegiac poem by William Butler Yeats speaks of unrequited love, but has always spoken to me about the power of love and its mysterious embrace. Last Sunday we went out with the Boyarskys, Shmuel and Sharon, and it was very obvious they were so much in love with each other (the second time is the charm). We picked them up from the Bereshit Hotel, its first night open, and went up to our observing plateau. The moon was full, and the sky was filled with light. What a special night.

Sharon wanted to see Arcturus, a very yellow star and one of the brightest in the sky, through the telescope. Perhaps it was the light of the moon or the high cirrus clouds the star's light passed through, but I have never seen a star look so topaz through the telescope. It looked like a shinning gemstone. All the better since topaz is Sharon's birth stone and one her father, in the gem business, used to frequently give her on her birthday.

The Boyarskys, Sharon and Shmuel

We can't promise you love, but we can give you the moon and a crowd of stars.

The Boyarskys capture the elusive Starman of Mitzpe Ramon, seen here under a full moon.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Ambassador Comes to Mitzpe Ramon

We had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Michael Oren at Chez Eugene last week. Ambassador Oren was on holiday with his entire family and his son's fiancee, staying at Chez Eugene. Their visit was completely private and unofficial, but Arnaud, co-owner of the hotel, was kind enough to invite Pam and me up to meet him.

Ambassador Oren, his wife Sally, their sons, daughter and son's fiancee in the lobby of Chez Eugene

Both the Ambassador and his wife Sally are native born Americans, having made Aliyah many years ago. So their English is perfect, so much so that Sally told us that people are often confused about what he is the Ambassador of: US to Israel, Israel to the US, etc. This made me feel better when I asked her if she lived in Manhattan, thinking of the Israeli Ambassador to the UN (a thankless job if ever there was one). But No, he is the Israeli Ambassador to the US, living in Washington, DC.

From the right: Arnaud's son, Paul; Arnaud; Michael Oren; Sally Oren; Me

It was nice to see them relaxed with their family. I could never do his job.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Paris Comes to Mitzpe Ramon

This mozi Shabbat we went up with the Katz family from Paris, France. It is two days from Pesach, so the moon was nearly full and quite bright, which combined with some haze, made for quite a bright sky. This is always a good object lesson in why the Indians never attacked the fort during the full of the moon.

Despite the bright sky we got to see all of the constellations and bright stars I wanted to get in. The winter stars are departing, being pushed aside by the stars of spring. We are sorry to see them go. They are the brightest of the sky and out favorite. However, the sky always presents something wonderful to see, no matter the season or time of night.

The nearly full moon and Saturn, were outstaning again tonight. We also got in the nice optical and physical double star, Alcor and Mizar, the Horse and Rider of Big Dipper fame.

A Happy and Kosher Pesach from Mitzpe Ramon to all and remember to Keep on Looking Up!

The Katz family from Paris, France, in front of Chez Eugene. Miriam was getting tired.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Dusseldorf Comes to Mitzpe Ramon

We went out tonight with a nice group of three couples from Dusseldorf, Germany. The temperature and wind again conspired to keep us quite cold, as you can see in the photo below. The moon is waxing full, so we are getting close to Pesach.

There is almost always something unexpected to see in the night sky. Tonight we saw a sudden bright light in the sky, probably a satellite winking overhead, and saw a marvelous, bright meteor that lit up the entire ground around us. It burned red and was gone in a flash, probably a meteor made of iron considering its color. It also gave off some sparks as it shot toward earth. I wish I could order those up on demand, but it's pretty much just the luck of the draw with meteors.

After two hours under the desert sky we were all quite cold and so scurried home, I to a warm bed, an unusual place for me to end up so early, but I was tired from all of the Pesach shopping we had done earlier in the day in Beer-Sheva.

Our Dusseldorf guests

And remember to Keep on lookin' up!

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Great Time was had by All

Tonight we went up with an old friend from Palo Alto, Yaakov Teplo-Phipps and his new wife, and their friend Amy. The Tepplo-Phipps have been on a 6 month round-the-world honey moon, now in Israel for a month. Pam taught Yaakov in gan when we were in Palo Alto, so we have really come full circle.

The temperature has dropped again, and a brisk wind was bearing down on us from the west, so it was quite cold on the observing plateau last night. Even I was cold, and the telescope shuddered in the gusts. The moon and Saturn were the stars, so to speak, of the evening.

Later on we went out with the entire staff of Chez Eugene, including Arnaud and his son Paul from Paris, as well as guests from Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. It's always good to have a real rocket scientist on a star gazing tour. The temperature had warmed up somewhat, but the wind had died down completely, making the temperature much more bearable. Saturn and Luna again stole the show, with the moon in my new binocular telescope eliciting a Mon Dieu! from one of the guests.

When it is this cold I sometimes don't get to take photos, because everyone rushes into their car to get warm at the end. And so it was on this occasion. Sorry, no photos to show.

But remember...Keep on looking up!

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

"I Carried you on Eagles' Wings"

There is a video making the rounds on the Internet that has gone viral, so you may have seen it. If not, you owe it to yourself to. It is a real-time video and audio stream of a pair of Bald Eagles nesting with their young in a huge eagles' nest in north eastern Iowa. It is as grand and awesome as anything you will ever see through a telescope. The eagles are nesting in a huge six foot diameter nest weighing 1 1/2 tons in a tree on private property on a farm in Iowa. There are two cameras just a few feet from the eagles operated by the Raptor Project Trust. The stream operates 24 hours a day, including nights when an infrared camera takes over.

Ustream video stream:

So far two of three eggs have hatched, and you can see the eaglets under the mother eagle from time to time as they struggle to peak out or as the mother rearranges the nest. You can also hear them pipping and the wind blowing loudly. It's quite cold where they are. There is one egg left which is due to hatch any day now. The camera will be on these birds the entire time they are being reared so it should be quite an experience.

It is really wonderful to watch the tender care the eagles have for their young. The close-ups of these mighty birds of prey with their fierce eyes, giant hooked beaks and talons are magnificent, anything but the image of tender loving parents. To see the mother as she gently manages the young, settles herself on the nest to keep them under her, and rearranges the nesting materials to keep them warm and covered is as tender and incongruous a picture of motherhood as could be conjured up.

Video screen grab: A Bald Eagle cares for its young, seen peaking out below.

During this week leading to Pesach it puts us in mind of how G-d carried the Children of Israel on Eagles' wings to protect them as they left Egypt:

Exodus 19:4  "You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself."
The fierce and mighty eagle tenderly caring for its helpless young as seen in the video is as good an analogy as can be had from nature of G-d caring for his children Israel.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Look for our Ad in the Jerusalem Post

The next four issues of the Jerusalem Post will run our ad in the classified section under "Tourism". This will be in the next four Friday and Monday editions, which are the only ones that have classified advertising. Let us know if you see it.

Here it is:

Keep on lookin' up!

Yes, We Have Some Bananaoculars

Just playing with words. Actually, what we have is a new pair of giant binoculars, a 22x70 William Optics giant binocular. We had these babies out under the night sky on Monday, and they provided some of the most impressive views I have had of deep sky wonders through any optical device. You just have to see it to believe it. I posted a short "first light" review on the Cloudy Nights Forum, which I grant myself permission to reproduce here. You simply must come down to see what these pups can do under a dark sky.

Our new pair of William Optics 22x70 giant binoculars on a Unitron mini-alt-az mount on a TiltAll tripod. (Click for full size image.)

My mini-review on the Cloudy Nights Astronomy Forum:

I have used a number of binoculars in the past, some for astronomy, most for birding, where they also did double duty for astronomy. But I never had one that I felt compelled to go back to. They were nice to have around but not a must have.

So, I'd been wanting a big binocular for my star tour business and when the William Optics 22x70 came up for sale last month, I decided to order it. It came today, and I had it out under the night sky tonight.

I mounted it on a Tiltall tripod with a short Unitron alt-az mount for controls. That worked well, considering this is a straight through big bino. I was not prepared for what I saw. I had the best view of M42 I have ever seen. The nebula finally looked like I thought it should: Huge field of view with many bright stars surrounding the nebula. The nebula itself looked the way it does in photos, except without color. Even with direct vision the nebulosity went on and on spreading easily across most of the 3 degree fov. The fine tendrils and detail with averted vision were amazing. I had my 4" WO refractor along for the ride and must say that M42 did not look nearly so splendid through the 4" as through the binos. There was just no comparison. That really surprised me. And the 3D, did I mention the 3D? Objects seemed to leap from the field of view. I really couldn't believe it.

I also viewed many open clusters with the binos. They were quite splendid, too. Not as bright as through my 4" refractor but the wider 3D views compensated for that easily.

All in all, I have become quite addicted to these binos after one nights use. They will be back out under the sky with me again soon. I could see an entire observing regimen based only on them. 

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Where are our manners? asks Miss Manners. We have had a number of guests lately whose visits we have failed to write about, so we are correcting the oversight now.

We went up recently with David Kawior (Yes, pronounced "caviar") and his special friend from New York, Blayne Zucker. He, a Columbia University medical exchange student at Ben Gurion University of The Negev, she, a former actress now studying psychology in New York. (Sounds like the intro to a reality TV show.) They are also friends with previous guests Katherine and David, who is also a medical student at BGU.

There's always something going on in the skies above Mitzpe Ramon. On the night we went out, the air force was flying jets and helicopters around and above us. I don't know if this was an exercise or the real deal. In any case a number of helicopters took up positions high in the sky throughout the night, completely remaking normally identifiable constellations. Their favorite constellation was Auriga, the Charioteer, whose pentagonal shape became completely unrecognizable with the helicopters hovering above.

Then the jets started coming. There is a large air force base not far from Mitzpe Ramon, Camp Ramon, and the jets would rise up suddenly above the western walls of the machtesh and then suddenly dive into the crater and fly through it. I try not to shine my green laser at the sky when this is happening since I feel the jets are likely to return fire, and not with green lasers. To cap off the evening a jet flew low over head on our plateau screaming defiance as it went by.

It was definitely a night of close encounters of the third kind. And we still had time to watch the stars.

David and Blayne say, "Keep on lookin' up!"

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Daylight Savings Time Begins Tonight in Israel

Time change at the start of Daylight Saving TimeImage via WikipediaIsrael begins daylight savings time on April 1. Set your clocks forward 1 hour. This is not an April Fool's joke. Why Israel begins it on a week day I do not know. They could begin it on Saturday morning, the Sabbath Day on which few people in Israel work. But no, for some reason it has to begin on a workday, depriving working folk of an hour of sleep.

In any case, this restores the usual 7/8/9/10 hour difference between the Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Western time zones in the US and Israel, at least until they go their several ways again in the fall when Daylight Savings Time ends on different days in the US and Israel.

This is an SVG version of the Time Zone map fr...Time Zones around the world

In his Special Theory of Relativity Einstein predicted (in 1905) that clocks moving relative to an observer run slower. This is called time dilation, or the second-order Doppler effect of Special Relativity. For example, when you are rushing to work in your car driving at say 100 km/hr, your watch, compared to that of a dilatory idler standing by the side of the road, loses .26 ps (picoseconds) per minute. The faster you go, the slower your watch moves compared to the idler, until in your rush to reach the office on time, your speed approaches the speed of light. As that happens, your watch asymptotically approaches a complete standstill relative to the bum at the road side who refuses to go to work. Thus the faster you try to get there, the slower your watch moves until, at the speed of light, time stops completely for you, as seen by the road-side bum. You never get to work, and your mass approaches infinity as well. Not only do you not arrive at work but you put on a hell of a lot of weight without the benefit of enjoying a donut.

The consolation is that as your speed slows from light-speed, you discover that thousands of years have passed, your boss and all of the people you hated at work are long dead, and so in fact is work. You are finally triumphant, and you loose all of that ungainly weight you put on while travelling near the speed of light. Life is good.

"Time," as Sir Hermann Bondi said, "is that which is manufactured by clocks." If you forget to move your clock forward, don't rush too much to get to work, or you just may never arrive.

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