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Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Most Excellent Total Lunar Eclipse, June 15, 2011

A most excellent total eclipse of the moon will be visible in its entirety from Israel on the night of June 15, 2011 and early in the morning of June 16. It is well seen from most of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, but especially well seen from Israel. This is the first lunar eclipse in 2011.

The moon will rise a few hours from full at 8:04PM IDT on the night of Wednesday, June 15. Just 20 minutes later the penumbral phase of the eclipse begins, when the moon enters the penumbral shadow of the earth. This phase is actually difficult to see, since there is only a slight darkening to the moon until the partial phase begins at 9:22PM IDT. As this phase begins, the moon enters the umbral shadow of the earth, and observers should start to see a "notch" where the moon pases into the complete shadow of the earth. Totality begins at 10:22PM when all of the moon enters the earth's full, umbral shadow. At 11:12PM the moon will be as deeply into the earth's shadow as it will get at this eclipse and "greatest eclipse" begins, when the moon should reach its darkest. Totality ends just after midnight on Thursday, June 16, and the exit partial phase of the eclipse ends at 1:02AM IDT.

The circumstances of this total eclipse have the moon passing almost centrally through the earth's shadow, which should make this a very dark eclipse. You can estimate the darkness yourself using the Danjon Scale. Volcanic aerosals can affect the color and brightness of an eclipse, and since one of the Icelandic volcanoes just belched a large dust cloud into the atmosphere, this could be a very interesting eclipse indeed. Don't miss it. We will be having a special observing session here in Mitzpe Ramon. If you are in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by. More on this later.

Circumstances of the June 15, 2011 total lunar eclipse show the moon passing almost centrally through the earth's shadow. (Source: NASA)

The eclipse is well viewed by the naked eye, although any optical aid at all, from binoculars to even a small telescope, will show greater detail. A lunar eclipse, unlike a solar eclipse, can be viewed without any protection for your eyes. The moon is never bright enough to damage your vision, even through a large telescope. If you are going to watch the early stages of the eclipse, make sure to find a clear eastern horizon, since the moon will be low in the sky as the penumbral stage begins.

All times are for Jerusalem, Israel (Israel Daylight Time) but should be correct within a few minutes elsewhere in the country.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Moon Rise:                                         20:04     IDT
Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 20:24 IDT
Partial Eclipse Begins:    21:22 IDT
Total Eclipse Begins:      22:22 IDT
Greatest Eclipse:          23:12 IDT
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Total Eclipse Ends:        00:02 IDT
Partial Eclipse Ends:      01:02 IDT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:    02:00 IDT

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Vienna Comes to Mitzpe Ramon

We had an exhilarating time this evening with S_ and K_ (anonymity requested) from Vienna. S_ grew up in Chicago and is now teaching in Vienna. K_ trades commodities there (should I buy gold?). It was a dark and stormy night. No, really it was. But S_ and K_ really wanted to see the stars and after many hesitations we went up despite the clouds.

As we were driving up it began to rain, which made me feel pretty stupid. But by the time we reached our observing plateau it had stopped, and of course the desert drinks it up immediately anyway. We dodged clouds for most of the night, together with the occasional shower, but enjoyed ourselves. We had enough breaks in the cloud cover to do a good tour of the constellations, and Saturn stayed uncovered long enough for some dedicated observing. S_ and K_ were quick studies and were soon piloting the telescope on their own.

After dropping them off at Chez Eugene, we had the thrill of seeing a striped hyena at the dumpster near the industrial district. These are amazing animals, wild and feral, with a bent, threatening, and loping gait. This was my fourth hyena sighting in Mitzpe Ramon. I saw a family of 3 last summer when I was out observing near the Alpaca Farm.

Keep on lookin' up!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peaks this Friday

The Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks this Friday night, May 6, after midnight local time. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from where their radiant appears to originate. The radiant is the point in the sky from which all of the meteors would appear to come if you drew a line back from their path to the point where the lines converge in the sky. It is not necessary to be looking at the radiant to see the meteors. They can apear anywhere in the sky. But when the radiant is high in the sky, the most meteors can be seen. At its peak, this meteor shower should show 10-60 meteors per hour, however it is best seen by observers at low latitudes, preferably in the Southern Hemisphere. Observers at 40 degrees North and higher will probably see no meteors from this shower at all. The Israeli Negev is at about 30 degrees North latitude, not ideal, but some meteors from this shower may still be visible early Saturday morning before sun rise. Go outside where you have as clear a horizon as possible and a dark sky, and just start watching. Meteor showers are best observed with the naked eye, so no optical equipment is necessary.

A meteor shower is the result of the earth encountering the debris of a comet as it sweeps out its orbit around the sun. The Eta Aquarids result from debris left behind by the famous Comet Halley. A meteor is most often just a tiny particle of dust, about the size of a grain of sand, that burns up from friction as it enters the earth's atmosphere. Brighter meteors result from larger particles. If large enough, they can withstand the friction of entry into the earth's atmosphere and strike the ground. They are then called meteorites and are highly prized by scientists and collectors alike. They are pieces of the original matter that formed our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Good luck if you go out watching on Friday night/Saturday morning.

The constellation Aquarius with the star "Eta" labelled. This is the radiant of the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. You do not have to be looking at the radiant to see shower members. It's best to just lie down and watch the zenith (point over head) after midnight. However, the Eta Aquarids are best seen from the Southern Hemisphere.

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Girls! Girls!! Girls!!!

I thought that would get your attention. Tonight we had the distinct pleasure of going star gazing with six young IDF soldier ladies just before their next deployment. Well, being teen agers it was more like six young girl soldiers. IDF soldiers always carry their weapons, whether on duty or off. This being the end of Yom HaShoah, the day for remembering the murder of six million European Jews, including over 1 million children, it put me in mind of what a disgrace to the conscience of the world it is that Jews must still be protected by a constantly armed citizenry from the certain death that would descend on them by their muslim neighbors but for the arms of children like these. And not only this, but the world wants these soldiers to put down their arms so that we can jump into the fires of our death. Not very much has changed to the conscience of the world in 66 years. Except this time we've got the guns, and we won't be putting them down. So, the world, its leaders, and our un-neighborly neighbors can go pound sand (among other things I won't mention here). I leave the conscience of the world for G-d to deal with.

These soldiers were about to embark on leading basic training for new IDF recruits who had made Aliyah to Israel and wanted to convert to Judaism. Almost all in the program have one parent who is Jewish. I was surprised to learn that at any given time there are about 700 IDF recruits in this program. Godspeed their work.

We had a dark but hazy night. The constellations and stars at the zenith were well seen, though. Saturn was the best telescopic sight of the night. I've also started handing out photos of the Hubble Deep Field and showing the girls where it was taken in the constellation Ursa Major (Great Bear, near the handle of the Big Dipper). Everyone should see this photo and its location in the sky at least once in their lives. With over 3000 galaxies in a field the size of a grain of sand held at arm's length, it depicts some of the oldest objects we have ever seen in the universe, some 10 billion years old, in a field of the most beautiful galaxies of all kinds.

"And G-d said, Let there be light. And there was light."

IDF soldier girls with my friend Inon from the CafeNeto (left) who set up the star tour.

The Hubble Deep Field

Location of the Hubble Deep Field in the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear

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