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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Geminids Meteor Shower is a Smash Hit

This year's Geminid meteor shower, peaking on the night of December 13-14, did not disappoint. It had to be one of the best in recent years, and one of the best I have ever seen. I was out with a small group that night from 6:00 until about 11:00 PM. One guest counted 87 meteors in about 90 minutes, and many of these were very bright meteors or fireballs that lit the entire sky. We frequently saw many simultaneous shooters across the sky. In fact we saw so many that my guests began to fear that I would charge them for the night on a per meteor basis! Meteor showers result from the earth plowing into the orbit of an old comet which leaves behind dust and debris in its path after its passage. The Geminids however originate from an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, rather than a comet.

As I was looking forward to an incredible night, the skies clouded over at 11:00 PM, ending the show. Such has been our fate for much of this winter. However, if you missed the Geminids this year, don't despair. A nearly equal meteor shower, the Quadrantids, peaks early in the new year on the evening of January 3 through the early morning of January 4. This shower has a very sharp and brief peak, usually early on the morning of January 4, so the exact time you are out will make a considerable difference in how intense the shower appears The Quadrantids originate from  the minor planet 2003 EH1, which in turn may be related to the comet C/1490 Y1  that was observed by Chinese, Japanese and Korean astronomers some 500 years ago.

I will, of course, be out that night, so send email or call if you would like to join us in Mitzpe Ramon. Dress warmly; it's been cold at night.

And remember - Keep on Lookin' Up!


A Geminid meteor shoots past the constellation of Taurus with Jupiter shining nearby.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Night Under the Con Trails

Last week we enjoyed a night under the moon and planets with Ada Beth and Chuck Cutler from New Jersey. Ada Beth is on a sabbatical from Montclair State University where she is the Dean of the Education Department. Although it was a full moon night with few dim stars visible, we did get to see the Israeli air force pilots put on a great air show in the moon light sky. The weather in the Negev is not often conducive to seeing con trails. In fact, after being here for almost three years I have only seen three days on which they form. But last week was the exceptions and the planes filled the moon light sky with their con trails, which later spread out and became a high thin cloud cover that partly interfered with our observing. :(

Nevertheless, it is a really stomach churning experience to see the F16 fighters do high rolls at a tremendous altitude, after burners aglow, and then drop like rocks for tens of thousands of feet until they pull up at tooth pulling high Gs. The planes fly so fast that normally it can be difficult to follow them, but with contrails spewing behind them it was rather easy that night. We also had our star tour binoculars at the ready and so could follow them up close. They usually fly at sub-sonic but high speed, but the previous week they were throwing huge sonic booms all night long, which were rather alarming to the guests that night. :) They aren't supposed to do that, but sometimes I guess they just get carried away. I can't guarantee an air show, but there's no extra charge if one happens. ;)



F16s over Machtesh Ramon (during the daytime!)

Ada Beth did pay us this nice compliment on her blog:
...it was amazing to see the moon, Saturn and Jupiter through Ira’s telescopes and to learn about stars, constellations, and the night sky. The other feature in the sky that night was quite a scene- numerous Israeli fighter jets coursing and diving through the sky at amazing speeds and leaving their contrails of smoke. The Negev is the largest part of Israel, mostly uninhabited, and therefore the site of various military maneuvers. In any case, stargazing with Ira is a definite must-do should you find yourself in the Negev!
Thanks Ada Beth and Chuck for joining us for a night under the con trails.

And remember - Keep On Lookin' Up!


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Friday, November 2, 2012

Hunter Moon Over Mt. Nimrod

While setting up for a night of observing last week I saw this beautiful near-full moon rising over Mt. Nimrod, just outside of Mitzpe Ramon. This was the full moon of October, called the Hunter Moon by the American Indians, the full moon following the Harvest Moon of September. The Harvest Moon lights the sky for gatherers of the harvest in the fall while the Hunter Moon lights the sky for the hunters of meat needed for the coming winter.

The Hunter Moon of October rising over Mt. Nimrod
I have no idea what this little mountain is actually called, but I observe in its shadow where it shields from the light of Mitzpe Ramon and the desert wind (somewhat). The winter constellation of Orion rises over its peak at about 10:30 this time of year, with Rigel, the brightest star in the constellation, rising directly over the peak from where I observe. It is a lovely sight to behold, a brilliant blue-white star twinkling madly as it rises directly above the top of the mountain.

In Jewish star lore the hunter Orion is identified with Nimrod, the first hunter in the Bible. Thus, my decision to call it Mt. Nimrod instead of Mt. Orion, I think more appropriate for this Holy Land mountain. It is also the test site of Raphael Industries and the IDF's new field radar system, or so I have been told. Here in the lee of the mountain we are also shielded from the light pollution that comes from the test site atop it. For some reason, the testers seem to feel the need to put up klieg lights at night whenever the tests are going on. Recently, tho, they have cut back on the lights, now using a single mercury vapor light instead of a battery of sodium vapor ones. Better, but still not good enough. Light pollution is becoming a big issue in the desert and will be ever more so with plans to move 500,000 new Olim into the desert in the next 10 years.

On the night I took this picture I saw the radar system spinning for the first time. It had always been stationary in the past. Here's a little video of it at work.

video


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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why is the Sky Dark at Night?

This seemingly childish question, of course because there is no sun shining at night!, is actually a very profound question called Olbers' Paradox. Its answer awaited the discoveries of modern cosmology, including the discovery of the Big Bang and of the Cosmic Microwave Backgroud Radiation (CMBR) by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson at Bell Labs in 1964.

If the universe is eternal and infinite, when we look out into space at night we should eventually see a star. So, the night sky should be filled with star light, bright as day. But, of course, it is not. Why not? That is the paradox.

ANSWER:
The universe had a beginning when it exploded from an infinitely small point, a "singularity", and space, time and matter were created. This singularity did not exist in space or time. Rather space and time were created as it exploded and began expanding. A fraction of a smidge of a tiny bit of a second after this "Big Bang", as it is called, the universe began expanding exponentially faster than the speed of light. This is called the period of Inflation, and no central banker had anything to do with it. When this period of inflation ended, just a smidge of a second after it began, the universe was stretched out and homogeneous in all directions, with little seeds of unevenness that eventually became the stars and galaxies we see today. With the expansion of space-time and all within it, many stars and galaxies have been carried beyond our horizon of visibility, so the light from its earliest era comes from stars too distant to ever see, while much of the rest is shifted into the infrared where it is invisible to our eyes.

So, our universe is neither infinite nor eternal. Some of the stars and galaxies from the earliest era of creation are too far away for us to ever see and others have their light shifted toward infrared wavelengths that are invisible to our eyes. Surrounding and permeating it all is the afterglow of the Big Bang, the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, which is the remnant of the Big Bang that started everything 13.72 billion years ago. This CMBR shines at a temperature of just 2.725 degrees Kelvin, invisible to our naked eyes but detected by radio telescopes in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. If we had radio telescopes for eyes, the sky would be filled with this "light" of creation. "And G-d said, Let there be light!"

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, how our night sky would look in all directions if we had radio telescopes for eyes.

If you would like a capsule video explanation of Olbers' Paradox here is this from Minute Physics, but it takes four minutes to explain:

Friday, August 31, 2012

Blue Moon Over Machtesh Ramon

The full moon that rises today, Friday August 31st, will be a blue moon. Well...not really like the photo I've tinted here for you. The moon is never actually blue. A "blue moon" is the second full moon in a calendar (Gregorian calendar) month. Its color is no different from a regular full moon. The first full moon this month fell on August 1st; the second on August 31st. Since the  moon has a period of 29 1/2 days, it sometimes happens that two will fall in the same 31 day month.

In the Hebrew calendar, based on a lunar cycle, there can never be two full moons in a month, by definition. The full moon of August 1st fell on the 15th of Av; the full moon of August 31st falls on the 14th of Elul. So, a blue moon is really just a coincidental occurrence. It happens 7 times in 19 years, a Metonic cycle of the moon, so about once every 2.7 years. Not exactly rare, but rare enough for the term "once in a blue moon" to have entered the common parlance, meaning an event that does not occur often. The next one is on July 31, 2015.

"Blue Moon" rising over Machtesh Ramon.
Why a "blue moon" and not, say, a "green moon"? The name apparently derives from the Old English word "blewe" which means "betaryer" and also "blue". In the Middle Ages when the Church announced the date of Lent and Easter to the populace, these events were calculated from the appearance of the full moon. If there was an extra full moon before Lent, it threw off the calculations. Hence the calendar had been "betrayed" by a "blewe" moon. Perhaps betrayer was chosen as the term since it was reminiscent of Jesus's betrayal by Judas, but that is just my speculation. In any case, the "blewe moon" was intercalated so as not to throw off the dates of Lent and Easter. If this is the case, then a "blewe moon" would have indeed been very rare, since only the second full moon in the month before Lent would have qualified for that designation.

As it happened, the name came to be applied to any second full moon falling in the same calendrical month of the year. In the case of the Hebrew calendar this is the 15th of Elul, two weeks before Rosh Hashannah. The theme of Elul is "Hamelech Ba'Sadeh", The King is in the Field, accessible to all who wish to reach out to him, make amends and a better start for the new year about to begin. Kesivah and Chasimah Toavah to all k'lal Yisroel!

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Neil Armstrong, First Man to Walk on the Moon, Dies at 82

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died yesterday at the age of 82. I remember watching the lunar landing and the first moon walk in July 1969 when I was a student at the University of Chicago. It was the culmination of many long NASA space TV sessions that began for me as a teen with the Mercury program that launched Alan Shepard into space in the first sub-orbital flight, in a race with the Russians to be the first on the moon. Those were the days. Getting up early in the morning to watch the Redstone rockets launch the first astronauts, the coundowns, the agonizing holds at T-1 second, and finally the "lift off", as we learned - not "blast off" as the science fiction books had it - with the mighty rockets roaring into space with their manned payloads, just in time to rush out the door and catch the bus to school. (Yes, I was bussed to Jewish day schools in the South before busing was busing.)

Now we have no more manned space program, but we have excelled at sending probes to the most distant planets and robotic explorers to Mars. In just 400 years we have progressed from Galileo's first glimpse of the distant heavens using a telescope so primitive that you wouldn't give it to a child today to actually visiting these far, far away places. Who knows what the next 400 years might bring, if the savages of the world and their sympathizers and enablers don't ruin it for everyone.

According to the press Armstrong died of complications from cardiac procedures. Does that mean a medical mistake? Sure hope not.

In tribute, here is the video that I remember watching so well from his first steps on the moon.




The flag that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin placed on the moon still "flies", but no one gave any thought to longevity at the time, so ultra-violet rays from the sun have bleached it completely white, the color of surrender. Hopefully, not symbolic...

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Curiosity" Rover Party Party Party!!!

The Mars-bound Curiosity Rover is scheduled to land on the surface of Mars on Monday, August 6, at 8:31AM Israel Daylight Time (IDT). To honor and celebrate the most complex and difficult mission NASA has ever done for a robotic explorer we will have an impromptu party at the CafeNeto in Mitzpe Ramon, starting at 8:00AM on Monday morning, August 6th. NASA will be streaming live video of the event from their web site which we will watch using the CafeNeto's wifi connection. Bring along a computer, tablet, or smartphone and you can stream from there, too. Of course the CafeNeto will be serving their always exceptional drinks and food, and Ami's convenience store (all kosher) is open next door for those who wish to roll their own.

Curiosity Rover is lowered to the surface of Mars by its hovering sky crane.
It seems that parties are being held all over the world for this event, including one that NASA is hosting in Times Square where the landing will be streamed onto the Jumbotron at 42nd street. This could be even bigger than the Facebook IPO, and it won't cost you a cent!

This is NASA's Curiosity home page which includes a countdown timer clock for the event: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

List of Curiosity landing parties around the world. Find your nearest one!
http://getcurious.com/landing-parties/

This is where you can watch the streaming video of the landing on NASA TV: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

Facts about Curiosity and the landing: http://www.universetoday.com/96553/quick-and-curious-facts-about-the-mars-science-laboratory-mission/#more-96553

What you will see on TV as Curiosity lands:
http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/02/13080174-what-well-see-from-mars-and-when

Astronomy Israel party listing on the official world-wide Curiosity party site:
http://yurisnight.net/explore-mars-events/?partyid=2256

The seven minutes of the landing has been described by NASA as "seven minutes of sheer terror", as Curiosity goes from a cosmic velocity of 13,000 MPH to zero through its landing sequence to finally be lowered to the surface by a hovering sky-crane using over 70 pyrotechnic elements that will finally fly the sky-crane safely away from Curiosity where it will crash to the surface of Mars.



It takes transmissions from Curiosity 14 minutes to reach earth, observing the universal cosmic speed limit of 186,000MPS, so mission operators won't know whether Curiosity has survived its seven minutes of terror for 14 minutes after its landing. The 8:31 landing time is calculated to include the 14 minutes of transmission delay, so the actual landing will occur at 8:17AM IDT.

Come and join us as we find out the ultimate fate of the greatest robotic mission to the planets ever undertaken by mankind!


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Monday, July 30, 2012

Jupiter's Disappearing Act

One of the most beautiful celestial events I have seen in a long time occurred early on the morning of Sunday July 15th, and Israel was perfectly placed for it. The waning crescent moon occulted Jupiter and its four Galilean satellites over the skies of Mitzpe Ramon. An occultation occurs when one astronomical body passes in front of another and blocks its light for a period of time. In this case the moon, at about 230,000 miles distant from earth that morning passed in front of Jupiter and its moons, about 526,963,352 miles distant, a ratio of 2,291 in distance! The moon approached Jupiter, slowly engulfed two Jovian satellites to its right, then the planet, then the two remaining Jovian satellites, and reversed the process about an hour later. The moon and Jupiter were in a very rich area of the sky that night, in the constellation Taurus with the Hyades star cluster nearby, along with the bright, red star Aldebaran and many other stars nearby that were only visible in the telescope.

Because such events are so beautiful and memorable, I had called for a star party to begin at 3:00AM that morning. Despite the early hour, about 30 people showed up, some from as far away as Gush-et-Zion, along with many from Mitzpe Ramon. I had set out 4 telescopes and a pair of giant binoculars, so we were well provisioned for the night. The weather was warm, the sky clear, and the desert winds that blow most of the night had quit for the evening, as the temperature in Machtesh Ramon and on the rim, where we were, came into equilibrium.

The first photo shows the rich star field that the moon was entering as it began to engulf Jupiter. Jupiter is hidden in the overexposed glow of the moon which was necessary to show some of the dimmer stars.

The rich star field around Jupiter shows the Hyades star cluster below and to the right of Jupiter with the brilliant red supergiant star Aldeberan directly below the moon. Many other stars are shown in the field and must have also been occulted by the moon, but little mention was made of them in pre-occultation summaries of the event. Jupiter is hidden in the moon's glare near the bright limb. Photo: Ira Machefsky
Jupiter and its four Galilean moons about to be occulted by the moon, along with other bright stars in the vicinity. In order from the very left: Callisto, Ganymede, Jupiter, Io, Europa, Moon. Photo: Roy Brown
Jupiter about to be occulted by the moon. Photo: Roy Brown
Jupiter, preceded by Io and Europa, emerges from behind the moon. Photo: Roy Brown
Jupiter and all four of the Galilean moons emerge about an hour later. Another star, identity unknown, to the left of the moon is just a few minutes away from being occulted. Photo: Roy Brown
As the moon moved away from Jupiter and its moons, the tableau took on the appearance of some vicious primitive weapon, the scythed blade of the moon being held by the spindle of Jupiter and its moons.

The vision was made all the lovelier by the appearance of Venus on the scene, just before sunrise. Venus was shining near its maximum magnitude of -4.7, a beacon below Jupiter and the moon in the gathering light of day.

Venus rises brightly below the crescent moon and the exiting Jupiter as Aldeberan shines above and to the right of the Morning Star. Photo: Ira Machefsky
Finally, a scene that few got to see: Sunrise at our observing location, the rim of the world's largest erosion crater, Machtesh Ramon:

Sunrise on Machtesh Ramon, after the Jupiter occultation. Photo: Ira Machefsky


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Friday, July 20, 2012

G-d Save the Queen!

Not to be a name dropper, but can I mention that tonight we had a star tour with Laurence Gould and his brother Matthew Gould, the present ambassador to Israel from Great Britain. Laurence's wife Liz also came for the tour, although a smidge tired she said, as did network security expert Chris Gerling from the US with his charming young companion Vicky from Tel Aviv University. Ido and Tamar were looking for a sprinkling of star dust which I was happy to oblige with. Celia, the ambassador's wife, stayed at the hotel with their young daughter.

The Starman of Mitzpe Ramon with Matthew Gould, the British ambassador to Israel, in the lobby of the Beresheet Hotel.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Full Moon Over Machtesh Ramon

A beautiful full moon rose over Machtesh Ramon on July 3rd. We happened to be out and about and so captured it here. The colors were much more subtle than my camera could capture, and the moon was a giant creamy balloon hanging in the sky.

Moonrise over the rock wall along the promenade in Mitzpe Ramon.

Moonrise over Machtesh Ramon with Shen Ramon, a gigantic basalt upthrust, to the lower right.

The grey shadow of the earth cast by the setting sun against the sky is seen just above the full moon.

Full moon, Machtesh Ramon, Shen Ramon (Ramon's Tooth).

Full moon tableau from Mitzpe Ramon.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Moon to Occult Jupiter in Rare July 15th, 2012 Event

A rare, major and hugely memorable event will occur early in the morning of Sunday, July 15th when the moon passes in front of the planet Jupiter (astronomers call this an "occultation") blocking it from view for about an hour. As the moon then moves eastward in its monthly orbit around the earth, Jupiter will be uncovered about an hour later. This event is not receiving much publicity because it will not be visible from the US, but the Middle East and Africa will have a front row seat. In addition to Jupiter, the four bright moons of Jupiter, the "Galilean satellites", will also be occulted in the course of this event. This is a very rare  event, although as of this writing I don't know when the next occultation of Jupiter will be visible from Israel.

The moon, Jupiter and Venus as seen on the morning of June 17, 2012, rising above Mitzpe Ramon. The moon just missed Jupiter on this pass. On the early morning of July 15th at 4:01AM IDT the moon will pass in front of Jupiter, occulting it.
The tableau in the east in the early morning sky is already quite stunning. Jupiter, with Venus below it, shine brightly like beacons with the Pleiades star cluster above and the Hyades star cluster below, and ruby-red star Aldeberan (Alpha Tauri) set like a jewel at the bottom. Really, this alone is worth rising early to see. But on the morning of July 15th, starting about 3:30AM, this tableau will rise in the east with the waning, crescent  moon accompanying the entourage. Beginning at 4:01AM, the moon will cover Jupiter and it's Galilean satellites over the course of a few minutes, blotting them out of the sky. About an hour later they will pop out from behind the moon one by one. All the angels will sing, "Hosannah in the Highest!"

How the sky will look on the morning of July 15, 2012, 4:01AM IDT, from Israel, just after the occultation begins. This star map doesn't even begin to hint at the glory in the east at this event.
These occultations are memorable events just when seen with the naked eye. The proximity of so many bright heavenly bodies near each other is one of the most beautiful sights the sky has to offer. Through any kind of optical instrument the grandeur is even greater. You will need at least binoculars to see the Galilean satellites occulted. A telescope, of almost any size, will show much more, including the cloud-striped disk of Jupiter as it slides behind the bright, crater-scared rim of the moon and reappears from behind the dark side of the moon. I remember every occultation I have ever observed and treasure them as my dearest astronomical memories. You don't have to be in Miztpe Ramon to see this, or even have especially dark skies. But you will need a very clear eastern horizon, since all of these objects will have just risen about 30 minutes before the occultation begins.

An occultation of Jupiter by the moon. Animated gif by Don Parker.
This event will occur low in the east starting at 4:01AM IDT on Sunday morning July 15th and the occultation will end about an hour later, close to sunrise. I will be out all night with my telescopes and binoculars and all are welcome to join me, no cost. This will be an open star party. I hope other amateurs will join with their telescopes. As of this writing I plan to be at the last JNF forest on the left of the road heading up to the Wise observatory, about 1 KM from the Wise observatory on the plateau overlooking Machtesh Ramon. There is a turn-off from the road there that leads to a short dirt road that goes around the forest to where I will be. Check back for any last minute changes.

"Ira" is where the Starman of Mitzpe Ramon currently plans to be on the morning of July 15th in Mitzpe Ramon.

Good luck viewing and remember to "Keep on lookin' up!"

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Balmy Summer Weather Returns to Mitzpe Ramon

As mid-summer approaches, the nights have returned to their delightful summer time best. Tonight's temperature was 72* F with a light wind out of the Northwest and dark skies all around, until the 3/4 moon rose around 11:30PM. We observed Saturn, a perennial favorite, the moon, the Lagoon Nebula and the beautiful gold and turquoise double star Alberio in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan.  The Milky Way spun overhead. Time to get outside for a star tour. And remember to Keep on lookin' up!

Machtesh Ramon from our observing location above Mitzpe Ramon

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Manhattanhenge" - Tonight!

Here we are in the US, not far from Manhattan, with the celebrated "Manhattanhenge" event, as named by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, about to occur.

This event occurs around Memorial Day every year when the setting sun aligns with the canyon towers of the Big Apple, casting its sunset glow from west to east across the island. In homage to the great rocks in England at Stonehenge which were used to mark the summer solstice, physicist Tyson named this occurrence in Manhattan after them.

The event should be visible at
8:16 pm this evening at sunset.
See: http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/30/11939663-new-yorkers-get-second-chance-to-see-monumental-manhattanhenge


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Booth Ave,Englewood,United States

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Last Transit of Venus in Your Lifetime (Probably)

A transit of Venus occurs when that planet passes exactly between the earth and the sun, obscuring part of the sun with its disk and allowing Venus to be seen as a dark globe crossing the face of the sun. Such transits occur in pairs about every hundred years. The last transit was in 2004. The next transit will occur in Israel on the morning of June 6, 2012. The transit will already be in progress when the sun rises that morning and will end between 7:37AM and 7:55AM that morning with interior and exterior egress of the planet. The next transit will not occur until the year 2117, probably not in the lifetime of anyone now living, except perhaps for Ray Kurzweil.  :-)

This chart shows the circumstances of the transit of Venus as seen from Mitzpe Ramon. (Play with it here.)
The transit of Venus used to be important because Sir John Herschel correctly predicted, in the 18th century, that the distance of the earth to the sun could be determined by measuring the transit times from far apart places on the earth and using some trigonometric calculations together with Kepler's laws to determine the distance. He was correct, but the accurate measurement that was required was difficult to achieve because of the vast distances that had to be travelled, the challenging political and natural hazards of that era, as well as a phenomenon that came to be called "the black drop effect", wherein the orb of Venus appeared to be connected to the limb of the sun by a thin black thread (an optical effect, not a real connection), making accurate timings almost impossible to achieve. These days the transit is important because scientists hope to use the event to find out more about how to search for exoplanets as they transit the disk of their distant suns.

The were many great adventures, triumphs and tragedies that resulted from these early attempts, including the hook up of Mason and Dixon, who later went to the United States to measure a boundary that would bear their name and become famous for dividing the slave from the free states in the US. These stories are well worth reading about.

In the era of the Internet, there are apps that will attempt to crowd-source the timings, and they will be fun and enlitghening to use, even if you don't view the transit or participate in making timings. More about them and the transit here.

Unfortunately, your Starman of Mitzpe Ramon will not be in Israel for this event, so, sadly, you are on your own. Remember, never look at the sun without adequate and proper optical protection. You will permanently damage your vision if you do. This event is best seen with a telescope with a solar filter, although with your (properply protected) naked eye you should be just be able to make it out, although not with enough detail to perform any timings. There are a number of places to buy eye protection to view the sun in Israel including Bareket Observatory and the retailer Cosmos. Bareket observatory should also be able to tell you where public viewing of the transit will be done in Israel.

Good luck seeing the last transit of Venus this century. We will miss you. And remember...Keep on Lookin' Up!



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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wise Observatory Open House

The Wise Observatory lies high in the hills above Mitzpe Ramon. It is the only working research observatory in the Middle East, owned and operated by Tel Aviv University. I frequently get calls from people who either think I am the Wise Observatory or that I can give tours of it. Alas, neither is the case. The observatory is closed to the public every day of the year except one, Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, when the Astronomy Club of Tel Aviv University hosts an open house.

This Yom Haatzmaut was no exception, and the observatory was open from 4:00PM to 10:00PM. A good crowd totaling about 2000 showed up for the event. Amateurs from the astronomy club were there with telescopes for a star party and inside the observatory garduate students gave astronomy talks. I don't know if the 40 inch scope was available to see, but unfortunately, all of the observing was done with the much smaller amateur scopes outside. Next year, could we please get a look through the 40 inch reflector!
As I ascended the road to the Wise Observatory, these people were setting out on a sunset horse ride from the Alpaca Farm in Mitzpe Ramon.
Approaching the observatory from below
Wise Observatory flying Israel's colors on Yom Haatzmaut

The observatory on its hill from inside the grounds.
The 18 inch all digital telescope near the entrance. Very fast f-ratio of about 1.8.

A close-up view of the 18 inch scope.
Enjoying the star party. The telescope was pointed at Venus, very easy to see in the day time sky.

This old pad will soon be home to a new 28 inch telescope and dome.

Heading up to the observatory from below.
View of the surrounding desert and the far rim of Machtesh Ramon on the right from the observatory entrance.
Presentation about the composition of the universe. Yes, it's made of bubble gum.
The observatory at night.

If you didn't make it this year, try for next year. And by the way, the domes you see from Route 40 just north of Mitzpe Ramon do not belong to the observatory. Those are radar domes of the IAF.

Remember to Keep on Lookin' Up, and clear skies and Happy Observing to you all.


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