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Monday, January 30, 2012

Wherein We Celebrate a Birthday!

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Danny's 40th birthday with a special star tour overlooking Machtesh Ramon. His wife Rebecca set up a surprise party for him: A bus from Netanya with his best friends, Coen brothers movies for the round trip, and Danny still had no idea where he was or what was happening until I told him. What a wife! And she didn't even come along. It was an all men's night out celebration under the stars.

Here's an excerpt from Danny's description to his family back in the US;

It's 3:45am and we've just returned from the Machtesh, which was what felt like phase 17 of a very complex and multi-faceted birthday party.

Viewing conditions were near-perfect, and Ira, our astronomer (arrived two years ago from Englewood, by the way), showed off some amazing hardware (including 
1) a 108-mm (actually 130mm) refracting telescope
2) a nifty HUD (heads up display) star-finder
3) two dangerously bright green laser pointers.  They rock.
) and an excellent knowledge of the skies.  We observed Jupiter and its moons, the Pleiades, Mars and the Moon. 

I'm particularly proud to have observed that Mars was not in full phase:  we sort-of kind-of were able to make out a waning gibbous Mars, something our guide wasn't expecting

We watched the terminator advance across the moon, which basically amounts to watching the Sunset, backwards, from 1/4-million miles away, which is pretty amazing.  

We watched Cohen-brothers movies during the trips there and back.  A grand time was had by all.  

Thanks for an amazing tour!  Next time I'm definitely coming! (This comment from Danny's wife, who stayed home with the kids!)
What a wife! What a party!! We celebrated with sparkling wine, hot tea and coffee, and home made brownies with a nifty sparkler as a candle. The men actually cleaned up after themselves!

Danny and his friends celebrate his 40th birthday with a star tour beside Machtesh Ramon

If you'd like something different for that special someone come for a star tour party. And remember - Keep on lookin' up!

--by Ira Machefsky

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nearest and Farthest Planets at Conjunction

Venus, the nearest plant to earth, and Neptune, the farthest, are at conjunction with one another in the evening sky. Venus is this season's evening star, bright in the west after sunset. Only two degrees away (4 full-moon diameters) is Neptune, now below and to the right of Venus. They are growing farther apart each day as Venus continues its rapid climb into the evening sky. But for now they should both be easily visible in the same binocular field.

English: Venus orbits the Sun at an average di...Image via Wikipedia
Venus's and earth's orbit around the sun.

Venus is at magnitude -4, blazing brightly, while Neptune is at magnitude +8, some 1/63,000 as bright as Venus. (The magnitude scale is logarithmic, which each successive magnitude 2.5x brighter or dimmer than the preceding.) Venus is now 181.6 million kilometers, or 10.10 light minutes, from earth. Neptune is 4.6 billion kilometers, or 256.14 light minutes, from earth. Since Pluto's demotion from planetude in 2006, Neptune is now our most distant planet. Enjoy seeing the closest and farthest, brightest and dimest together in the same binocular field of view for the next few days!

English: The average distance between Neptune ...Image via Wikipedia
Neptune's orbit around the sun

And remember...Keep on looking up!

--by Ira Machefsky
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Riding the Sun Through the Milky Way

One of the things I like to do on a dark night is observe the Milky Way with the naked eye. This is the band of light that runs from the northwest, overhead and through the southeast this time of year around 8:30PM. It is the arms of our spiral galaxy seen edge on, home to our sun, solar system and about 1 billion to 4 billion other stars.

Imagine, if you will, our sun travelling along the arms of this great galaxy, orbiting the center, in a near-circular path that takes about 225 million years to complete a single orbit! We're travelling at about 486,000 MPH (miles per hour!) around the center of the galaxy, pulled along by the gravity of our sun as it orbits the center. In addition we're spinning on the earth's axis every 24 hours (speed varying by latitude) while the earth orbits the sun yearly  at about 67,602 MPH. Throw in a few other motions like the precession of the equinoxes, the orbiting of the Milky Way around the center of gravity of our local galactic cluster, the orbiting of our local cluster around some Great Attractor, and things start to get literally dizzyingly complex.

It's a relief to come back to earth and just ride the sun as it travels around our galaxy. To do this go out this time of year shortly after sunset. Find Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, just rising in the southeast. Stand with your back to Sirius and face northwest toward Vega, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra (The Lyre), just setting near the northwest horizon. The Milky Way (in a dark sky) will soar diagonally over head across the sky from southeast to northwest. You are now facing in the direction of the sun's orbit around the Milky Way, called the "Apex of the Sun's Way". (I've always loved that expression. Say it to yourself over and over again.) Behind you, you are leaving the stars of our galaxy at 486,000MPH (Called the Anapex of the Sun's Way, another expression I love). Before you you are approaching them at the same speed. Giddyap!!

Come out for a star tour on a dark moon night and we can ride the galaxy together!

Artist's conception of the Milky Way, showing the location of our sun. Our motion is clockwise around the galaxy, winding up the arms. (Click for larger image.)

NGC 1365, the "Great Barred Spiral" in Fornax is 56 million light years away. The Milky Way is now thought to most closely resemble this galaxy.

See also: 

Two stars flag sun’s path through Milky Way

-- by Ira Machefsky

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Come for a Star Tour, Stay for a Party

A few weeks ago we entertained Masha and Tzvika for a Star Tour Birthday Party. For birthdays and other special events we provide surprises. Just let us know what the occasion is. And don't ask about the surprise. We can't tell. It wouldn't be a surprise, would it?

Masha and Tzvika

A birthday kiss under the stars (so romantic!)

Now for the small print: Your tour is free if you propose to your ba'shert on a star tour!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Yippee! We Were Featured on Time Out Israel's Cover as a Unique Tour Experience

In its January edition "Time Out Israel" featured a story on unique tours in Israel. Astronomy Israel is proud to have been featured in this piece. The online version is here. You can buy hard copy at most news stands and tourist locations in Israel. But not in Mitzpe Ramon. :(

Time Out Israel cover

Article cover

Astronomy Israel write-up

Thank you "Time Out Israel"!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Heads Up for the Quadrantids Meteor Shower on January 3rd-4th

English: Quadrantid meteor is bright enough to...Image via WikipediaThe new year begins with one of the best meteor showers of the year on the night of January 3rd and morning of January 4th. Last year we were out for the Quadrantids and it did not disappoint with counts of 40 or so meteors per hour after midnight. This year, the waning waxing gibbous moon will interfere with all but the brightest members until it sets around 3:00AM. After that the sky will be dark, although the meteor shower peak occurs during daylight hours in Israel, around 9:00AM. All you need is a dark site and warm clothes and blankets to observe. Meteor showers are best observed with the naked eye, so no optical aid is required. You can look anywhere in the sky, no one place or direction is favored over another, although usually looking straight up at the zenith lets you see the maximum amount of sky. Keep count over 15 minute intervals and let us know what your tally is, if you do go out to observe.

We are still getting over a horrible cough and chest infection, so we will be bundled warm inside to continue healing to do star tours this week. Good luck to those of you who do decide to try your luck and brave the cold and early hours.

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