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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Venus Reaches Greatest Eastern Elongation Tonight

Venus, Jupiter and the moon continue to put on their grand show tonight (March 27th), with Venus reaching greatest eastern elongation for this apparition at 46 degrees from the sun, almost the most distant it can be (47 degrees). Venus never ranges far from the sun, since its orbit is interior to the earth's, making it what astronomers call an "inferior planet", no value judgement intended!

This diagram shows the elongations (or angle) ...This diagram shows the elongations (or angle) of an inferior planet relative to the Earth and Sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can continue watching this shinning apparition tonight and tomorrow night, as the waxing crescent moon joins Venus and Jupiter for a last hurrah in the west, shortly after sunset and continuing on for about 3-4 hours until they set for northern hemisphere observers.

Enjoy it while you can, since the next time the moon comes this way Jupiter will be almost lost in the sunset glow as it goes behind the sun for its conjunction in May.

From top right down: Pleiades, Venus, Moon (overexposed waxing crescent), Jupiter, and a myriad of stars abounding above the dome of the Weiss Observatory in Mitzpe Ramon.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Venus and Jupiter - Now with the New Moon on March 25th

Venus and Jupiter continue to dazzle with their evening display shortly after sunset, this time adding the new moon of Nissan to their retinue. Look to the west tonight, March 25th, and you will see dazzling Venus just above and to the right of dimmer Jupiter, with the waxing new moon crescent very close and to the right of Jupiter. This is the new moon of Nissan, the month of miracles and our redemption from Egyptian bondage, approximately 3300 years ago. It was this new moon of Nissan that Hashem showed Moshe in Egypt to teach him the laws of Rosh Chodesh and the calculation of the calendar, on which the Jewish holidays depend.

Since our calendars are now all calculated and based on what we know about astronomy and the orbits of the moon and earth, it took me a long time to realize that the Jewish new month was originally just an observed phenomenon. Two witnesses were required to report their sighting of the new moon to the Sanhedrin, who already knew when the new moon was supposed to be and what it should look like in the sky. But witnesses were still required. If they didn't show up by the day after when the Sanhedrin had calculated the new moon, the previous day was declared Rosh Chodesh. This, by the way, is why Rosh Hashannah has always been a two day holiday, even during the time of the Beit Hamigdash and the Sanhedrin, since a tardy witness would cause one to miss Rosh Hashannah. By making the holiday two days, that would never happen.

In this way, even the recognition of what is an astronomical event, based on the laws of gravity and the laws of nature, becomes a partnership between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Above Venus we see the asterism, the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters of Greek mythology. This ia a star cluster some 100 million years old. All stars are born in clusters like this. Come on a star tour and we will see many different ones in different stages of star birth. Through binoculars it is a lovely sight, showing many more than the 5-6 members the naked eye sees. In a telescope or giant binoculars hundreds of stars can be seen.

While you're out with binoculars, take a closer look at Jupiter. It has four bright moons, at least one or two of which should be visible in your binoculars. These are called the Galilean Moons of Jupiter, discovered by the great Italian scientist and Astronomer, Galileo in January 1610.

Tomorrow night, March 26th, the trio will continue to put on their display, but with the moon close to Venus instead of Jupiter.

Good viewing and have a wonderful Pesach. May it be a month full of wonders and miracles for you and all Israel!

My photo of the above event in haze and clouds from Mitzpe Ramon March 25, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Venus and Jupiter Come Together Tonight

Have you been watching the beautiful light display that Jupiter and Venus have been putting on in the western sky just after sunset? For the past month they have been the two luminaries that have graced the eveing sky with their magnificent beacons, Venus the brighter and lower of the two. Tonight, March 13, they reach their closest approach to one another. After this they continue their separate ways as Jupiter sinks into the west as it approaches conjunction with the sun, while Venus continues its easterly trajectory toward greatest eastern elongation on April 22. Watch them tonight and throughout the next month as they continue to put on their show.

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The Southern Lights

The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, is the southern hemisphere's counterpart to the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Problem is, fewer people live down there so we don't get to see photos very often. Going where others fear to tread, the International Space Station (ISS) took this fabulous photo of the Aurora Australis  from earth orbit as it passed between Antarctica and Australia. These auroras are the results of solar flares from the sun which shoot charged particles into space that interact with the earth's magnetic field, causing neon-like glows in the atmosphere.

The Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, captured by Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers aboard the International Space Station.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Another Huge Solar Storm to Hit Earth

I saw these sunspots yesterday on March 7th when I ran Sunspotter upon starting my computer. One of the biggest sun spot groups I have seen in years appeared on my screen, and I knew it would soon be followed by a huge solar storm and flare that would probably wreak havoc on earth. And so it was today that the alert went out that a huge solar flare had emitted a stream of charged particles scheduled to hit the earth today and tomorrw with a high likelihood of playing havoc with the electric grid, GPS systems, other satellites and radio communications on earth. So, brace yourselves. Those above 40 degrees north latitude should head outdoors tonight and tomorrow night for what may be excellent views of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), although the full moon will brighten the sky and lessen the impact of any display.

Sunspot Group 1429 which generated the huge solar storm now heading toward earth.
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