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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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