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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Romance (and Saturn) is in the Air

Coming on the heels of our being named a Top 10 Romantic Tour for Valentine's Day in Israel by, we were named a Top 10 Wedding Guest Tour by Lee Balot and Yoash Limon, desert tour guides and proprietors of  the Greenbackpackers Hostel, gave us the opportunity to strut our stuff last Thursday by throwing a wedding star party for their guests in Mitzpe Ramon. About 18 people joined them for a night under the stars from our observing location above and behind Mitzpe Ramon. Aside from the bride and groom, Saturn was the star, so to speak of the evening, who stole everyone's heart. I've gotten comments on Saturn for this apparition like, "No Way!", or "You painted that on the lens!", and "This is the highlight of our tour!" Yes, Saturn is that good. Sometimes it all people will let me show, so I try to show it last. The thing about Saturn is that it looks exactly like you expect t to, even in a small telescope. It's too far away for the largest telescopes to show much more detail than a small one, and the main features are large enough to show well in small telescopes. It's the amateur's "Goldilocks planet".

A few people try to capture a photo of the planet with their cameras or iPhone, usually to no avail. It's just too hard to hold the camera steady over the eyepiece to get a shot. But one resourceful guest, Estee Nemeth, who is in the film industry, used her iPhone's video and edited the stream down to the one good frame that showed Saturn well.

Saturn, by Estee Nemeth

It's a bit overexposed and blurry, but there's no doubt about what it is. You can even see the outer charcoal colored A ring and the inner, bright B ring. The pencil thin dark line that separates them is the Cassini Division, where ring material is absent. The photo below shows many of the details that can be seen on a good night with our telescopes. But you must have excellent, steady "seeing", and also alot of patience and time at the eyepiece. As I tell people, "It's called observing, not looking."

Saturn, by Bob English

Last Friday Lee and Yoash got married. We wish them Mazel Tov, and send us some guests!!

Yoash Limon and Lee Balot

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Follow the Zodiacal Light

zodiacal light reflecting off dust in solar systemzodiacal light reflecting off dust in solar system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Many people may be away from home for the Pesach holidays, perhaps even at dark sky locations. If so, look to the west shortly after nightfall to see the elusive Zodiacal Light. It is a bright pyramid shaped cone,  wide at the bottom near the horizon, tapering to a peak at the top. It will be marked by a line connecting the bright planets Jupiter, closer to the horizon, and Venus to the above left. The line conecting these two planets passes through the ecliptic, the plane of the earth's orbit around the sun. The other planets and our moon lie within a 5 degree radius of the ecliptic, so they are never far from it. The ecliptic is called the Zodiac by astrologers, and for the same reason the sun, moon, and planets are always found within the constellations of the Zodiac.

Tonight Jupiter is in Aries and Venus is in Taurus, Venus having just put on a magnificent show passing the star cluster, the Pleiades, last week. The Zodiacal Light is a dim, elusive cone of light that is the reflection of sunlight from billions of grains and dust that lie in the plane of our solar system. The earth is constantly bombarded by these throughout the day and night, but most are too small to show as meteors. Consider them to be motes of cosmic, solar system dust that light up as they reflect the light of the sun at evening. Now is the best time of year to observe the Zodiacal Light, since the plane of the ecliptic makes an almost 90 degree intersection with the horizon, lifting the Zodiacal Light high in the sky and making it readily visible from dark, clear skies. The path of the ecliptic is marked by Jupiter and Venus, so the zodiacal light should appear along the line connecting them. Go outside and have a look and let us know if you can spot the Zodiacal Light. When you do, remember you are seeing a light show put on by the dust that fills the plane of the planets' orbits around the sun.

The Zodiacal Light, as it appears along the line connecting Jupiter and Venus, shortly after dark tonight, April 8, 2012

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