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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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