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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ginormous Panorama of the Night Sky by Nick Risinger

Nick Risinger, a 28-year old amateur astrophotographer, trekked 60,000 miles across the western US and South Africa to create this enormous 360-degree panorama of the night sky.

360-degree panorama of the night sky. The Milky Way, our home galaxy, cuts through the center of the photo with its bright arms, glowing gas, and dark nebulae.
It doesn't get really impressive until you click-in to the massive, scrollable panorama here:
http://media.skysurvey.org/interactive360/index.html

Then it becomes OMG! Be sure to turn on constellations and identification of objects. This is one of the best sky maps I have ever seen. Congratulations to Nick! A formidable accomplishment.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Photographing the Full Moon of December 17 / Tevet

I don't do much astrophotography, but on special nights, like the full moon rising, I can't resist dragging a camera to the Bird's Nest Lookout over Machtesh Ramon near where we live. I did this last night, and here are the results.

This female Ibex posed rock steady on a wall as I walked toward the edge of Machtesh Ramon (Ramon Crater) The Ibex frequently hang out near the crater's edge as they will descend the walls at sunset to sleep..

Same female Ibex. She gave me a nice long pose.

Ibex nose close-up. I never realized how much overbite they have.

Hurrying to the Birds' Nest I took time out to snap Har Gamal (Camel Mountain) in the west with the setting sun.

After the sun set, I took a few practice shots of Har Ardon, many miles away at the apex of the Machtesh's atrium wall.


The moon was late in rising, due to the low clouds at the horizon. Scheduled to rise at 5:00pm, I didn't sight it until 5:15pm. when this photo and the subsequent ones were taken.

The moon continues to rise into the gathering gloaming.


Lemon custard moon.
Finally, a photo of Machtesh Ramon near sunset, the day before, December 16. 

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New Craters on the Moon

Whenever we view the moon through a telescope on my star tours, people can't help but be impressed by the rugged, cratered lunar surface. This often leads to questions about whether the moon continues to be struck today. It does, but much less frequently and by much smaller objects than made the great craters we see on the surface now.

NASA's Lunar Impact Monitoring Program  recorded its brightest meteoroid impact in 8 years of operation on March 17 of this year when it photographed a 4th magnitude flash of light in Mare Imbrium, not far from the great crater Copernicus. This flash of light was later discovered to have been made by a meteoroid 1.5 feet long, travelling at a speed of 56,000 mph, striking the lunar surface with a force of 5 tons of TNT. Scientists predicted it could have caused a crater up to 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter.

Bright flash of light  recorded on March 17 of meteoroid striking the lunar surface in Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).
When the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter passed over it took pictures of the region and recorded a brand new crater 59 feet in diameter with splashes of fresh lunar ejecta surrounding it.  The LRO orbits the moon at a distance of 31 miles. From our location on earth, an average of 235,000 miles from the moon, the new crater would not be visible in even the largest telescopes.

Location (on left) and photo (on right) of the March 17 impact that created the new 59 foot diameter lunar crater.

Over time (hundreds of millions of years) the lunar ejecta will turn darker and redder as a result of "weathering" caused by micrometeorite bombardment, cosmic rays, and solar radiation. This ejecta field resembles the bight ejecta and lunar rays that surround some of the moons most prominent craters, like Tycho, Copernicus, and Aristarcus. We can only imagine how stunning those craters must have looked millions of years ago when they were still young and fresh.

Animated image of before and after regions on the moon where the new March 17, St. Patty's Day Crater was formed.
Since 2005 the Lunar Impact Monitoring Program has recorded over 300 flashes of light, which are presumed to have been made by meteoroids striking the moon and making small craters.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Last week's snow storm covered the Middle East with record snows. Jerusalem had over a foot of snow, the most in 50 years. It even snowed in Cairo for the first time in over 100 years. Here's a magnificent photo from NASA's space weather station of the Middle East after the storms cleared. The white areas on the ground are all accumulated snow, not clouds. Click on this link for a MUCH bigger image.

http://eoimages.gsfc.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/82000/82611/MiddleEast_tmo_2013349_lrg.jpg



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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Another Inclement Night for the Peak of the Geminids Meteor Shower

The Geminids meteor shower peaks on the night of December 13 and the early morning of December 14, 2013. Unfortunately, a 5 day storm rages in Israel, including the Negev, and a nearly full moon fills the sky with light until it sets around 3:38AM local time on the 14th. Meteor showers result when the earth plows through the orbit of an old comet, that leaves dust and rocks behind in its path as it orbits the sun. This debris enters the earth's atmosphere and burns up due to friction, resulting in the bright lights we commonly call "shooting stars" or "falling stars".

The radiant of the shower is in the constellation Gemini, hence it's name. The radiant is the point in the sky where the meteors appear to originate from, if you draw a line back along their path through the sky, although few actually begin to shine at that point. The meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, so you don't really have to know where the radiant is to enjoy the show. At its peak, over 50 meteors can be seen per hour. But most of them are dim, so a bright moon in the sky makes it difficult to observe them. And of course, a storm makes it impossible. The meteors can still be well seen a day or two before and after the peak, though, so perhaps we hall get a break in Israel.

The radiant of the Geminids meteor shower is near the bright star Castor. The Gemini pair should be easy to find since the very bright planet Jupiter is nearby.
See also: http://www.astronomyisrael.com/2010/12/dust-storm-update-for-geminids-meteor.html
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Israel Light Pollution Map

There actually is no Hebrew word for "light pollution". Perhaps that's why there is so much of it in Israel. Below is a light pollution map of the country which shows how saturated it is in light. The only place almost free of this modern blight is the central Negev, home to Mitzpe Ramon. To be sure we have our own share of light pollution from town and no less from the IDF's B"D Echad, the IDF's officer tarining school where a small athletic feld is lit like Yankee Stadium, even when no one uses it. Then there is the encroachment of light from the IDF's new facilities south of Beer Sheva. But the area around Mitzpeh Ramon is still some of the darkest in Israel and easy to get to once you are here. I drive just 7-10 minutes from the hotels around town to get to dark skies. So, this is why your next star tour should be in Mitzpeh Ramon - the darkest and clearest skies in Israel!

Israel and the Middle East, as seen from space. Mitzpe Ramon, in the geographic center of the Negev, excels in easy to reach dark skies. Come here for your next star gazing adventure!

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Friday, November 29, 2013

Comet ISON goes Pfffttt!!

It looks like Comet Ison will not become "The Comet of the Century", as it appears to have burned up as it rounded the sun, reaching its "perihelion" or closest approach to the sun on Thanksgiving Day at 1:48PM Eastern Time in the US. This is one of the reasons I wrote so little, actually nothing, about it. Touting a comet as "The Comet of the Century" before it actually becomes that is almost always a jinx. Those comets rarely are, and ISON has shown itself as no exception.

Oh well, there's still plenty to see in the sky. Come on down for a star tour adventure with the Starman of Mitzpe Ramon. We're open every clear night except Fridays and Jewish holidays.

Comet ISON is show in a composite NASA image as it approaches the sun. The sun's bright central image is blocked by a coronagraph so other objects can be seen in the frame.

See also: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/11/28/comet-ison-nasa/3776419/

Comet ISON's passage around the sun as it disintegrates in the heat of the corona.


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Monday, November 4, 2013

Photos from the Solar Eclipse of November 3, 2013

We went up to the roof of the physics building at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva where a public viewing session was being held. Here a group of students uses eclipse glasses and a small Meade telescope to view the eclipse.

On top of the physics building at BGU is a large dome with a 16 inch Meade schmidt cassegrain telescope. Here a student uses a small solar telescope attached to the Meade tube.

An impressionistic view of the eclipse through my No. 12 welder's glass.

The sun at mid-eclipse, about 4:15PM, partially obscured by an antenna on a nearby building.

The sun, 20% eclipsed. This is what it looked like through my No. 12 welder's glass filter.

The sun sets behing the BGU computer science building.

A rather impressionist view with the filter tiled from the perpendicular. 
Allright, not an eclipse picture. But as I was leaving campus I came across this group of mechanical engineering students fine tuning their race car. Amazing what you can find at Israeli universities!

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