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Friday, December 6, 2019

Geminid Meteor Shower peaks Thursday, Friday, Saturday December 12-14

The Geminid Meteor Shower is usually the best of the year, although it falls out during the cold winter months which makes it less popular than summer's Pereseid meteor Shower. This year it also falls just after the night of the full moon on December 12 whose bright light makes all but the brightest Geminid members less visible. Peak numbers are usually around 88/hour but this year because of the bright moon the numbers will be more around 20/hour or less. Nonetheless, this shower is famous for bright, colorful, exploding fireballs so it is worth going out to look for.

The Geminid meteors originate from asteroid 3200 Phaeton as debris from it burns up from the heat of friction  in the earth's atmosphere. If you draw a line back from the path of the meteors they appear to originate from the constellation Gemini, hence the name. But they don't necessarily start there, and the best way to observe them is to just lie down on your back and look straight up at the sky. No optical aid is required or even desirable to see meteors. Just use your eyes.

The "radiant" of the Geminid meteors in the constellation Gemini. while the meteors appear to "radiate" of diverge from that point in the sky they don't necessarily start there and can be seen anywhere in the sky, Draw a line back from the path of the meteors and the point in the sky at which they converge is the radiant. Not all meteors will be shower members. If their path doesn't converge to the radiant they are just randoms or sporadic meteors that are seen every night,

The radiant of the shower in the constellation Gemini rises around 9:00pm local time in the northeast, two bright, nearly identical stars that are hard to miss. That's the best time to start watching. Peak hours are after 2:00am local time, but the nearly full moon interferes with seeing all but the brightest members of the shower. There are usually meteors from the shower that begin to become visible about a week before and a week after the shower. A dark sky is best for viewing meteor showers, although the nearly full moon will make all skies bright.

Come join us for a meteor shower star tour every night except Friday, December 13.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Rare Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on November 24

November 24 - A rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. A conjunction of Venus and Jupiter will be visible on November 24. The two bright planets will be visible within 1.4 degrees of each other in the evening sky. Look for this impressive sight in the western sky just after sunset.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Rare Transit of Mercury, November 11, 2019

A rare transit of Mercury will occur on November 11. The closest planet to the sun will be seen crossing the sun as a small black dot, the planet seen in silhouette, as it passes from the evening sky into the morning sky.

In this composite image provided by NASA, the planet Mercury passes directly between the sun and Earth on May 9, 2016 in a transit which lasted seven-and-a-half-hours. On Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, Mercury will make another transit, visible from the eastern U.S. and Canada, and all Central and South America. The rest of North America, Europe and Africa will catch part of the action. Asia and Australia will miss out. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Genna Duberstein via AP

In Israel the transit will begin at 2:35pm IST. In the US the transit will begin at 7:35am EST. The entire transit will last 5 1/2 hours, so the sun will set in Israel as the transit is still in progress. The next transit isn't until 2032 and North America won't see another transit until 2049. There are only 13 or 14 Mercury transits visible from earth per century.

This should make for some wonderful photo opportunities, especially as the sun sets, IF YOU HAVE THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT. You should never stare at the sun with your naked eye without proper solar filters. You can damage your sight permanently. If you have solar eclipse gasses you can put them on to try viewing the transit with your naked eye, but Mercury will be a very tiny dot and probably not visible without optical aid.  Don't put binoculars up to your eyes with solar filter glasses on. The sun will melt them instantly and shine into your eye. All proper solar filters need to be in front of the main optics to block the light of the sun from entering. The same goes for your cameras. Without a proper solar filter in front of your lens you will burn out the camera's sensor. It will take a minimum of a 300mm lens to show the silhouette of Mercury against the sun. Bigger is better. As the sun sets with Mercury in transit it should make for some special photos from Machtesh Ramon.

Astronomy Israel (me) is setting up solar telescopes for viewing at Har Gamal in Mitzpe Ramon. We should be out by 3:00pm. Just put "Har Gamal Mitzpe Ramon" in Google Maps or Waze to find us. No charge for this event. You are welcome to join us for a star tour at 9:30pm Monday night. To get all information and book a tour click:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Milky Way Trail in Mitzpe Ramon

I want to make people aware of a little-known, new special attraction in Mitzpe Ramon. I’ve lived here almost 10 years and didn’t discover it until last night.

There is a new paved, serpentine trail that leads from the KKL forest at the entrance to town to the edge of the Machtesh. It’s roughly 1/4 mile long. What’s special is that it’s paved with iridescent stones that glow in the dark. It’s like walking down the Milky Way to the crater’s edge. At the end there’s a surprise ( I won’t spoil it by telling you) and a great view of the Machtesh below. This effect is obviously only visible in the dark, but it looks like a nice walk in the day time. Benches and explanations posted along the way. You don’t need a flashlight but useful if you want to look around.

This would be a great jaunt on the way to Eilat or a must experience if you’re staying in Mitzpe Ramon. Truly a wonder. Handicap accessible and strollers and carriages can be pushed on the somewhat pebbly surface.

The Milky Way Trail at night in Mitzpe Ramon
The Milky Way Trail is located at the entrance to the Sculpture Garden. At the entrance sign bear hard right into the small parking lot. Don’t go down the gravel road.

Sculpture Garden
Israel National Trail, Mitzpe Ramon
Milky Way Trail Start

/Ira, The Starman of Mitzpe Ramon ✨

Friday, September 13, 2019

A Rare Friday the 13th Full Moon

The full moon in September closest to the Autumnal Equinox falls on Friday the 13th in North America. But in Israel it falls on Saturday September 14th at 7:33 AM. Lucky us! This full moon is known as the Harvest Moon. Instead of rising about 45 minutes later every night as it usually does, it rises about the same time every night for the next 3 nights, just as the sun sets. The bright full moon thus allows farmers to continue their fall harvest after dark. Hence its name, “The Harvest Moon”. It should be a lovely sight. Go outside and watch it rise in the east about 6:45PM IDT.

The last Friday the 13th full moon in North America fell in October 2000. The next w. ill fall in August 2049. 
This is also an Apogee full moon, occurring when the moon is the greatest distance from earth, or at Apogee. In Internet times this Perigee full moon has been dubbed a "Supermoon". Our Apogee full moo in September I guess should be called a "Minimoon".  It should look a little smaller than a regular full moon, but still plenty bright. People are sometimes surprised at just how bright the full moon is. Go outside in the dark and see for yourself.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Perseids Meteor Shower 2019 in Mitzpe Ramon

Sorry about the late post. The peak of this year's Perseids Meteor Shower will fall as usual on the night of Monday August 12 and the early morning hours of Tuesday August 13. This year's peak comes just two days before the full moon. That moon looks full and is just about as bright as the full moon two days later. This means the bright moonlight will interfere with seeing the meteor shower. How much, no one knows. Alot depends on sky conditions which are unpredictable.

Nevertheless, Mitzpe is having it's usual Perseid's Star Party, a large gathering of people to view the meteor shower and enjoy the night sky. There will also be many astronomers with their telescopes to view the best sights of the night, which include the planets Jupiter and Saturn and, of course, the moon itself. There will also be astronomy talks and presentations in Hebrew. The star party takes place in the Spice Routes Quarter of Mitzpe Ramon, whose lights will be turned off so we can enjoy the night sky. Admission is free,

We will be participating in the star party and not having our regular star our on August 12. Our regular star tours resume on August 13. Presentations at the star party begin at 6:30pm. The sky gets dark enough to see between 8:00pm and 8:30pm. Below is a schedule of events in Hebrew. I couldn't find an English version.

Schedule of  events in Mitzpe Ramon for the Perseids Meteor Shower Star Party 2019

Click: How to watch a meteor shower in moonlight

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Two Meteor Showers Peak at the End of July

The Alpha Capricornids and the Delta Aquariids Meteor Showers both peak at the end of July. While these minor meteor showers usually play second fiddle to the much more intense Perseids Meteor Shower which peaks on August 12, the nearly full moon will interfere with viewing the Perseids this year. So these two Meteor Showers at the end of July may be your best chance to enjoy the “shooting stars” this year.
Delta Aquariids

Last night (July 29) We saw about a dozen meteors, maybe more, during the two hours of our star tour. You need a dark skyand an open horizon to see them best. Just lie down on a comfy blanket or lounge and look straight up. They can appear anywhere in the sky. They are usually best seen after midnight, but last night we had the best show between sunset and 11:30 PM. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Lunar Eclipse in Israel, July 16, 2019 - ECLIPSE PARTY TIME!

A partial lunar eclipse will be visible in Israel the night of Tuesday, July 16. Israel is nearly ideally placed for the timing of the eclipse whose partial phase begins at 11:01PM IDT. Maximum partial eclipse is at 12:30AM July 17, when a little over half the moon will be eclipsed. The partial eclipse ends at 1:59AM on July 17.

The moon orbits the earth, moving from west to east in the sky. As it does so on the night of July 16 it passes through the earth's shadow. A little over half the moon will become covered at mid-eclipse.

Astronomy Israel will be having a lunar eclipse party starting at 10:30PM the night of July 16 with special party pricing of 100nis/adult, 75nis/child between 6-12 years old, no charge under 6.

A lunar eclipse occurs only when the moon is full, so it will be very bright and visible from almost anywhere in Israel. (Unfortunately for the Americas, the eclipse will be over before moon rise there so not visible to enthusiasts there. Come to Israel to see it!!) So, unlike many astronomical events that require a dark sky, you will be able to see it from wherever you are. (Do I have to tell you how to find the moon?) Nevertheless, we are having an eclipse party in Mitzpe Ramon beginning our regular star tour at 10:30PM on July 16 instead of  9:30PM, half an hour before the partial phase begins. We will be able to watch the eclipse through our telescopes and binoculars, point out features on the moon visible only through telescopes, and look for the Apollo 11 landing site, only 4 days before the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon of July 20, 1969.

This is the last umbral lunar eclipse, where the moon passes through the dark part of the earth's shadow, until May 26, 2021. All of the four lunar eclipses in 2020 are penumbral eclipses, which are hardly visible even as they occur, so be sure to go out and watch it.

Lunar eclipse timings for Israel, July 16-17, 2019
You can sign-up for the star party at this link:

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Thursday, February 21, 2019

SpaceX to Launch Israeli Moon Lander Beresheet on February 21/22, Thursday Night/Friday Morning

Elon Musk's SpaceX will launch Israeli Moon Lander Beresheet on Thursday February 21 at 8:45PM EST (February 22 at 3:45AM IST, 1:45 GMT February 22) on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. If the mission is successful this will make Israel just the 4th nation to land on the moon after the US, China, and the Former Soviet Union.

Read full details and real-time streaming sites here:

Israel shoots for the Moon with Beresheet lander

Eitan, a volunteer with SpaceIL on tonight's star tour.

Real time location of lunar lander Beresheet and simulation of orbit to the moon:

Highlights of SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Total Lunar Eclipse in Israel, January 21, 2019

Early Monday morning, January 21, 2019, a total eclipse of the moon will be visible from Israel and most of the Western Hemisphere. Here are the timings of the eclipse in Israel:

Timings of the January 21, 2019 lunar eclipse. These timings are exact for Tel Aviv but virtually the same throughout the country. 

This eclipse occurs very close to moonset and during dawn. Totality occurs just after moonset so a tiny sliver of the moon remains uneclipsed when the moon sets. Since the eclipse begins close to moonset you will need a very clear western horizon to view the event. Even better would be a high location with a clear horizon. In the East, Jupiter and Venus will be the bright pair of objects rising in the East, almost in conjunction with each other. (Actual conjunction will occur the next day, January 22, when the two planets are closest together in the sky.)

Since the moon will be so close to the horizon, the dense atmosphere may make it hard to see as the eclipse progresses and darkens. Binoculars will be useful in that situation.

The lunar eclipse begins at 4:36AM in Israel, with the moon setting in the Weat. This is an all-sky photo from the SkySafari Pro app.

Timings of the event are pretty close to those in Israel from everywhere in the world in Israel’s time zone which is GMT+2. You can look up your exact time and circumstances of the eclipse here:


Because totality occurs at moonset (6:39am) in Israel a very rare event called a "Selenelion" may be visible. Sunrise is at 6:37am; total eclipsed moon sets at 6:39am. Celestial geometry says the sun and totally eclipsed moon should never be visible simultaneously in the sky, since the moon is eclipsed because it passes through the earth’s shadow with the sun opposite in the sky. But due to refraction caused by the earth’s atmosphere when objects are near the horizon, both the sun and moon appear higher in the sky than they actually are. Thus you can see them both at the same time, the sun rising in the east, the eclipsed moon setting in the west. You must be viewing an eclipse at just this right time, as occurs in Israel and other similar time zones during this eclipse to see a Selenelion. 

Super Full Blood Wolf Moon

You may have read that this full moon (the moon can only be eclipsed when it is full with the earth between the sun and moon) is being called a Super Full Blood Wolf Moon. Kind of scary. In modern times a full moon at perigee, it’s closest approach to earth, has come to be called a Supermoon because it appears larger in the sky. (Actually only about 10% larger than a normal full moon). This is the first of three consecutive full Supermoons in 2019. Every full moon has a name from indigenous cultures and the Native Americans called the first full moon of January the Wolf moon, possibly because the wolves could be heard howling at it in the winter night. Eclipsed moons are frequently called “blood moons” because of the red color they take on when fully eclipsed, hence the name “Super Full Blood Wolf Moon”.

Now for the bad news. Skies are expected to be cloudy throughout Israel the morning of January 21. But you may still be able to see the eclipsed moon peeking out from between the clouds. Good luck!


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