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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Moon Mars and Israel

The moon, Mars and Israel are close together tonight (October 29). See how red Mars is? They will be even closer together in the US at nightfall.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Perseids Meteor Shower 2020 in Israel

The Perseids Meteor Shower peaks on the night of August 12 - early morning August 13 this year and every year. On a favorable year 60-75 meteors per hour can be seen during peak hours. 2020 is a mixed year for seeing the shower, partly because a last quarter moon rises at midnight and partly because of Coronavirus restrictions.

Peak hours are after midnight when the radiant of the shower rises higher into the sky and when the earth is turning into the meteor stream. A bright moon, which rises at midnight this August 12-13, considerably reduces the number of meteors seen since many meteors are dim. The moon is kind of like nature's light pollution. Nevertheless, the hours of dark before the moon rises should still be quite good. 

Perseids meteor shower
The meteors appear to emanate from a single location in the sky which gives the shower its name. This location is called the "radiant". 

Perhaps the most complicating factor this year is Coronavirus restrictions limiting groups to 20 in number. Because of Mitzpe Ramon's dark skies and the star parties sponsored by the town there are usually thousands of people who come to Mitzpe Ramon for the peak night. That obviously doesn't work well this year. All guided activities require a reservation and groups are being kept small. If you come without a reservation for an activity you are on your own for finding a dark location and observing. Many guides in Mitzpe will be doing their own scaled down tours throughout the week. You can find almost all on TripAdvisor. On many years Mitzpe Ramon has turned off all the city lights to make the area dark everywhere. It is not doing so this year.

If you come on your own the Machtesh will be open for star gazing and meteor watching at this location as well as all the campgrounds in the Crater.
The Machtesh is enormous, some 29 miles x 6 miles and can accommodate thousands of people. 

This is your best bet for self-guided meteor gazing.

While my tour on the night of August 12 is booked, other nights around that date are still available. You can book one here:

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The Israel Space Association is offering free activities in Mitzpe August 8-13. Reservations are required. All I know about them is at this link:

You can obviously go to any dark sky location in Israel to view the meteor shower. I am not familiar with them but the Judean Desert, the Galil, and the Golan come to mind. Har Hatayasim nature reserve close to Jerusalem is a good candidate in the Mercaz. The devil is in the details which I don't know from lack of personal experience. 

The nights around the peak of the shower are also excellent for observing, you just don't see as many meteors. 


You don't have to come to Mitzpe Ramon to view the meteor shower. All you need is a dark sky with an open horizon. Just sit back or lie on the ground and look up. Watch the skies with your naked eye. No optical equipment required. While you can watch in any direction, looking east if you can't look straight up, is usually best, as that is the direction the radiant of the shower rises in the constellation Perseus, which gives the Perseids its name.


The nights of August 10-August 15 are best for viewing this year's Perseids Meteor Shower. The peak night is August 12-13. A bright, waning, last quarter moon will interfere with seeing the dimmer members of the shower after midnight, which will considerably reduce the hourly rate. The nights of August  10,11, 13, 14 and 15 may be a good compromise between intensity and darkness for viewers of the shower. The moon rises about 45 minutes later each night after August 12. Check the forecast for haze on the nights of August 11-15. Haze combined with a bright moon do not make for good meteor viewing.


Meteors are what most people call "shooting stars" or "falling stars", but they are neither. They are bits of rock and debris from outer space that fall to earth and burn up from the heat of friction with the earth's atmosphere. It's their light generated by friction with the earth's atmosphere that we see. Usually these rocks from space just fall randomly so we only see a few per night. But sometimes the earth passes through the orbit of an ancient comet, which disintegrates as it orbits the sun and leaves a debris trail behind. As the earth passes through this cometary debris trail scores of particles fall to earth simultaneously creating a meteor shower. Really good showers like the Perseids can have peak rates in excess of 100 meteors per hour. Of course most of these are quite dim, but many bright ones are also visible creating "Ooohs" and "Ahhhs" from the onlookers. The Perseid Meteor Shower results from debris left behind by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, whichh has a period of 133 years. It's last perihelion passage was December 11, 1992, so it won't be back for a while.

As the earth passes through  the orbit of an ancient comet debris rains down on our planet creating a meteor shower.

Most meteors are quite tiny, minuscule even, about the size of a grain of sand. Of course, we don't  see an object that small in the sky, we just see the tremendous light generated as they burn up from friction. They begin to become visible at heights of around 50 miles to 175 miles high. But sometimes enormous objects fall to earth. Most recently the Great Chelyabinsk Meteor fell to earth on February 15, 2013, over the town of Chelyabinsk Russia. It was 60 feet in diameter and weighed over 12,000 tons when it entered the earth's atmosphere at a speed in excess of 100,000 MPH. It was the largest meteor to fall to earth in over 100 years and was captured by numerous dashboard cameras. I put together a compendium of the videos on YouTube, and it is one of the most dramatic astronomical events of recent memory.  It is worth watching.

If meteors are large enough they can survive their fiery fall through the earth's atmosphere and hit the ground, as the Chelyabinsk Meteor did. They then change their name to meteorites and can be found, collected and researched. They are primordial pieces of the solar system, over 4 billion years old. The object while still in the sky is called a meteoroid.

I am often asked how much better the peak night is than the nights around it. Here's a graph of meteor frequency against the peak and the days around it. Of course this is the total number of meteors it is possible to see. We can't see them all since we can't see the whole sky at once and many are too dim to see under the sky conditions that may prevail. 

Meteor frequency against days of the month on and around the peak of the shower

Go out and enjoy the sky. Stay safe by observing Coronavirus restrictions.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Comet Neowise above Machtesh Ramon

Comet Neowise above Machtesh Ramon. July 8, 2020 at 4:47am. Captured on a Redmi 8 smartphone in manual mode. Comet tail points toward the star Capella. Bright Venus to the right near Aldeberran in Taurus. The comet continues moving toward the sun making it harder to see in the morning dawn light. Around the middle of July it moves into the early evening sky, making it more convenient to see if it survives its close brush with the sun.   Make the image bigger to get a better view.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Partial Solar Eclipse Visible in Israel June 21, 2020

Exciting news for Summer Solstice Day. A partial eclipse of the sun will be visible in Israel on June 21, 2020. The eclipse begins at 7:26am IDT in the morning. Maximum eclipse occurs at 8:24am, when 34% of the sun will be covered by the moon. The eclipse ends at 9:29am IDT.

This is an annular eclipse, which means totality is never reached, as the moon is too far from the earth for it to completely cover the sun. A small annulus or ring of light remains lit when the moon covers the sun. You have to get to Sharm El Sheikh at the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula if you want to see the annular eclipse. 

Partial phases of the eclipse and the annular eclipse are visible in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The eclipse ends before sunrise in the Americas. England is too far north to see it. 

The easiest way to view it is by making a pinhole projector, which is a nice family project. 

How to make a very nice pinhole solar viewer:


The Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, occurs just a few short hours before the eclipse begins at 12:43am IDT on June 21, 2020.

Astronomy Israel will be doing an open, free public viewing starting at 7:30pm Sunday morning, at Har Gamal, a beautiful Crater overlook in Mitzpe Ramon. It's just a short walk or drive from the hotels. 
Har Gamal is at the red pin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

I Am Become the Minister of Astronomy

Thank you, Bibi, for making me the Minister of Astronomy. Now where's my chauffeured car?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Quadrantids Meteor Shower Peaks January 3-4

“Celebrate the start of the New Year as the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks late evening of January 3 into the predawn hours of January 4. Considered one of nature’s best fireworks shows, this New Year’s shower is known for fireballs with unusual colors and brightness.

With the moon being mostly out of the sky at peak time this year, skywatchers under dark skies with no light pollution can expect as many as 60 to 100 meteors per hour at peak time.

The Quadrantids get their name from the obsolete constellation – Quadrans Muralis – they appear to radiate out from in the northeast sky just off the Big Dipper’s handle.”


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