Thursday, April 9, 2015

Faroe Island eclipse report

Here are a few words on the eclipse I did not see :-(

I went on a trip with Neil Folberg to try to catch the total eclipse on the Faroe Islands

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We knew when we set out that the chances for clear skies were not that good. As the weatherman predicted, it was drizzly and cloudy for most of our stay. Nevertheless, we had a great time touring and hiking around the islands, and Neil got some great shots for a future show.
On Friday morning of the eclipse, we got up with high hopes because the local forecast promised partly clear skies later in the day. Although we could see some patches of blue off to the north, the sky was totally overcast where we were. We could not even see a bright spot in the clouds to give a hint as to where the sun might be. Nonetheless, as the time for the total eclipse approached,the sky noticeably darkened. At totality, it got dark as sunset and the sheep around us started to bleat, 
wondering what was going on. Then two minutes and 25 seconds later, the lights came back on. The moment of totality was over, the sun peeked out, and the landscape brightened as if someone had turned on a light switch.

We packed up our telescope and camera gear and headed to the main town of Torshavan ("Thor's harbor") to commiserate with the other tourists and drown our sorrows with the purchase of souvenirs.

We learned that some lucky tourists, mostly on the neighboring island of Vagar, saw at least part of the eclipse. The best views were for a select few who could afford a helicopter ride, or specially charted jets.  

All in all, it was a great trip. The Faroes are a great place to visit, especially if you love to hike. But do go in the summer when it is warmer and not as likely to rain. Get ready for the great American eclipse of August 21, 2017, which will cross America from the Oregon coast all the way to South Carolina, passing through 10 states in its path. Better make your reservations early!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Solar eclipse visible from Israel this Friday

Spring is upon us! The vernal equinox falls on this Friday, which is also Rosh Chodesh Nissan. In addition, a solar eclipse will be partly visible in Israel.  
The eclipse in Israel will only cover about 5% of the sun's disk, so it will not be noticeable to most people. In order to see it, you need a proper solar filter or some kind of projection device that you can easily make with binoculars,  cardboard or even a colander.

The eclipse will be visible from about 11:30AM to 12:30PM, with maximum coverage about 12:00 noon Jerusalem-time. At that point, the sun will look about like this:
You can see a full animation here 

The eclipse will be visible in its totality in the north Atlantic on a narrow band that ends right at the North Pole. The eclipse path will cross two pieces of dry land on the way, one of which is the Faroe Islands, and that is where I will be waiting to see it!

Although the eclipse there will be total for 2 minutes and 27 seconds, the weather is not nearly as nice in the Faroe Islands (between Iceland and Denmark), as it is here. :-(  The forecast shows about 50% chance of clouds and rain. However, even if the sky is entirely cloudy, I will be able to see the day become as dark as at dusk. Hopefully we will find some holes in the clouds. I am traveling with my friend, artist Neil Folberg, who is guaranteed to get some great photos of the landscape, if not of the eclipse.

This solar eclipse is paired with a lunar eclipse two weeks later on April 4th. It won't be visible from this half of the world, but your friends in the US will be able to see it. It will be the third of a series of four lunar eclipses that are all six months apart and occurring on either Pesach or Sukkot. Some of our Christian friends think these "Blood Moons" are a sign of the apocalypse!

For more information:

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Venus, Mercury and Lovejoy

Now that the storm is past us, bright clear skies have returned at night. Be sure to go out and catch Venus and Mercury dancing in the twilight. 

As show above, Venus and Mercury are nearly kissing low in the west right after sunset. Mercury is near its maximum brightness right now but Venus is about 15 times brighter. Both will be very easy to see in the twilight by about 5:20 pm. But don't wait too long as they will set soon after 6:00 pm. Keep watching for the next few nights as Mercury begins to pull away from Venus and dim, till it is lost in the glare of the setting sun by month's end. But before the show is over, there will be  a special guest as the new Moon make its debut, right next to Mercury.

As we mentioned last time, comet Lovejoy is now well placed for spotting with binoculars. It has brightened a bit to magnitude 4, so if you are off in the desert you may even be able to see it with your naked eyes. The comet has now sailed into the stars of Taurus the bull, high in the southern sky and the moon is no longer in the way as it does not rise till late. For details and a sky chart see Sky and Telescope.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Venus and more!

Hi all,
Hope you are all enjoying the clear night skies we have been having. There is so much to see right now: winter stars, planets, and a bonus comet.

Moon, Mars and Venus at dusk, Dec. 23-25, 2014

Venus is back:

After spending most of the year in the morning sky, Venus is returning to our night sky. If you have a clear view down to the western horizon, you can spy Venus as soon as it gets dark, right near where the sun set. But you have to be quick because she  will set early, by 5:45 tonight. On your way home from Shul tonight will be a perfect time to look. Each coming evening  Venus will get a little higher and set a little later.


As you practice spotting Venus be on the lookout for Mercury. This elusive planet will pop up next week near Venus and the two will pair for a bright conjunction by Jan 11. There is a beautiful graphic showing the pair dance at

Binocular comet:

Comet Lovejoy 2014 is speeding through the southern sky below Orion. This will be a challenge to spot, but with dark skies and binoculars you could get lucky. It is currently at magnitude 5.5 and does not show a tail, even through a medium telescope. But you should be able to see a small fuzzball. See details here .

Now that the winter solstice has passed, we can all look forward to the bright constellations of winter. Enjoy!

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Friday, May 30, 2014

Open evening at the wise observatory

Hi Y'all,

Wise Observatory, Israel
The wise observatory near Mitzpe Ramon will be open to the public next Thursday. 
This is the one time a year you can get in to see and learn about the largest telescope in the country.

The program includes:

Between 17:30 and 22:30:

  • Talks about current research topics in the observatory
  • Guided tours in the observatory and around the different telescopes.
  • Automated observations of various astronomical objects
  • Observations through small telescopes
  • Guided stargazing

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

See Mars next to the Moon tonight

Mars has recently come into opposition. That is not as bad as it sounds. It just means that Mars is now closest to Earth, as happens about every 2 years. So it means Mars now appears biggest and brightest in our sky. Even f you  are not good with a star map, Mars will be very easy to find tonight as it is right next to the Moon high in the sky. 

Keep looking up!

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Moon, Venus and Jupiter tonight!

Tonight will be the first chance to see the new moon of the month of  Shvat. You may be able to spot the Moon almost as soon as the sun sets at 16:36.

It is also one of the last nights to see Venus very low in the southwest before it disappears in its rendezvous with the Sun. As an added treat, if you turn around you can also spot Jupiter as it rises low in the northeast.

The sky tonight showing Venus and the Moon at upper left with Jupiter in the lower right.

To catch the full view, you will have to find high ground with an unobstructed view down to both the east and west horizon.   The best time will be between 17:15 and 17:30. The show will be over by the time Venus sets at 17:45 with the Moon following at 18:10. However if you are late, you can still enjoy Jupiter which will be up all night long.