Friday, December 31, 2010

Solar eclipse this coming Tuesday

Get ready for last Solar eclipse visible in Israel for the next 10 years!

On Tuesday Jan 4th there will be a partial solar eclipse of the sun visible from much of  North Africa, Europe and central Asia  Here in Israel it will be visible in the morning when the Moon covers almost 60% of the Sun.

 The eclipse in Israel will begin at 9:10am when the Moon first appears to touch the disk of the Sun. For the next hour and a half the silhouette of the Moon will slowly creep over the face of the sun, til at 10:41 it reached the maximum of 57% coverage. The moon will continue to pass before the Sun till it slides completely off by 12:15 local time.

As always, be sure to keep your eyes safe and do not look directly at the Sun. See my previous post about safe methods of solar viewing.

A simple pinhole projection is the simplest and safest method and you don't need any equipment other  than your own fingers. But if you like you cab buy a pair of solar viewing filters. You can find them here in Israel at
Barakat observatory in Moddin or at Cosmos in Ramat Gan.

Here is more info in Hebrew from Barakat.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to chose a Telescope or Binoculars

If you are considering buying a telescope - wait!

I have written before with some advice about buying telescopes.
But, apparently I did stress enough my best advice for telescope seekers. Don't do it till you buy a good pair of binoculars first!

This is really good advice. I know because I followed it myself.
Some of the pluses of binoculars:

  • A good pair of binos are cheaper than a telescope
  • You can easily cary it ion your bag or around your neck.
  • You get to use both of your eyes together. Binos are a mini telescope for each eye.
  • Binos have a marge larger field of view that a telescope making it easier to find stuff in the sky.
  • The view is right side up as apposed to upside down or backwards s in many telescopes.
  • And did I mention they are cheaper?
A standard size for astronomy binoculars is 10x50. To learn what that means and more specs see Binoculars for Astronomy  from Sky & Tel.
When you are ready to upgrade to a telescope see my previous New Telescope Review

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Solstice day - Tomorrow!

Although we are missing the Lunar eclipse (happening right now in the western hemisphere) we still get to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
This is the shortest day of the year (about 10 hour and 4 minutes) and the official 1st day of winter in the northern hemisphere. Solstice come from the Latin "Sun stands still" as it is the moment when the sun appears to have moved farthest to the south in our sky, and stops for a moment before turning around. The exact time this year is actually on 1:38am tonight, so even though winter starts today in America and England and Western Europe, in our time zone it won't officially start till tomorrow,

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Monday, December 20, 2010

The Space station is back

After a hiatus of over a month, the International Space Station has returned for some good evening viewings starting this Wed.

See for details.

DateMag StartsMax. altitude Ends
TimeAlt.Az. TimeAlt.Az.TimeAlt.Az.
22 Dec-2.518:03:4910 SSW18:05:5831SSE18:05:5831SSE
23 Dec-1.818:28:4610 WSW18:30:3931W 18:30:3931W
24 Dec-2.917:18:4610 SSW17:21:2737SE 17:23:4113ENE
25 Dec-2.617:43:4510 WSW17:46:2838NW 17:48:0919NNE
26 Dec-0.818:10:2710 WNW18:11:4212NW 18:12:2911NNW
27 Dec-2.416:58:3510 WSW17:01:1535NW 17:03:5710NNE
28 Dec-0.817:25:2310 NW 17:26:2611NNW17:27:2910NNW

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Telescope Review

I am often asked for advice about what kind of telescope to buy and have 2 articles on the subject
Sky and Telescope has now published a review of the new 2010 model of the Edmund Scientific Astroscan available for $229. It is a great scope, very portable, and especially suited for children. Check it out S&T's review together with  2 other classic scopes, including my personal favorite Dob.


Meteor shower this week.

This Monday night Dec 13-14 is the annual Geminid meteor shower. Although this shower is less well known, it usually puts on a great show, for those able to brave the winter weather. This year we have a 1st quarter Moon which should not bother visibility much as it sets before the shower peaks around 2 am.  More of a problem will be our forecast of partly cloudy skies. Lets pray it rains lots the day before and after instead!


Eclipses for 2011

Some folks have been asking me about upcoming eclipses. Here is a short synopsis of the coming year. Mark the dates on your calendar and I will send updates before the big day.

There is one more eclipse schedule for 2010. It is a total lunar eclipse on Dec 21, well placed for our friends in the US, but not visible here in Israel.

Next month, however, on Jan 04 at 10:41,  there will be a partial solar eclipse of 56% visible here. This will be the last solar eclipse visible here till Nov 2013

Then on June 15  we will finally get a total lunar eclipse visible in Israel at  22:12 IST.

On Dec 10 there will be another lunar eclipse visible in Asia, but here we will just miss it as the eclipse ends as the moon rises. (It also will not be visible in the US.)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Space shuttle to launch robot to space station tomorrow!

I guess I have been out of touch! Science fiction is passing us by.

Tomorrow at 4:40 p.m. EDT (22:40 Israel time) the space shuttle will launch from Florida to take up parts and supplies to the Space Station. Included in the cargo will be "R2" or Robonaut 2, developed by NASA and General Motors under a cooperative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans

JSC2009-E-155300: Robonaut

You can watch the launch live at

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Venus is gone, but Jupiter is up

You may have noticed that the really bright star low in the west is now gone.  That was Venus, which spent 9 months gracing our evening sky and is now rounding the sun, to reappear in the dawn sky next month.

However, the sky show must go on, and Jupiter is now the star in the southeastern sky.  If you have any trouble finding it, just look for the brightest light near the Moon for the next 3 nights.

For more on Jupiter:

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Local press on our Jupiter & Uranus veiwing

Sharon has a very nice writeup on her blog , with a few photos of our star party last night.

Success! We found Uranus

We had a nice turnout, at least 30-40 people, for our "Moons over Efrat". Beside me and Daniel I saw at least 2 other families who came with their own scopes.
The weather was perfect and the people where interested, what more could one ask for.

Now I can put one more notch in my scope having finally bagged Uranus. Like Gadi said, it can be seen pretty easily in the finder scope, as long as you know what to look for. I showed it to lots of folks in 50 and 125 power, and several of them (without my prodding) remarked that it looked blue!

Thanks again to Daniel for organizing the night and getting me out of the house!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sukkot sights

Jupiter among evening starsBabak Tafreshi

It's a busy holiday season, particularly for women (ahem!), but the heavens are sympathetic to our long hours, providing those of us who rise early and retire late with some beautiful sights. Venus, now at its brightest for this year, is low in the southwest after sunset. If you didn't know about planet revolution, and you were putting in particularly long hours in a kitchen with a window that faced west
(does it sound as if I am speaking from personal experience?), you might think that Venus just stays put all night and into the next morning, because Jupiter, now at its closest (and therefore brightest) to us, sets in the western sky just before dawn.

When we women are able to leave the kitchen—for example, when we have to lug the garbage bags out to the dumpster—we might be able to see both Venus and Jupiter, because Jupiter is now at what the Astronomer loves to call "opposition" but what I think of as "cooperation": As Venus sets in the west, Jupiter rises in the east. That is not what "opposition" means, of course. Opposition is when the planet is opposite the sun, relative to us. But the main thing is that both planets are big and bright and very beautiful, providing a welcome diversion to long hours of holiday cooking.

The Astronomer, not being over-burdened with garbage bags, reminds me that this is a great time to spot Uranus, if you've got a telescope or a good pair of binoculars (and free hands with which to lug them outside). Uranus is also coming to opposition and is currently less than 1 degree away from Jupiter, so easier than usual to find. Another lovely sight is expected in the sky this week,
(Wednesday and Thursday, to be exact), when Jupiter and the Moon will be close together in the sky. This will undoubtedly make Uranus hard to see because the light of the Moon will flood the surrounding sky, but it will make Jupiter simple to find because it will be that bright "star" near the Moon.

One other thrilling celestial event happening this week (Thursday the 23rd) is of course the fall (Autumnal) Equinox, also known as the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere. Crossing the equator as it heads south for the winter, the Sun will rise and set exactly due east and west, respectively. Day and night are supposed to be of equal length on the equinox (as in *equal*) but for complicated reasons the Astronomer can't explain to me, the daylight still wins over the night by a few minutes.

Eastward view at dusk. Before the 22nd, Jupiter will be there but not the Moon.

Happy Chagim!
Keep looking up!

The Astronomer's Wife

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meteor reports

Hi Y'all,
Hope you all had as good a show as we did at Mizpe Mesua. I heard from several folks who were disappointed in the number  meteors or the weather, but that is how it goes. When I left home, it was partly cloudy in Efrat and as I drove toward Bet Shemesh the sky got totally covered. However when I got to Emek Ha'ela the clouds miraculously cleared. Up at Mizpe Mesua there was still a lot of humidity and haze, but very acceptable. Daniel Babylonian Jackson was there with Susan and with his 3 scopes including his Behemoth 14 inch. There were about 40 people from the Jerusalem Mosaic club, and all kinds of other small groups and families who showed up too. I was busy pointing out stars and planets in my telescope so I did not catch all the meteors, but the group saw between 3-40 meteors from 10pm to 2am. Not bad!  Surprisingly most of the ones we saw were bright fireballs. The Mosaic folks left at 2am and then I helped the Babylonian pack up his gear. It really seemed like the meteors stopped after that. I wonder if we were just missing all the faint ones which peaked after 2am due to the haze and thin clouds that started rolling in and luckily just saw the earlier  fireballs

Here are some links.

So what did you see? Add your comments below.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perseid meteor shower Thursday night

The Perseids are coming, get set for a great show. Perseid montage

Tomorrow night the annual Perseids meteor shower will peak. This happens every year when the Earth travels through a cloud of dusty debris left behind by the comet Swift-Tuttle.

There are several public happenings around the country this year.

Tel Aviv Astro club is sponsoring free event in Mizpe Ramon:

Bareket observatory will also be in Miztpe Ramon

The Israel Atro Association will be at part Tima,  Eilat

I will be leading a group from Jerusalem at Mitzpe Mesua. But even if you don't join any of these groups, just find any dark spot, get cozy on a beach chair or blanket, and look up. Meteors usually peak closer to dawn but things should heat up as midnight approaches.

Read more about the shower and meteor observing at Sky & Telescope

To prepare you can go to and download a nice printable skychart and calendar of events for August. Be sure to select the "Northern Hemisphere Edition"

Monday, August 9, 2010

Get ready for the Perseids!

Hi Y'all,

Just a quick note to be ready for the best meteor shower of the year this Thu night. There are events happening all over the country, I don't have time to write all about it now, but maybe you guys can post the links you know about and I will add my notes later.

There will be no Moon to interfere this year as the the 1st visibility of the new Moon will not be till Wed night.

Hopefully, you have been keeping track of the dance of the planets in the west. They should all pair up nicely with the moon on Wed & Thu. By the time the meteors start falling, those planets will have set, but after 10pm, Jupiter will be making his appearance to keep us company the rest of the night.

I was scouting out sites last night for the show and saw a nice fireball around midnight. However it was going the wrong way for a Perseid, so I was just lucky.

Some links to info and activities:

Bareket in Miztpe Ramon

IAA at part Tima,  Eilat

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Check out the action in the west

Venus, Regulus of Leo, Mars and Saturn are now lined up nicely after dark from the west to southwest.

Twilight view, July 1

Keep an eye on Venus which is inching its way higher each night. It is moving so quickly that by Friday night, Venus will be only 1 degree from Regulus and begin passing it the next night.

Stay tuned for more details for the 4 planet meet-up next month!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Action in the west

Keep you eyes out for the 3 planets in the west-southwest.
Venus is getting closer to Regulus daily, while Mars is zooming in on Saturn.


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Monday, June 21, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

Tomorrow, June 21st, at 14:29 local time, the Summer Solstice will arrive in the northern hemisphere.

This is not the day when daylight and night time hours are equal.  That honor belongs to the Equinox (Vernal or Autumnal).  Nor is the Summer Solstice the day of the latest sunset.  Those of us who light Shabbat candles know that we've got another couple of weeks until we have the latest Shabbat candle-lighting time.  Nor is it the day of the earliest sunrise, which was June 10th at 5:33AM.  (Yes, I missed it too; bummer.)

Rather, the Summer Solstice (solstice: from Latin sōlstitium : sōl, sun + -stitium, a stoppage)  is the first day of summer and the day with the longest number of daylight hours (14 hours 13 minutes 39 seconds, plus twilight).  The sun has reached its zenith and will henceforth climb a little less high every day.  If you are an evening sky gazer, you might notice that the sun will begin setting ever-so-slightly more and more to the left every evening from where it sets tonight.  If you are an early riser, you can watch the sunrise and note its subsequent rising locations every morning: It will become clear that the sun is now heading back to the south for the winter.

We might ask why, if the Summer Solstice has the most hours of daylight of the year, the [shorter] days to come will continue to be hotter and hotter well into August and early September.  This, the Astronomer explained to me, is due to the enormous heat-storing capacity of the world's oceans.  Some kind of "lag effect," I guess.

Happy Summer Solstice to all!

PS It is customary for True Sun Lovers to celebrate the solstice by going outside at exactly 14:29 and dancing the hora.  Either that or bringing their wives chocolate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Check out the Moon and Venus

 MoonVenus_heden.jpg From APOD

We've had 3 gorgeous nights with a clear view of Venus and the Moon. Be sure to go out and enjoy it before the set around 9:45.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Moon to occult Venus in on the 16th

Occultation June 07 by Tom

As Gadi pointed out, on May 16th the Moon will slide in front of Venus in our skies and blot out the Goddess of Love for about one and a half hours. We are well placed here in Israel to see this celestial event , as our friends and relatives in the US will miss it, as all the action will happen below their horizon.

What I really like about this even is it will happen in our daytime sky, but still by visible for those of us who know where to look. The naked eye will do, but as usual, a pair of binoculars will help.

As it turns out it is often possible to see Venus and sometimes other bright planets and stars in the daytime. You need very clear skies (as we are blessed here in Israel this time of year with) and the other trick is, you have to know exactly where to look. That is not as easy as it sounds when you are searching the bright blue sky for a tiny spec of light. That is what makes this occultation  so much fun, as finding the crescent moon in the day sky is much simpler, and Venus will be right there.

So on Sunday morning the 16th go out and find the young moon! Actually that will be a challenge too, as the Moon will only be 2.4 days old and pretty skinny. It will also be less than 30 degrees from the Sun. A good strategy is to stand somewhere in the shade, where the Sun is blocked out, but the Moon not.

If you are not used to finding the Moon in the daytime, you can practice between now and next Sunday, as the moon is out every morning. This is always a fun exercise , even when not preparing for Venus to disappear. You can impress your friends on your way to work or school pointing out the moon in the bright  morning light. (I am always surprise by the number of people who think you can't see the moon in the daytime).

For example tomorrow morning (on your way to shul) at 8:15am the last quarter Moon will be pretty easy to find. Just turn due south and look about about 1/2 way up the sky (50 degrees) and there it is.

Then each following morning at the same time the moon will be about a hand span closer to the sun (and skinnier) making it more challenging.

For those of you who plan on photographing the event, next Wed will be a great opportunity. Then the Moon will be about 2 days before new, and thus the same size an brightness as it will be on the following Sunday, but on the other side of the Sun.

Details for next Sunday morning: The Moon and Venus will be high (at 67 degrees) in the east by southeast. At 11:36am the dark side of the Moon will slip across the face of Venus. It will remain covered until 13:05 when it will reappear on the lit crescent side.

You can even contribute to real science by carefully timing the even and reporting to The International Occultation Timing Association The simplest way to do this is with any kind of video recorder. Full information at the site.

Here are some pictures I snapped back in June 07 of a similar event with Gadi and the kids:


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Pictures from the Mizpe Ramon observatory

Daniel and his wife Susan gave me and 2 of my boys a ride down last Thursday to the open house. There was a nice crowed and a very good presentation by the staff.

Here are some nice shots taken By Daniel Jackson.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Open Day at the Wise Observatory - April 1st., 2010

Come see the 40 inch university telescope at Mizpe Ramon.

This observatory is almost never open to the public, so don't miss it!


Wise Observatory, Israel

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Astro Club

Subject: TAU Astroclub: Open Day at the Wise Observatory - April 1st., 2010

For a Hebrew announcement please visit:

Pesah holiday 2010 - Open day at the Wise Observatory

On Thursday 01-04-2010, we shall have an "Open day" at the Wise
observatory, near Mizpe-Ramon. Activity will take place between 15:00
and 22:00, and will include the following:

* Short talks about current research in the observatory
* Guided tours in the observatory
* Automated observations using the 1m telescope
* Observations through small telescopes
* Stargazing

** The event is FREE and open for everyone !!!


* The Wise observatory is located 5km west from Mizpe-Ramon.

* Map of Mizpe-Ramon is available at:

* We recommend bringing warm clothes.

For more details about our activities, and for viewing video lectures,
please visit our web-site:

TAU AstroClub team

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Get ready for Spring in a few more minutes.

In a few more minutes at 7:32pm the Sun will cross the celestial equator on its way north to mark the Vernal Equinox.

Although the equinox is supposed to have equal hours of daylight and night, due to the refraction of light through the atmosphere, we actually had an extra 8 minutes of sunshine today. And unfortunately for star gazers, the nights will continue to get shorter each night as the Sun  climbs higher in the sky, till it turns around again at the Summer Solstice in June,

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Venus is now clearly visible

After all the recent cloudy weather, it was nice to see Venus blazing low in the west yesterday below the crescent Moon.
Bright-twilight view

Venus is now up for about  an hour after sunset and getting higher, and setting later each night. Have you spotted her yet?

Also keep an eye on the Moon as it passes near the Pleiades and  Hyades in Taurus Sat and Sunday night.
Looking west after dark Here in Israel the Moon will be about 1/2 a distance lower each night.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Job, Orion and Anna

This entry is dedicated to the memory of our daughter Anna, z"l, who died two years ago, Het Nissan.  May her memory be for a blessing.  
            Robert Frost said, "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."  He knew what he was talking about.  He outlived 4 of his 6 children.  He outlived his wife.  And his only son to survive childhood died by his own hand.  Robert Frost lived to be an old, old man, teaching and writing and traveling.  Life goes on.
            It's been two years since our beloved Anna died.  We think of her every single day.  We miss her terribly.  We grieve, usually in private, sometimes, unavoidably and mercifully rarely, in public.  We go on.
            This loss feels like an amputation.  Like an amputee, I have lost, permanently, something valuable and irreplaceable.  Like many amputees, I've learned to limp onward, figuring out how to manage and do things and go on with life in spite of the loss.  Sometimes I manage so well that if someone didn't know, they might never guess that anything was missing. 
            Comfort comes in unexpected places.  As a Jew, I find strange comfort in the book of Job.  If you ever want to stop wallowing in self-pity, read Job and you'll gain some perspective.  I read it over and over last year, feeling at one with Job's challenging, cursing, and even threatening God.  Like Job, I could stand there in my integrity before God and say, "I did not deserve this, and Anna did not deserve this, and none of us did anything to deserve this" and know, as everyone who reads that first chapter of Job knows, that Job did nothing to deserve his suffering, that it all was planned on a cosmic level, that Job was, in God's own words, "אִישׁ תָּם וְיָשָׁר יְרֵא אֱלֹהִים וְסָר מֵרָעa man pure and upright, fearing God and turning from evil. Comfort lies in the fact that God answered Job; God cared enough to appear in that whirlwind; God showed up. 

            We parents take a lot on ourselves.  Though I believe we should, if life is going to go on, we eventually have to put down this burden o f guilt.  Not only is it too heavy to carry around, it's presumptuous.  Such suffering and pain as Anna felt are so huge that it's arrogant to think I'm at the center of it all.  I knew this, but of course I blamed myself anyway, and the pain of loss was sharpened by the pain of responsibility.
            But God justified Job to his friends (with their insidious accusations that I think must have been the products of Job's own conscience), and that justification must have been a strange comfort to Job, just as hearing Anna's wise and gentle therapist Dafna tell me, "Sue, you're not as important as you think; this isn't all about you" was a relief to me.  Ultimately, it wasn't Job's fault, and it wasn't mine, and it wasn't Anna's either.  As a mother, this is another strange place I find comfort.             
            After two years, the blame is, unbelievably, diminished.  What isn't diminished at all is the pain of missing Anna.  I read in a novel just the other day about a mother who missed her daughter, off in Europe.  The mother, Isobel, thinks about her daughter: "She was impossible.  She was also sweet, kind, funny, and overflowing with love.  Isobel missed her quite dreadfully."  I miss Anna quite dreadfully.  She was sweet, kind, funny, and overflowing with love, and she was also impossible.  How proud she would be of her siblings—whom she called "the creatures" (in the most loving way)--of Benjy's learning to read, and Jesse's following in her own footsteps in Tae Kwon Do (he periodically takes out her medals to admire, dreaming, perhaps, of getting his own), of Becky's budding acting career and Lulu's straight A's and mastery of Arabic.  And Josh, her adored younger brother, standing in his army uniform.  It hurts that she is missing all this.  So many times I would have turned to her and shared a knowing smile, waited for her subtle insights, her quirky humor, and that sparkle in her eyes when she'd come home from a good day (she had many of these).  "Anna," I'd call, "is that you?"  And she would say, "It is I!"  I am comforted by good memories.
            For me, though, the greatest comfort lies in that meeting place between God and man, between what we see and what we can know when we stand on earth and look at the sky.  An odd place to look for comfort, really, when most of what we see is dark and cold and unbelievably distant.  Why, too, should we look to God for comfort?  We want to hear God's  voice, we want to feel God's presence, but God is—to quote Professor Uriel Simon-- generally silent.  Or, like those glittering stars, cold and unbelievably distant.
            Yet astronomers know that the sky blazes with spectacular beauty in its darkest corners.  When scientists sought out the most distant objects in the universe, they pointed the Hubble telescope at the emptiest, blackest section of the sky, an area without any stars or light, a veritable abyss as dark as the loss of a child.  They did this so that the stars of the Milky Way galaxy would not hide with their glare what was really out there, invisible from our perspective on earth.  What they found, of course, has been immortalized in the images of Hubble Deep Space and Ultra Deep Space—the galaxies of unimaginable shape and multitude and beauty that are revealed to us only because they lie precisely in the darkest parts of the sky we see from earth. 
            Job's final response to God has been characterized as one of meek acceptance of his lowly place in the cosmos.  But to me, it rings not with resignation and acceptance but with profound understanding and awe.  He speaks of נִפְלָאוֹת מִמֶּנִּי, וְלֹא אֵדָעwonders greater than I am, that I didn't know, now revealed to his eyes. 
            Like Job, we will never understand the reason for suffering, but we know that there was meaning to all of it.  We look at the sky and we remember that what is to our eyes the blackest and most empty part of the sky contains within it light and beauty, wonders greater than we are.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tu B'Shvat 2010: Harmony on earth, and Mars above

See full size image

Tu B'Shvat, the festival of trees here in Israel, is a holiday that evokes the intrinsic harmony of nature, the existential beauty of God's creations here on earth and the myriad benefits we humans derive therefrom.  With such amity on the calendar, we may read with shock about what is happening at the same time in the heavenly sphere: MARS IN OPPOSITION!

 Mars by  Bill Flanagan.
Mars on Jan. 22, 2010Mars's name in English is for the Roman god of war, but its name in Hebrew, Maadim, denotes its pretty red (adom) hue rather than any military associations.  And "opposition" with reference to celestial bodies simply means that the planet is at its closest and brightest for this particular orbit.  So harmony reigns in the skies as well as on earth on Tu B'Shvat, and we can all relax.

Mars, reports the Astronomer, can be easily seen in the early evening as it rises in the east (OPPOSITE the setting sun)(sorry, Tom, but some of us are confused by these things) and is up all night.  Those sky gazers who can find Orion (look for the three bright stars of his belt) and his loyal dog, Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) will see Mars to the left of Sirius--about the same brightness ("apparent magnitude") but with its characteristic reddish-orange color.

Sky gazers for whom Orion remains elusive will have extra help locating Mars this weekend because the Moon will be shining in the same part of the sky both Friday and Saturday night.  On Friday, the Moon will be slightly above and to the right of Mars; on Saturday night, the Moon will be slightly below and to the right of Mars.

Sky and Telescope has a lovely, not-too-complicated guide for helping to locate these things.  The Moon in the picture is correct for the US.  In Israel the Moon will be a bit lower each night as described above.

Happy viewing!
The Astronomer says: Keep looking up!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Solar Eclipse that was

Solar Eclipse in Efrat!

 הַשָּׁמַיִם מְסַפְּרִים כְּבוֹד-אֵל  וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדָיו מַגִּיד הָרָקִיעַ
Psalm 19:2 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork

On Friday, the Astronomer got up early.  He'd spent a restless night, tossing and turning and worrying lest the clouds block the view and spoil a rare chance to show off one of the more spectacular celestial events of the year, a partial solar eclipse.

The Astronomer had been uncharacteristically organized, sending out notices to the Efrat email list the night before, checking all his equipment, lining up his children to help him.  I, the Astronomer's wife, kept a low profile and resolved to sweep up any pieces.  Plus, our neighbor Batya was giving a shiur that morning and I didn't want to miss it, especially for something I considered rather pedestrian, a mere partial eclipse, a paltry 24% coverage.  I'd skip it and see that the essentials (feeding kids breakfast, delivering children to school, being available to comfort the Astronomer should clouds run the whole plan amuck and he find himself alone on a street corner waiting for a patch of blue sky that would never come.

However, I had forgotten about the simple fact that, well, a solar eclipse, even a partial one, is really neat.  Words like "WOW!" and "SO COOL!" come out of the mouth involuntarily.  This was Becky's fault, really.  She needed a ride to school and the Astronomer had seen fit to give her a pair of sun filters so she could admire the eclipse in the car on the way there.  I was driving along, minding my own business, but it was just too much, having her there in the front seat, gawping up at the sun.  So I pulled over the car, grabbed the glasses from her, and took a look.

Suffice it to say I oohed and aahed.  Then I decided that everyone had to take a look at this.  I mean, everyone was just driving around as though it was a regular Friday morning; probably they had no idea there even was a solar eclipse.  Becky and I stayed there as long as we could, staring up with those funny glasses, but to my disappointment, though we garnered a few funny looks, no one stopped to ask what was so interesting.  Perhaps they feared I would tell them, at length.

So we tried another tack.  We picked up a few hitchhikers and Becky handed them the glasses.  They oohed and aahed and asked questions and stared some more and oohed and aahed.  One was a teacher, and I was tickled pink, thinking of how she was thinking of how she'd weave this wonder of the universe into her morning's lessons.  I dropped Becky and the other hitchhikers at their school, then hurried to the street corner to watch the Astronomer at work before I'd have to rush off to shiur. 

A happy, if modest, crowd had gathered around at the street corner, staring through filters or through the filtered telescope, or through pieces of those pinholed papers that show the eclipse's image onto a second paper.  Everyone was very happy, everyone was asking questions, the Astronomer was in his element.  Our own Sharon Katz, not, by her own admission, an early riser (oh, come on, it was well after 8AM!) had come especially to film the event and interview the Astronomer about eclipses and new moons and the molad.  He explained (patiently, and not for the first or the second time) that the molad is not the visible new moon we Jews think of in connection with Rosh Chodesh, the new month.  Rather, the molad is the conjunction of the moon and sun that happens every month.  Usually, this conjunction doesn't result in an eclipse because the moon is either above or below the sun as their paths cross.  Occasionally, however, the moon is right between the earth and the sun, blocking the earth's view of the sun, which we on earth experience as a total solar eclipse.  More frequently, the conjunction  is a partial one; that is, the moon blocks only a section of the sun, which we on earth see as a partial solar eclipse—only if we happen to look up (with our solar filters, of course).

In the shiur I attended later that morning (after I tore myself away from the excitement at the street corner), someone mentioned that the study of nature might lead to man's worshiping nature instead of nature's Creator.  Instead of letting our learned teacher response, I butted in (still bubbling over with residual excitement) that today's celestial event, the partial solar eclipse, was an excellent example (imho) of the opposite: A person who studied nature might conclude, for example, that the sun—powerful, the source of our life—was worth of being worshiped.  And yet, a simple observation of a regular phenomenon like a partial solar eclipse showed clearly that powerful as the sun is, a small, relatively insignificant object like the moon can block its light and its warmth.   Moreover, the moon does so on a regular basis!  Something else is in charge, something else is in control . . .

Sharon asked the Astronomer, "Are there really so many celestial events happening all the time, or do we just hear about them because we (Efratians) have you?"  The Astronomer laughed and said, "There really are events happening all the time: You just have to know where to look."

Keep looking up!

Sharon's blog and video, featuring the Astronomer

And here's a link to the Astronomer's own photos:

Gadi's report and lovely photos too:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sunspots are back!

After a very quiet season, we have some new sunspots.
Thanks Gadi for pointing this out.

Just looking at the sun with a filter will not show them as they are usually too small, but if you set up a projection with a small telescope or binoculars you can. Or if you want to be really lazy, or just view them at night, you can see almost live pictures at Space Weather

See if you can find them during the partial eclipse on Friday.

24% Solar Eclipse this Friday morning

On Friday Jan 15th there will be an annular solar eclipse over central Africa and the far East. Here in Israel it will be partial with a maximum of 24% of the Sun covered by the Moon.
 Partial Eclipse

Most people will not notice anything unusual, as even 76% of the Sun is very bright.  However, anyone with the correct equipment for viewing the sun will be able to see an obvious bite missing at the peak of the eclipse.

For safe solar viewing methods, see these:

Solar eclipse Friday, Jan 15:
06:41 Sun (& Moon) rise
07:04 partial eclipse visible in Israel
08:03 peak of eclipse in Israel (24%) 15 degrees above SE horizon
09:11 end of eclipse in Israel

(and for you calendar freaks):
09:12 molad
13:23 average molad

This will be a great opportunity for some sidewalk astronomy. So invite your friends and neighbors and show them a bit of solar system choose a location with a good view of the eastern horizon. To double check, go out a few days earlier at 8am and note where you can see the Sun.

If you are planning something please share it with the list at 

Solar Viewing Safety

I have had a few inquiries asking for details about safely viewing the sun, so I will summarize below.

For the full details see NASA's Fred Espenak Mr. Eclipse page.

There are 2 basic safe ways to view the sun (it does not matter if it is partially eclipsed or not).

1) Projection method.
    This involves using some kind of lens to project an image of the sun onto another surface.The simplest "lens" is just a pinhole. You can easilly make a pinhole in a piece of cardboard,
    Photo: Use Your Handsor even just use your fingers!

    2) Filter method
      You will need filter especially made for viewing the sun.

      You can get these in Israel or online. E.g.
      You can also use a number 14 (or better)  welders glass. These are available locally in many hardware stores.

      Here is a quick and easy projection method from the Exploratorium.

      How-To Images
      (Click on the image for expanded instructions)
      If you want, you can use only two pieces of cardboard--one piece colored white to project on to, and the other with a pinhole. Hold up the pinhole as far from the screen as you can. Remember, the farther you are from the screen, the bigger your image.
      Photo:Tree ShadowsPhoto: Use Your HandsGetting even more basic, you can use your own hands. Just hold up both hands with your fingers overlapping at right angles. The holes between your fingers make pinholes.
      If you have some shade trees in your location, try looking at the images of the sun coming through the holes formed by the leaves. A piece of white posterboard is all you may need to have a great viewing session!

      Or if you have a simple pair of binoculars you can these instructions from NASA:

      Wednesday, January 13, 2010

      Eclipse photography

      Gadi has posted a very nice video of the last lunar eclipse  with instructions on how to do it yourself on his blog

      Tuesday, January 5, 2010

      Friday, January 1, 2010

      2010 Hebrew Astro Calendar

      From: Gadi Eidelheit

      Hi All. Igal Pat-El just finished his 2010 Astronomical Calendar. A must have for all of us

      Ptolemy's Cosmology

      Last night I was discussing the Rambam's view of the planets with my friend Aviad. Rambam basically used Ptolemy's erath centered model. I remember I once came across a great animation on the web, but could not find it. Well now I have, so I thought I would share it with all of you.

      Flash animation of Ptolemy's universe. (needs MS Internet Explorer)

      It shows the whole known universe and you can scale in to just see the center (earth & moon) or the whole cosmos, which did not include too much in Ptolemy's day. You can really get a good idea of what Ptolmey meant by "solid crystalline spheres", and how they all fit exactly one in the other.

      Actually, before you watch that one, you can check out this much simplified Java simulation of the Ptolemaic System - (at Paul Stoddard's Animated Virtual Planetarium, Northern Illinois University) This shows the whole solar system at a glance without the correct scale or many of the details.

      While I was searching, I came across another site Geocentricity by the Association for Biblical Astronomy
      This is an apparently Christian site, but probably most Haredi (and Orthodox?) jews would agree with most of the conclusions.  Kind of scary.