Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Meteor shower reports

I went out Sat night with the kids here in Idaho from about 10-11pm. I should have have stayed out much later, but jet-lag got the better of me.

We saw a nice couple of meteors while lying on the dock down at the lake. It was suburban dark here, but good enough to see the milky way. we probably saw about 10 meteors.

Please reply and tell us about your meteor hunting trips!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mars action this week

Inline image 1
NASA's Curiosity rover is scheduled to make its fiery landing on the surface of Mars this  Monday morning after it's  8 and a 1/2 month journey. Here is a great video,  "7 Minutes of Terror" explaining the seemingly crazy landing process which includes: heat shields, parachutes, retro rockets and a crane!

For those of us stuck on Earth, we can still watch Mars action,  without a robotic rover, nor  even a telescope. Mars is now low in the southeast right after sunset, and closing in on Saturn. Together with the bright star Spica ( of Virgo) they make a nice triangle at the beginning of this week.
Inline image 2

However, since mars is much closer to us that Saturn, we can watch its position change appreciably after only a few nights.

Inline image 3

Later in the month, mars will actually pass Saturn ( from our point of view) and the triangle will then point the other way. By Aug 21 the crescent moon will pass by to join our backward triangle.

Inline image 4


Summer Meteor Shower, don't miss it!

Next weekend is the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year should be a very good show as there will not be much of a Moon to light up the sky and get in the way.

You can watch the show from any dark spot. Just lie down and look up! Generally the later in the night, the better. This year's peak will be Sunday night Aug 12, but there should be some meteors on the nights before and after.

This year there are organized observing groups around the country, mostly in the Negev. In Mizpe Ramon there is a free happening in the local soccer stadium with talks by astronomers, and public telescope viewings. And, the town will be turning off all their lights!

For a nice video explanation on meteor showers and the Perseids see NASA


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jupiter Occultation trip report

Two weeks ago there was a rare sight when the moon covered up (occulted) Jupiter for about an hour. I drove down with 2 of my boys to Mizpe Ramon. There, Ira the Star Man hosted a star party at the edge of the Ramon crater.

He had a few different telescopes and cameras set up for the small crowd that gathered.

The weather was perfect, and seeing was great. The Milky way arced overhead, and we saw at least 5 fireball meteors streaking down.

The show started at about 4am when Jupiter and its 4 moons slowly disappeared,one by one, behind the bright edge of the crescent moon. The sky then looked strange with Jupiter missing behind the dark of the Moon. But, right on schedule, Jupiter reappeared past the dark upper edge of the Moon about an hour later.

You can see more of my snapshots, or see Ira's  great shots on his Astronomy Israel blog.You can also read a Hebrew report with pics by Gadi who captured the action from the comfort of his roof near Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Success at today's transit

We had a great turnout this morning in Efrat. Nurit, the science teacher from  the girls school rounded up at least 50 kids to come to school early just to watch the show. We also had lost of local adults from Efrat and several from around the Gush

I setup my handy Galileoscope for projection and had my son Benjy hold a clipboard for the projection screen. Benjy was real trooper, holding that screen steady for almost an hour!

More images here


Monday, June 4, 2012

Transit of Venus

This Wednesday morning will be a once- (or maybe twice-) in-a-lifetime event.

From 2004-6-8 venus transit

The planet Venus will be passing directly between us and the Sun. This will result in a tiny "eclipse" when Venus appears as a small black dot on the face of the Sun. A similar transit occurred in 2004, (see my pictures) but if you miss this one your next chance won't be till the year 2117.

You can see a great animation of the event at (scroll down)

Here in Israel, the Sun will rise at 5:30am with Venus already more than halfway through the transit . Venus will slowly move toward  the edge of the Sun until 7:50, when it will disappear from the face of the Sun..
As with a solar eclipse, you will need special equipment like a solar filter or an enlarged projection, to see the transit.

From 7:00 - 7:45 am Wednesday morning in Efrat, I will  be set up with my telescope near the traffic circle next to the girls school in Zayit. You are all welcomed to come take a look! For other public viewings around the country see the IAA
For more details and history of previous transits see


Monday, March 5, 2012

Mars at opposition tonight

Well it looks like the clouds have cleared just in time.

Image Credit: NASA

Tonight Mars is closest to the Earth, making largest (as seen in a telescope) and it's brightest for this visit. About once every 2 years our orbit and Mars line up where there is a straight line from the Sun, through the Earth, and onto Mars. This is called "opposition" when Mars in opposite the Sun in our sky, and thus it rises just as the sun sets, and stay up all night. It is hard to miss its reddish beacon  in the east. By 7 or 8 pm it is high in the east, and the brightest object in that part of the sky. In case you have any doubts about its location, you can have the Moon help you find it. as it passes nearby this Wednesday.

For more on Mars see


Monday, February 20, 2012

See the New Moon with Mercury this week

The New Moon of Adar will be visible on the evening on Thursday Feb 23 from about 5:30pm – 7:00pm.

Here are 3 diagrams showing the relative positions of the Moon, Mercury and Venus for Thu, Fri, Sat this week at about 6:15pm

On each evening Jupiter will be the next bright "star" just above Venus. So you can bag a peak at 3 planets at once!




(Charts by Stellarium

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

For a less challenging target than Uranus, check out Mars.

Mars is back!

About every 2 years, the Earth passes Mars on the inside track around the Solar System, and we arrive at our closest approach to Mars, when it appears at its brightest in the sky. Although this opposition won't be until the beginning of March, Mars is already bright and high by about 9pm local time. Given our recent cold and cloudy weather, I have not had a chance to see it yet this year. However, over the next few nights, the Moon will help us find Mars as it passes near, and Mars will be by far the brightest 'star' in the neighborhood, as shown in this chart from  S&T

Watch the Moon advance eastward past Regulus and Mars. (This scene is drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date. The blue 10° scale is about the size of your fist held at arm's length. For clarity, the Moon is shown three times actual size.)

As described in the caption, here in Israel, like Europe, we adjust the position of the Moon. Thus on Friday the 10th the Moon will be just below the position shown for the 9th and still be a good signpost.

Hopefully, I'll post more on Mars in the coming weeks.


Best chance to spot Uranus is Thursday night

Uranus is not usually counted among the planets that are visible to the naked eye. However, it is just barely visible if you know where to look, have perfect vision, and go to a very dark area (such as the desert).  The ancients undoubtedly saw it but did not recognize it as a planet (from the Greek, "wandering star") because it is so dim and moves very slowly. 
With a good pair of binoculars, you can probably spot Uranus tomorrow, February 9th, even if you do not live in the middle of the desert, thanks to a great sign-post, the planet Venus, which will be passing by.  Tomorrow night, Venus will pass just half a degree (the width of the full Moon) below and to the left of Uranus.  

Here is a star chart showing what these two planets will look like through a pair of 7x50 binoculars.

The chart also shows some other "regular" stars in the same field of view with their magnitudes, (the numbers next to the objects in the chart) but Uranus is the only "star" visible right above Venus   Remember, though, that Venus looks about 10 times brighter than Uranus, so Uranus may still be hard to pick out.

The best time for viewing is soon after sunset when the sky is not quite dark so the glare from Venus will be less, but not so early that Uranus will be invisible against the blue sky.  If you wait too long, the two planets will be lower and harder to see through the haze of our atmosphere. Between 6 and 6:30PM ought to be ideal.

So get ready, and let me know if you succeed!

P.S. If you miss the planetary conjunction on Thursday, you could try again on Friday. By then Venus will have continued its quick movement through the skies, and will appear above and to the right of Uranus and a tiny bit farther away, as shown here:


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Check out the New Moon tonight

Best time will be between about 17:30- 18:00

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