Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter Solstice, Jupiter, Venus

Hi Y'all,

Now that the snow storm is behind us, it is time for winter to officially begin. The solstice will be tomorrow, Saturday night at  19:11 Israel time. Literally "Sun stop", the solstice is when the apparent motion of the Sun to the south stops and the sun turns to come back north. It is also the shortest day of the year, and thus will also be the shortest Shabbat of the year. We astronomers have a special warm feeling for this day, as it is also the night with the longest opportunity to watch the stars!

Aside from the bright winter constellations now rising in the east after sunset, we have a new visitor, namely Jupiter. As king of the planets in size, Jupiter is also the 2nd brightest, right after Venus. You may have noticed Jupiter as that bright "star" hanging near the nearly full moon the past few nights. But as the moon speeds in it's orbit around us hear on earth, it will leave Jupiter to shine alone impressively next to the bright stars of Orion, Gemin and Sirius.

I hope you have all been enjoying the bright show of Venus in the west for the past 11 months or so. This month Venus is at it brightest and highest, but paradoxically it will soon dive down to the horizon, and disappear in the glare of the Sun by months end. It will reappear a week later, but only for those who get up early on frosty mornings, to see it rise just before the sun.

As Venus sets about an hour  and a 1/2 after sunset, Jupiter will be rising opposite in the sky,  low in the east. By 8:00pm it should be high enough to easily spot. Although it will be in good company near the  bright stars of winter it will outshine them, and be easy to pick out.

Shabbat Shalom,

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eclipse report

Hi Y'all,
Hope you all enjoyed the eclipse today.

I had a small crowd on the roof at work with a telescope for projection and some solar glasses filters. We could follow the eclipse till about 4:20 when the Sun dipped behind the hill of Malcha.

Gadi got some great pictures from Tel Aviv, all the way down to sunset

Inline image 1Notice the sunspot group in the bottom center of the Sun!

And my neighbor Zev, got a great shot just before the sun set over the hills of Gush Etzion.

Inline image 2.

Don't worry, if you missed the eclipse, the next one visible from Israel will be on March 20, 2015!

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Solar eclipse visible from Israel Sun Nov. 3

Eclipse Alert!

There will be total solar eclipse over Africa this Sunday. From Israel a partial eclipse  of 20% will be visible.

Click for an animation!

The eclipse will be near sunset, so you will need an unobstructed view to the west to catch it.

Local times:
Eclipse begins: 15:13
Maximum:        16:00
Eclipse ends:    16:44
Sunset:            16:48

As usual you must practice safe solar viewing so as not to damage your eyes.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Perseid Meteor Shower Monday night!

Get ready for the Perseid meteor shower Sunday and Monday night.

For best viewing
go to any dark spot after midnight and look up.

There are several organized viewings around the country.
Yossi Gaibel  and the Gush Astro club is organizing a viewing with "Big Bear" at Givat Mesua near Bet shemesh on Sunday night. For details call him at 050-363-2022.

For really dark skies, the desert is the place to be. Monday night there is a meteor party in Mizpe Ramon. For those of you are near Eilat, there will also be a happening in Park Timna

I will have to take my chances here in Idaho. The forecast here calls for thunder showers on Monday. :-(

For more about the perseids, see the following links:

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Planet trio pictures

I hope you all are still enjoying the planet show. It has been hazy the past few nights, but it looks like tonight will be clear skies again. The planets are no longer as close to each other as the beginning of the week. Mercury and Jupiter are both pulling away from Venus. We can probably only spot Jupiter for one or teo more nights until it disappears into the glow of the sun.

The view tonight should be like this illustration (made with Stellarium)

There are lots of pictures out there of the trio in conjunction. Here is a great animated shot from Mitzpe Ramon by Ira

Inline image 3

And from Gadi in Tel Aviv:

Inline image 4

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Friday, May 24, 2013

3 Planet Dance

Three bright planets continue their dance on the western horizon just after sunset. Follow the show till the end of the month, as Jupiter dives down to meet the Sun and is replaced in our evening sky by even brighter Venus. Venus will then continue to shine as a beacon in the west for the next 11 months.

Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury on May 26, 2013Click the image to watch an animation of the planets and stars from May 20th to June 20th.

On  Sunday, the 3 planets will appear  closest  together make a beautifully tight triangle as shown below.

3-planet dance on May 26, 2013

For more on this conjunction with day to day details see Sky & Telescope

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Venus is back!

Hi All,
Another beautiful  day with blue skies. That means that right after sunset you will be able to greet  returning Venus.

Venus hasn't been seen in our night sky since last June when she disappeared passing in front of the sun to visit the dawn sky. She is now back in the evening after peeking out from behind the sun as her orbit swings back to our direction.

Venus now appears far enough away from the sun to be easily visible as soon as it gets dark, already outshining Jupiter to its upper left

So, be sure to run outside around 8pm to see Jupiter and Venus lined up together with Mercury. You will need a clear view low to the west. Venus will be about 1 fist (5 degrees) above the horizon, and the other 2 planets on either side as shown above.

Mercury will be more of a challenge to see as it is only magnitude -1 (compared with 3.3 for Venus) but eagle eye hunters should spot it in our clear israeli skies. I got a call last night from  Andy Schwartz, who spotted the trio as he was  walking down the street. If your eye's aren't as good as Andy's you cheat and use binoculars (like I did).

Be sure to look for the trio for the coming night as they will dramatically change position till only Venus is left visible by the beginning of next month.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

See the New Moon and New Venus Saturday night

The new moon of Sivan will be visible on Sat night.
It should be easy to spot by 7:45 pm low in a little to the north of west.

Venus is also coming back into view in the evening, after spending nearly a year in the morning sky. It will be harder to catch than the moon, as it will be lower and closer to the glow of the sun. If you have binoculars, you will increase your chance of bagging this planet. But you will have to hurry before it sets by 8:10pm.

The sky will look like the illustration below, with the moon a little closer to Venus than shown. Jupiter, the Moon and Venus will make a nice straight line showing of the ecliptic of our solar system.

Crescent moon between Venus and Jupiter after sunset May 11
But fret not, if you miss Venus Saturday, it will be getting higher and brighter everyday. 
Of course one last difficulty will be the partly cloudy skies forecast for thew next few days. But you never know when a planet or moon may peek through.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Another space station pass tonight

Hope you all enjoyed the celestial show last night! I was surprised  at how obvious the partial eclipse was visible to the naked eye. Here is a picture from my friend Gadi:

Inline image 1

Tonight we get an encore of lasts nights show, including an ISS pass, Saturn, the Moon, and Jupiter. The only thing missing is an eclipse, but you can't have everything.
Inline image 2
The first "star" to pop out in the west after sunset is Jupiter. By 7:45pm, the sky will be dark enough that Jupiter will shine alone in the the western sky a bit to the right of where the Sun set. As it gets darker, more bright stars will appear, but Jupiter will still outshine then till  it sets at 10pm.

Next comes the  space station. The ISS will not be as bright or high as yesterday, but the pass will be longer lasting about 3 minutes. Check it out after Shul as it rises in the northwest at  8:08pm. It will then head southeast about 1/2 way up the sky, passing the bright star Arcturus, and fading into the earth's shadow at 8:11, just before meeting Saturn near the SE horizon. (For advanced users, you can see the star map here.)

After the pass, see if you can spot Saturn, even before the Moon rises (at 8:15pm). It will actually be easier to find without the glare of the Moon right next door. It will be the brightest "star" just above the eastern horizon near where the space station disappeared. If you don't have a clear view of the  horizon you may need to wait an hour or 2 for Saturn to clear the hills and trees. The Moon will now appear below Saturn and about twice as far away as it was last night.

The view at about 9:00pm.

(We are actually going to have a visible ISS pass for the next 4 nights. You can find details yourself at heavens-above, or sign up for alerts at


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Thursday, April 25, 2013

See the Space Station tonight + a bonus of planets

 Chasing the ISS
We are in luck again as the International Space Station will be passing over our skies in Israel. The angle with the Sun is just right,  so that  even though it is way past sunset down here on the surface of the Earth, it is still sunny 200 miles up by the space station.  The ISS will reflect the sunlight as it passes, appearing like a very bright star slowly moving across the sky.

It will rise from the northwest horizon at  8:57 appearing like a very bright star. It will be hard to miss, as it will be brighter than any other star. The space station will head pretty much to a point overhead. where it will abruptly disappear 3 minutes later. This is because it will no longer be in the sunlight as it passes into the shadow of the Earth over our heads.
While you are out do notice the full Moon rising low in the east. As a bonus, notice the bright star to the lower left of the moon which is actually the planet Saturn! (For extra credit, you can also find Jupiter, as the brightest "star" hanging out in the west.)
For more, including details on the secret eclipse tonight, see the previous post.