Friday, October 23, 2015

Updated Faroe Island slide show

I just realized there was a permission problem with the photos I posted in my eclipse report from the Faroe Islands. I have updated the post to include a new, correct link to the  photo slide show 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Orionid Meteor Shower this Wed night

The Orionid Meteor Shower peaks this Wednesday  night.

Like all meteor showers, the Orionids are visible from anywhere on Earth. All you need is a dark location, and clear skies to view them. So if you are adventurous, go down to the dark desert. Otherwise find a relatively dark corner away from street lights.

The shower peaks on the night of the 21st (Wed night, Thur morning) Like most meteor showers, this one peaks after midnight, with most meteors (about 10 per hour) visible as we get closer to dawn. This year the moon sets by midnight so it will be out of the way as a light source. The weather is a bit iffy, but Barry's forecast currently shows  clear skies for most of the night in the Jerusalem area.

You can read more about the Orionid shower and EarthSky.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

More on the lunar eclipse

I hope those of you who got up at 5am were not disappointed. My kids and I certainly were not!  I was up a little after 5:30 and saw a copper Moon fully eclipsed. A few minutes later I noticed a bright star in the west. Then I realized it was moving through Cassiopeia and realized that at that brightness it must be the ISS space station Others reported seeing the ISS and also bright Venus high in the east. (There was no view to the east from my porch).

Since it was Hag I could not take any pictures, but you can of course Google for lots of stunning pics and videos of this even. I want to share 2 of my favorite here.

There where several articles on APOD for the past few days, but my favorite is an older lunar eclipse montage that allows you to clearly see the outline of the earths shadow.

In addition, from one of my favorite astro sites Shadow and Substance, here is a collection of animation of the eclipse. Each animation shows a view from a different perspective that really give an insight into what is happening.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lunar eclipse on Monday morning

Eclipsed Moon from
I thought this eclipse would not be visible from Israel, but I got a heads up from Ira the Starman of Mitzpe Ramon that it will be! There is a media frenzy in the US as some fundamentalist Christians think that this final lunar eclipse of a foursome  (Tetrad) signals the end of the world.  I am not too concerned.

In the US the eclipse will be conveniently visible in the evening hours. Here in Israel however,  we will have to wait till the wee hours of Monday Sep. 28 in the morning (after the first night of Sukkot). The partial phase begins at 4:07am as the Full Moon begins to slip into the dark umbra shadow cast by the earth. The ashen shadow will grow progressively larger for about an hour till the whole moon is covered at 5:11am. During this total phase the moon gets a  coppery red hue which is sometimes called a "blood moon" encouraging modern prophets of doom to recall the words in the Bible from Joel 3:4:  "The sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.".

 הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ יֵהָפֵךְ לְחֹשֶׁךְ, וְהַיָּרֵחַ לְדָם--לִפְנֵי, בּוֹא יוֹם יְ-ה-וָ-ה, הַגָּדוֹל, וְהַנּוֹרָא.

The eclipsed moon will be very low in the western sky. So be sure to find a spot with a clear view to the western horizon with no buildings or trees in the way. If you are not sure which way west is, just note where the sun sets the night before, that is where the moon will be the next morning. (This does not necessarily work for all other days of the year). 

The total phase officially lasts till 6:23, but as sunrise nears at 6:30 the brightening dawn sky will likely make the moon invisible before then. If you are up and watching, do note the latest time you where able to see the moon before sunrise and drop me a note.

Local eclipse times in  Israel  (IDT)

04:07 Partial phase starts
05:11 Total phase starts
05:47 Mid-eclipse (darkest moon)
06:23 Total phase ends just before Moonset and Sunrise

For more details and nice graphics from NASA see


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Perseid Meteor Shower This Week

As you've all probably heard, this week is the peak of the annual  Perseid meteor shower. The shower usually has a good showing the night before and after, but the best night will be the night between Wednesday and Thursday.

As with any meteor shower, you can view it from any dark location, the darker the better. That means to get away from city lights, lie down on a blanket and just look up.

This year there are many groups around the country from the Negev to the Gallil, that are organizing viewing events. For a list and description in Hebrew see Gadi's blog at

 Stay up to date with the Sun, planets and stars.
 Subscribe to AstroTom with an email to:


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

See Venus & Jupiter close conjunction tonight!

Be sure to check out the western sky as soon as it gets dark (by 8:15) Look to where the Sun set and you will see 2 bright "stars". The brighter is Venus and the 2nd is Jupiter. They will be closest tonight as Venus continues sailing to the left. By tomorrow Venus will pass Jupiter and appear to its left. The planets are most striking when view in the dark blue background of twilight, but will be available for viewing till about 10:00 pm when they will be getting ready to set.

Note that even though the 2 planets appear close to each other  from our point of view they are actually very far apart. While Venus is "merely" about 77.6 million kilometers away on our side of the Sun, Jupiter is 12 times farther, on the other side of the Sun! (For a nice visualization see The Planets Today)

And if you are up late tonight watching the stars, be sure to adjust your clocks to add a leap second before midnight :-)

 Stay up to date with the Sun, planets and stars.
 Subscribe to AstroTom with an email to:

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Not UFOs

Those two bright beacons in the western sky after sunset are not UFOs. They are in fact our solar system neighbors  Venus and Jupiter. Venus is the lower and brighter one, with Jupiter above to the left.

The two planets have been gracing our night sky for months now, but Venus is getting brighter and hard to miss.. You may also have notices that the two are getting closer to each other. Venus is moving rapidly up toward Jupiter
 and the pair will be closest on the evening of June 30 when they will be less that the diameter of a full moon apart.  As a warm up show, the two planets will team up with the new crescent Moon this Sat night. 

For photos, and more see my friend Gadi's web site:



 Stay up to date with the Sun, planets and stars.
 Subscribe to AstroTom with an email to:

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

View slide show story

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:

 Stay up to date with the Sun, planets and stars.
 Subscribe to AstroTom with an email to:

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.

 Stay up to date with the Sun, planets and stars.
 Subscribe to AstroTom with an email to: