Saturday, November 12, 2016


The supermoon of 2012 rises over Entiat, Wash., 
 in this photo by skywatcher Tim McCord snapped on May 5, 2012.
By now most of you have heard of the upcoming "supermoon". While it is debatable if this phenomena deserves the moniker "super", I am always happy to have people be inspired to go out and look up at the heavens (as Abraham was commanded in this week's Torah reading). 

As Neil deGrasse Tyson has said,  "If you have a 16-inch pizza, would you call that a super pizza compared with a 15-inch pizza?" 

So what is a supermoon? Since the Moon's orbit is an ellipse, there is a day every month when the Moon is a bit closer to Earth and a day (about 2 weeks later) when it is farthest. If the closest approach happens to coincide with the full Moon phase, the media has started calling it a supermoon.

For a casual observer it will be hard to detect that the Moon is any larger or brighter than the last time you saw a full Moon, However, all Moons look especially large (and pretty) when they are near the horizon during rising or setting. This is due to the famous Moon Illusion  and has nothing to do with the actual distance to Moon. So, please do go out and check out the beautiful rising full Moon on Monday night! It  will be rising about 5:15 pm here in Israel. You will need to find a spot with a clear view to the eastern horizon. Probably the best view in Efrat will be from Zayit or Te'ena.

In case you miss it on Monday, fear not as the Moon will appear almost full for a day or 2 on either side of Monday. Just keep in mind the it rises about 50 minutes later each night.

Keep looking up!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

See the New Moon of 5777 tonight

Tonight is the first night of Rosh Hashana, and this year we will be able to see the New Moon of Tishre that starts the year.

The tiny crescent moon will be visible after sunset low in the western sky.
It will be easiest to see after the sky has darkened, about 6:45pm, until it set soon after 7:00pm.

More details: 


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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Be ready for the summer Perseid meteor shower

Hope you are all enjoying the great show in the sky! 

We now have 4 visible planets in the sky, and if you are lucky, this Friday you may be able to see all 5 visible planets at once for the first time since 2005. I will try to write more about that later, but you can see Gadi's article in Hebrew  

Next week on Thursday night (Aug 11) will be the peak of the annual Perseid shower. This years show should be great with only a crescent moon, which will set by about midnight as the shower heats up. There are lots of organized viewings around the country including at Mizpe Ramon. Gadi has put together a list of other viewing locations and events here.

I am thinking of going to the event at Mizpe Ramon, if anyone wants to join, let me know. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Who will be the first to spot Venus?
I have gotten used to sharing the evening sky with our 3 visible superior planets of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. They are called "superior" not because they are smarter, but because they are farther from the Sun then we are.

However, the "inferior" planet Venus is about to make a comeback. After spending nearly a year in the morning sky, Venus just finished rounding the far side of the Sun and is coming back to our night sky.

Because of the season, the ecliptic now makes a shallow angle with the western horizon after sunset. This means that although venus will be getting farther from the Sun each night, it will not move much above the horizon, making viewing difficult. However, I have already heard of one report of someone in Israel finding Venus in binoculars.

Tonight Venus will set by 8:20 pm, only about 35 minutes after sunset. Each night venus will set a minute or 2 later. By the beginning of August Venus will still only be about 4 degrees above the horizon 1/2 hour after sunset. But bright enough for keen observers to spot.

See this great  animation  of Venus and all the the other visible planets dancing in the western sky over the next year. It is created by the Shadow and Substance guy. Note that Venus and Jupiter will pass in a very close conjunction on Aug 28th. Stay tuned for more on that later.

So keep looking up, and let me and the list know if you are able to spot Venus!


Heavenly Update

I hope everyone has been enjoying our clear skies and views of Mars over the past few weeks. The Earth is pulling ahead of Mars now, so it is getting a little smaller and less bright each night. But Mars is still the brightest "star" in its area of the southern sky.
From Israel the Moon will be a bit to the right of what is shown here.
Now that the new crescent Moon of Tammuz is out, we can use its help to find 3 planets over the coming week. Tonight on your way home from Shul, look for the thin crescent Moon in the west. You will then see a very bright "star" to its left. That will be Jupiter!

As the Moon continues it journey around the Earth it will pass Jupiter and appear to its left by tomorrow night (Sat). By next Thursday the Moon will cruise to just above  Mars in the southern sky. Two days later on next Friday, the Moon will be to the right and above Saturn. The Ringed Planet is now about 1/2 as bright as Mars in a cluster of bright stars, but the Moon will help you spot it.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mars is now it's closest to Earth

If you were wondering what that really bright "star" in the sky is, it is Mars!

Because of the way our orbits work, Mars and the Earth line up about once every 2 years. (You probably learned that watching "The Martian"). Mars now rises at sunset and is up all night. By about 9pm it is high enough in the southeast to be easily visible. Although it is hazy tonight, you can still find it near the full Moon. (After tonight, the Moon will be getting farther from Mars in our sky, so not as useful as a landmark.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Mercury transit report

On the roof in Rosh Haayin (thanks to Monica)
On the roof in Rosh Haayin (thanks to Monica)

On Monday the weather was rather hazy here. I brought my Mead ETX 90 with a solar filter to the roof at work in Rosh Haayin to share the view with my co-workers. You can see how hazy it was by the lack of shadows in the picture above. (See more pics) We did get a few moments of good seeing when we were able to spot Mercury.

As it turns out later in the afternoon the sky did mostly clear up, but by then I was on the road. However my friend Gadi, in Petah Tikva was ready and captured some nice photos and video. See his report in English or Hebrew.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Transit of Mercury next week

When Mercury swung in front of the sun on November 8, 2006, it appeared as a small black dot (lower right of center), not nearly as conspicuous as the big sunspot at the left edge of the solar disk. Photo by Brocken Inaglory.
When Mercury swung in front of the sun on November 8, 2006, it appeared as a small black dot (lower right of center), not nearly as conspicuous as the big sunspot at the left edge of the solar disk. Photo by Brocken Inaglory.
Next week on Monday May 9th will be a rare transit of Mercury across the face of the sun. This means our innermost planet will be passing directly between the Earth and the Sun. The last time this occurred was 2006, but was not visible from Israel. It will not happen again till 2019. 

(For pictures of the 2006 transit captured in Efrat see here.)

In order to view the transit you will need special equipment. There will be a public viewing in Bet Shemeh by the Dubeh HaGedolah group. See this link for info and to sign up.

If you can't make it to Bet Shemesh you can see a great simulation at There will also be a live streaming event at starting at 2:00pm Israel time.

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