Sunday, May 14, 2017

f/stop: Moon over Aqaba

The Moon crests the peaks east of Aqaba, Jordan

The Gulf and city of Aqaba by Moonlight

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Eilat Report, Day (Night) Two

Desert Moon
Another terrific night with Eitan and John; unfortunately my last opportunity to star-gaze with them during this port visit.  Ah, well--perhaps I can bribe the schedulers back at Fifth Fleet into sending us back here soon!
I'll work on that...

The nearly-full Moon seemed to wash out the details of the desert in a flash-flood of light as we arrived and set up for the evening's guests.  Tonight the attendees were all Hebrew speakers and so I was prepared to sit out the sky-tour "action" around Eitan and his telescope; I had my camera and small tripod along with my trusty 7x50 binoculars for scanning the heavens.

It was a small party that found us in the wilderness; a father, mother and three children, all eager for an evening of star-gazing.  At first I thought there were only two kids; I was standing by their car focusing on Luna when I heard a soft snore from inside.  Strange sounds, what you hear in the desert at night!
Preparing to shoot the Moon
All too soon the evening came to a close. While our guests disappeared down the highway toward Eilat, Eitan and John stowed the Dob in the back of Eitan's car and I packed my photographic rig away.  A stop on the way back to town for cool drinks and then I had to say goodbye to my new friends.  How long before we meet again?  Hopefully soon, but only time will tell!
Eitan and John and the mobile observatory




Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Eilat Report: Day (Night) One

Eitan picked me up after dark and we met up with John and new friend Scott at a small falafel stand in the city. Eitan ordered for us (I know very little about the local food, after all) and we chowed-down on the tastiest eats I've had in a long, long time. Gustatory bliss, it was!

Talking and getting to know each other (beyond the Fb avatars we had previously known each other by) I found myself immediately accepted into this circle of friends here at the extreme southern end of Israel. Stargazing seems to have that effect on people from all backgrounds, as I have discovered in so many countries in the course of my travels.

Meal finished, we split up. Scott and John went off to collect the night's star party guests while Eitan and I headed out to one of his observing sites in the Negev Desert in his car. Not a long drive and soon we were setting-up Eitan's 12-inch Dobsonian in a rocky oval depression in the landscape perhaps half-an-hour from town.

I say that WE were setting-up the Dob; actually I kibitzed and stared at the Moon and Jupiter while Eitan made preparations for the evening--the good astronomical guest never pushes his assistance on the host but stands by ready to help if needed!

By the time John and Scott arrived with the evening's guests all was in readiness, and Eitan swung cheerfully into his well-practiced and -prepared spiel on the sky, stars, planets and constellations--in both English and Hebrew. Listening, it was pretty clear that the man knows his stuff.

There were eight of us out in the Negev last night, viewing Jupiter, Saturn and Luna, plus a sampling of double and binary stars; listening to Eitan "selling" the universe in two languages. A young couple from Washington, D.C., a father and his young son, John, Scott and myself--all captivated by the beauty of our surroundings and the sky show overhead. Eitan's skilled, practiced presentation in the cool, dry air amidst the rugged landscape made this a star party to remember for me, and, I hope, an inspiring experience for the novice star-gazers who joined us for an evening under the stars.

Tonight...back to the desert!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Returning to Israel


Israel! It's been a very long time...the last time I walked this land was 1988, and that was in Haifa, at the other end of the country. This morning we have moored in Eilat, a beautiful town set in the rugged hills surrounding the Gulf of Aqaba. I have big plans for this port visit; I want to get together (and hopefully engage in some stargazing) with a couple of astronomical friends who live in the area. 

I strongly suspect that THIS will be the high point of the cruise...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Into Darkness

A gloriously-clear morning here in the Gulf of Aden. The Milky Way with it's knotty star-clouds and open clusters contrasting with the darkness of sinuous dust lanes that both obscure and define our view of our home galaxy, To the south, Sagittarius and Scorpius stand high revealing the mysteries of the "other" circumpolar skies to be seen beneath them. Jupiter rules the western horizon while in the east rises Pegasus and his captive rider; beneath the clearly-visible disk of the voluptuous Andromeda Galaxy a round spot of haze can be seen; Triangulum's own great galaxy poses for the naked eye.

There are treasures to be harvested here in the vistas to be seen from my sea-going observatory, so far from shore and the bright lights of cities and industry. Here, I can stand on deck, feel the vibration of engines far below, hear the whisper of water rushing along our vessel's sides, and, without strain, reach out with my fingertips to brush the heavens above.

I think I'm going to enjoy this cruise.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Ten Dolla' Telescope

G'Day everyone, and say "hello" to my latest little telescope restoration project! I picked this Bushnell 60mm optical tube assembly up on Ebay for a mere $10 and have spent a sizeable portion of my off-time over the past three weeks cleaning it inside and out, removing and disposing of the useless "yoke" mounting that came attached to it, and filing-in the holes in the tube with pop-rivets. THEN I dug up an old mini-eq mounting and placed the tube assembly on it, replaced the .965" eyepieces with some decent quality 1.25" EPs that the human eye can actually see through, and scrounged in my parts-bin for an Orion V-Block filter (kills fringes dead!)...and voila! Meet "Mariner", the first table-top equatorially-mounted f13 refractor telescope that I for one have ever seen!
My Ebay purchase...such a deal.
 A star--diminutive but impressively portable AND steady--is born.

Last night--cloudy but not impossibly so--was "first light" for this little mutant beast, and as guinea pig I selected one of our young officers, Daniel Murphy, to put Mariner through its paces. After a few minutes' instruction on care and feeding Daniel was in control--checking out the Moon, Jupiter and Arcturus. His verdict; not too shabby! I tend to agree.
Mr. Murphy watches the Moon rise.
 On a serious note, small telescopes like this vintage (mid-'70s) Bushnell are usually maligned by experienced observers, but with a little modification they can become quite capable star-gazing tools. I started out with a 'scope much like this one, and was fortunate to have knowledgeable observers at hand to teach me how to get the most out of my new instrument. Good eyepieces, a solid, versatile mounting, and a decent finder can turn that "department store" telescope into a a pretty impressive observing machine!
Mariner on the Bridge...Appropriate, no?
 As for little Mariner, I'm sure I can find him a good home... eventually. I want to play a little, first!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Quick Post: Watch A Star Disappear Tonight!

Tonight (Saturday) observers in the lower United States will witness an occultation of the bright star Aldebaran by the first-quarter Moon. A word of explanation; the Moon will appear to pass between Earth and the star--in effect a "stellar" eclipse. This is an impressive--and surprisingly tense--event to watch with binoculars or telescope; through the eyepiece we will watch as Aldebaran seems to crawl toward the dark limb of the Moon, hang on the brink for what can seem like long minutes--and then blink out suddenly as if a switch had been flipped! About forty minutes later the star will reappear on the bright limb as our Moon continues along its orbit.

Fun and easy to watch, occultations of bright stars are definitely worth staying up for--so watch a distant star vanish tonight, and report your observations and impressions below. Enjoy!

For more information on tonight's occultation...
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/aldebaran-occultation-march-4-2017/