Thursday, April 2, 2015

Birds in a Rishon Lezion (Israel)

Israel is an amazing place for birds watching. Its unique location between Europe, Asia and Africa makes it the perfect place to the professional Ornithologist and amateur birdwatcher. The Rishon-Lezion Agamon (Israel) is an artificial lake at the southwest of the city in the edge of a very large urban area.
The entire area is being develop currently and some of the areas around the lake are closed to visitor. I've visited the lake for a short time and got a very nice photos of many species of birds. The place deserves additional and longer visits

Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

And another type of Kingfisher - Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis). It is a pleasure to watch hem hoovering in one spot, waving their wings very fast and then dive rapidly to the water.
Pied Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)
Pied Kingfisher (Ceryle rudis)

Little egret (Egretta garzetta) are very common birds and this one manage to catch a fish but for some reason was unable to swallow it. The fish doesn't seems to be too big so I've no idea what was the reason. You can watch her attempt in the video (It is recommended to view on YouTube site in HD resolution)

Little egret (Egretta garzetta)
Little egret (Egretta garzetta)

A very cute family of Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca). A mother with three ducklings. The mother is missing her paw and jumps on one foot a very strange and a bit sad to watch, but still she takes care for the ducklings. (Watch the jumps from 0:40 in the video)
Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca)
Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca)

Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca)
Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca)


The Spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus) is also very common in Israel. Its name in Hebrew is SIKSAK which is of course resembles the voices it makes. Behind it you will notice a Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
 
Spur-winged lapwing and Common sandpiper behind
Spur-winged lapwing (Vanellus spinosus)
And a little further away Eurasian coot (Fulica atra).
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)
Eurasian coot (Fulica atra)

There is a small airfield nearby so there were some bigger birds like this one...
Small airplane
Small airplane

I will definitely visit this place again!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Partial Solar Eclipse March 2015

The eclipse coverage from Israel was only 6%. while such a small eclipse seems to be an uninteresting even, an eclipse is an eclipse and you have to observe what geography gives you!
The total solar eclipse was total only at the north arctic ocean. The entire Europe saw a partial eclipse, and Israel was at the edge with only 2.5-8% depending on your location in the country.
Nevertheless I used this opportunity to have a street astronomy and setup my telescope at the local mall where it was very busy on Friday noon. The weather was cloudy but I was sure that during the 90 minutes of the eclipse there will be enough time with clear skies.

Here is the setup just a few minutes before the beginning of the eclipse. The sun is out of the clouds. Notice the special sun filter in front of he telescope. Direct view of the sun is dangerous.


My setup for the solar eclipse
My setup for the solar eclipse
When the eclipse started I called the passenger to come and look. Some of them knew about the eclipse, some came especially to see it (I published it on Facebook) but most of them were just lucky enough to be in the area. Most people came gladly but other where a bit suspicious probably thinking I want to sell them something....

The beginning of the eclipse 20/03/2015 Israel
The beginning of the eclipse 20/03/2015 Israel
It is always a pleasure to hear the WOW calls from children and adults.

Observing the solar eclipse
Observing the solar eclipse

The eclipse was short and just in 40 minutes we reached the greatest eclipse. 6% is not much but it is easily visible and definitely better than no eclipse.
6% eclipse 20/3/02105 Israel
6% eclipse 20/3/02105 Israel

And this is me with my little 70mm refractor (William Optics 70mm Doublet APO). This scope is very useful for such observatory and it takes 2 minute to operate. It is a high quality grab and go scope and essential for such observations.

Me and my telescope
Me and my telescope
The eclipse is about to end and I watched the last seconds of it as the sun got whole again through the scope.
The end of the eclipse
The end of the eclipse
To summarize it was a great experience, especially to be able to show the wonders of nature to dozens of people!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to view a solar eclipse safely

Solar eclipse is a wonder - partial and definitely a total. Many people wants to observe this marvelous celestial event and some will go great distance to a place of totality. Here are some tips and rule which will enable you to view the event safely. Remember that direct viewing of the sun with the eyes is dangerous and doing it with an optical aid such as binoculars or a telescope may cause permanent damage and blindness. Do not use improvisations such as old floppy disks, old films etc.
This warning is true even if the eclipse is 98%. Never look at the sun directly. If you are so fur tune to have a full solar eclipse you can look at the sun halo during the short period of totatily.
The instructions are also suitable for a Solar eclipse observations. 

After this warning here are some options to view a solar Eclipse.
Solar Eclipse Glasses
  1. Get special solar eclipse glasses. These are special glasses, with special filters which block almost 99.99% of the sun light. Such glasses are not expensive, and will be very useful for future solar eclipses (there will be a full solar eclipse in 2017 in the USA). However, such glasses are to be used with the eyes only, and not through a telescope or binoculars!
  2. If you have a telescope you might want to consider to purchase a Solar Telescope Filter for it. There are generic filters which are suitable for many telescopes and there are vendor specifics filters for the vendor brands. You can buy at Amazon or at your local dealer. These filters are attached to the telescope, in front of it and block the light BEFORE it enters the telescope. Such filters MUST NOT be used instead of an eyepiece. The light from the sun must be blocked before it is concentrated by the telescope (the filter is not strong enough to block the light after the telescope concentrates it). During the observations make sure that the filter is strongly attached and that no one removes it by mistake (especially when you are doing an observation with a group of people).
  3. If you are really into solar viewing, you should consider purchasing a dedicated solar telescope. Such telescopes as the Coronado PST are dedicated and safe for solar viewing and are useful to observe other interesting solar phenomena such as the sun prominence.
       
  4. If you have a telescope and you want to project the image to a large audience you can use the projection method. Basically you project the image of the Sun to a dark surface (make it in the shade) and focus. Sunspots are very visible this way. This method is appropriate for small refractors and Newtonian telescopes, but not for SCT telescopes. If you are not sure how to do it or if it is suitable for your telescope do not do it! Personally, I do not like this method very much since I think that if you already have a telescope, it is a very little investment to buy the filter. Take note that the intensity of the sun light may harm the telescope as it creates heat which can harm the plastic and the optics so do it at your own risk. Also make sure that no-one ever tries to look through the telescope at the sun. Full instructions are here
  5. You actually don't have to own a telescope to project the sun. You can build a great homemade pinhole projector from simple boxes. You will get a small image of the sun and you will be able to see a dark spot on it. Watch the below video to see how (It is recommended to watch in on full screen)
  6. If you do not have the solar glasses nor a telescope, join your local astronomy club. Any eclipse is a major event and professional observatory and local amateur groups will provide the means for the public to view the eclipse properly and safely.
  7. Join a live web cast of the event. Many observatories from around the globe will host live cover of the eclipse. You will be able to view it safely from your home. However, I think that this is the less preferred option to view an eclipse (just one step away from not viewing it at all) as there is no replacement for viewing with your own eye.

Projecting the sun through a telescope - a bit risky but possible

Venus and Mars conjunction

You definitely can't miss bright Venus in the western sky just after sunset it is so amazingly bright that it is often misplaced for a coming airplane. It is easy to miss Mars which is a bit below Venus and much dimmer. We have just had another nice conjunction of Venus and Mars.
Why conjunctions are so fascinating? Maybe because it is our way to see that planets really moves, since all other stars are fixed, and just the planets wanders between them. Also such conjunctions are important in astrology but we know all for the better that this is rubbish. the truth is that such conjunction are a pleasure to observe and watch for several days seeing the daily relative movement of the planets.

I've started to track the pair about a month ago when Venus and Mercury were in conjunction and Mars was way above, Last week it rained a lot and I hardly got a chance to photograph the pair. Here is a photo from 19/2/15. Mars is a bit above Venus (You might need to enlarge the photo to see it properly)
 Venus and Mars between the clouds
Venus and Mars between the clouds -19/2/2015
I could not take any photos on Friday 20/2 since I am an orthodox Jew. However it was cloudy and rainy and even as I tried to observe the pair (and the new moon) all that happened was that after a lightning storm I was wet.

Saturday night 21/2/15 the storm was over, the skies were clear and I took the following photos. Venus is extremely bright, Mars is a bit red and their position do look different from the picture above. Also noticeable the nice earth shine on the moon which appears as a while

Venus and Mars 21/2/15
Venus and Mars 21/2/15
The part of the moon which is not directly lit by the sun still gets some light bounced back from Earth. This light returns to our eyes so we are able to see some details on the entire moon although it is just 3 days old!
A day passed and Venus is already above Mars. Mars is very dim, since there were lots of cirrus clouds in the sky, but you will be able to see it below and to the right of Venus. he moon is much further above
Venus and Mars 22/2/15
Venus and Mars 22/2/15

Venus and the moon 22/2/15
Venus and the moon 22/2/15
The conjunction is over. Mars is in its way down to disappear behind the sun. Venus is climbing up to be in a really close conjunction with far far away Neptune (Try to watch is with telescope on the fourth of Mars. Finding Neptune will never be as easy as aiming to Venus) and in July with Jupiter. Planets keep travel in our skies and give us great observations.

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