Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Heavenly Night over Israel

Four hundred years ago, Galileo Galilei built his first telescope and got himself in really bad trouble with the Pope. Galileo, an Italian astronomer, physicist, mathematician, inventor, and philosopher studied the skies and realized that the earth revolved around the sun. You might be saying, "D-uh," right now, but that discovery caused Galileo to be put on trial with the Inquisition in Rome for heresy, actually imprisoned, later remanded to house arrest and then forced to announce that all his findings were wrong. If not, he would have joined some of our Jewish brethren, and been burned at the stake. (Top left photo from astronomyonline)
What was Galileo studying up above? The planet Jupiter! In fact, he was the one who discovered four of its most prominent moons. Some people say there are 16 moons, and others say upwards of 60. But it was the first four, which in his honor are called the Galilean satellites, and which are the most prominent. (Left photo from NASA)

Jupiter Dazzles Us
On Monday night, as the Chol HaMoed Sukkot sky was clear, about 50 adults and children from Efrat/Gush Etzion and beyond gathered in a quiet spot, atop one of Efrat's parks and watched the earth's moon, Jupiter and its moons, and the rarely-seen planet Uranus. (Jupiter, at left, shot through the lens of a telescope, but I couldn't pick up the moons.)
The tour guide for this trip to the stars was Efrat's favorite astronomer Astro-Tom Rosenfeld (in hat at left). (Previous Astro-Tom adventure: http://voices-magazine.blogspot.com/2010/01/solar-eclipse-over-israel.html )
Varied sized telescopes were set up all over an empty parking lot by a forest-play area, a perfect spot for star gazing. Most of the telescopes, like ours, were meant for fun family viewing. Then again, others, like that of Efratian Daniel Jackson (at left) looked like the real thing. Daniel explained that the larger the telescope, the larger the mirror to catch the image. Some of us had to stand on step ladders to reach his view finder. He added that the biggest injury to an astronomer is from falling off ladders. :)
Kids and adults walked from telescope to telescope (each one set at a different heavenly site) and listened to explanations about the craters of the moon, how we know we're looking at Jupiter (Tzedek in Hebrew), how to tell the difference between a planet, a moon and a star, and how to find Uranus (a tiny elusive planet).
Efrat's former Mayor Yinon Ahiman chuckled that he found a new understanding of the phrase "Tzedek, tzedek, tirdof." (Justice, justice, you shall pursue - Deuteronomy 16:20) A play on words: "Jupiter, Jupiter, you shall seek."
Through the lens of the telescope, we felt we could almost touch the heavens and their inhabitants. It really was a thrill for everyone. The biggest word of the evening, "Wow!!"
To keep everyone in the starry mood, Efratian Lenny Ben David shared sparkly wine with everyone.
The moon ultra-shined upon in the shape of Mork's egg-saucer. (Please don't tell me you never heard of Mork.) Its craters were clear and bold (except in my photo, of course).
It was a Heavenly night over Israel. Our multi-generational astronomers took in all the sites they could, and packed up their scopes hoping another heavenly show would be scheduled soon.
Thanks to Astro-Tom Rosenfeld and Daniel Jackson. BTW, just heard that Astro-Tom has started an astronomy chug. His club members were very obvious at the park. They actually knew which way to point those telescopes.

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