Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sights Around Mitzpe Ramon - The Wise Observatory

Useful links:
Wise Observatory Home Page
Wise Observatory site description and observing conditions
Wise Observatory online astronomical utilities and tools

Although Mitzpe Ramon is situated in the middle of the desert, there are many interesting sights to be seen around and on the way to the town.

As an amateur astronomer, observatories have always been an interest of mine. Fortunately for me, Israel's largest observatory, the Florence and George Wise Observatory of the Tel-Aviv University, is located just 3 miles out of town on a high plateau called the Arad Ascent. The observatory is visible from Mitzpe Ramon as well as from Route 40, just outside of Mitzpe Ramon.

The 3 domes of the Wise Observatory seen from Route 40 on the Arad Ascent

The dark, clear skies and the excellent "seeing" (quietness of the atmosphere) make the high desert around Mitzpe Ramon an ideal location for a large observatory in Israel.

Domes of the Wise Observatory as seen in Tel-Aviv University Photo

The main instrument at the observatory is a 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien reflector built by Boller and Chivens and mounted on a rigid off-axis equatorial base. This is similar to the 48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on Mount Palomar, made famous for its early deep-field mapping of the entire night sky in the 1940s and 1950s.

Dome of the 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Reflector of the Wise Observatory (Wise Photo)

The Ritchey-Chretien, like the Schmidt-Cassegrain design, offers very wide-field, well-corrected views of the night sky. Here is an observatory photo of the Wise instrument:

40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Wide-Field Reflector of the Wise Observatory (Wise Photo)

Compare the 40-inch Ritchey-Chretien telescope with its famous cousin, the 48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain on Mt. Palomar.

48-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain on Mount Palomar, with cosmologist Edwin Hubble at the controls (Mt. Palomar Photo)

The Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera - FOSC (employed for spectroscopy, polarimetry, and very rarely for imaging) is one of the main instruments in use on the 40-inch reflector. Here is the telescope with the instrument mounted:

40-inch Ritchey-Chretien Telescope of the Wise Observatory with FOSC Attached (Wise Photo)

You can visit the observatory during the day time, but should probably call ahead. The Wise Observatory web site can be found here.

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