Biblical Astronomy

February 2005


Editor – Robert Scott Wadsworth <> P.O. Box 2272, Oregon City, OR 97045

Phone (503) 655-7430 <> e-mail – <> Website –





Roy Hoffman from Jerusalem, Israel compiled the following New Moon Report for the month of February and the beginning of the 12th month on the corrected Hebrew calendar, the month of Adar.


“Due to clouds over the whole country, the Moon was not seen from Israel tonight (Thursday 10th February 2005). I have already received reports of thick cloud from Afula in the north to Arad in the south. The Moon would certainly have been visible if it had been clear. If I hear otherwise, then I will update the website quickly but will not send a further email till Sunday.”


February 16 Update – “The Moon was seen after all from Israel on Thursday 10th February 2005. Eli Slavin reports that he saw the Moon briefly at 18:02 through a gap in the clouds from Kibbutz Saad in the Negev (southern Israel). On questioning, he correctly described the position, orientation and thickness of the crescent so the report appears reliable.”


The first day of the 12th month (Adar) started at sunset February 10 and ended at sunset February 11, 2005.  The Jewish holiday of Purim is on the 14th and 15th day of Adar, which this year is from sunset February 23 to sunset February 25.


The next new moon that begins the next Hebrew month will be visible from Jerusalem on March 11.  This will most likely be the beginning of the month of Abib.  I will publish the next issue of Biblical Astronomy shortly after that date to let you know if the barley is abib at that time.  If the barley is abib at that time then Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread will begin at sunset on Friday issue March 25, 2005, which is also the beginning of the weekly Sabbath.  The next issue of Biblical Astronomy will be a double March/April issue.




Comet Machholz is now at a magnitude of 5.5 and fading.  Although a magnitude 5.5 object is considered to be within naked eye visibility, one would need to be an experienced observer and know exactly where to look in a pristine dark sky to see a comet of this magnitude with the naked eye.  It would be very tough to spot, even then.


The below photo of Comet Machholz was taken by Mike Holloway who shot this CCD view of Comet Machholz February 10, 2005. An artificial satellite crosses near the left side of this image.



Chart 388 shows the path of Comet Machholz from February 3 to March 16, 2005.  The comet travels from the foot of the enthroned bride making herself ready (Cassiopeia) to and through the foot of the crowned and enthroned King (Cepheus) near the center of the celestial sphere. In most planespheres Cepheus is pictured as sitting on a throne.  This picture from the Starry Night astronomy program shows him standing.  The Greek name by which he is now known is from the Hebrew, and means the branch.  The comet departed from the foot of Cassiopeia on February 3 and will pass through the foot of Cepheus between February 26 and March 3. Soon thereafter, the comet will fade to below naked eye brightness.


Chart 388 – Path of Comet Machholz from February 3, to March 16, 2005




The following article was released by the Astronomy Magazine website on February 12, 2005.


A Pleiades welcome - Few sights inspire backyard stargazers more than seeing the Moon pass near another prominent object. It happens most frequently with the bright planets and a handful of 1st-magnitude stars because the Moon returns to the vicinity of each once a lunar month. The best such events in February are gibbous Moon appearances near Jupiter (the 27th) and Saturn (the 19/20th).            


Much less often, the Moon makes a nice pass by a bright deep-sky object. These events are rare because only one deep-sky object - the Pleiades star cluster (M45) - combines the two essential ingredients: It shines bright enough to stand up to the Moon's brilliance, and it lies close enough to the Moon's path across the sky that our natural satellite occasionally comes near. Add in the fact that the cluster isn't so bright that it can rival a gibbous or Full Moon, and it's a wonder these close conjunctions aren't even more uncommon.                    


When the First Quarter Moon passes 1.2° south of the Pleiades the night of February 15/16, it marks the objects' first close encounter since the early 1990s. The long drought stems from the Pleiades' position relative to the lunar orbit. The cluster lies at a declination of 24°, on the northern part of the Moon's orbital path. For the past dozen years, the Moon has been well south of the Pleiades each time it made its monthly pass.                                   


The good news: The Moon and Pleiades will be close each month for the next few years. The slow shift of the lunar orbit means once these events begin, they keep going for a good while. Later this year, the Moon actually starts to cross in front of the cluster. The two won't always appear real close, and at least half the time, the Moon's brightness will overwhelm M45. (The best views of a waxing crescent Moon near the cluster will come on spring evenings.) It's a series of events you won't want to miss.


Below is a zoomed in view of the moon and the Pleiades as they will be seen from Jerusalem on March 15, 2005.  The moon will be a waxing large crescent about 30% illuminated at that time.


Moon and Pleiades on March 15, 2005





Last month I mentioned an article that I heard was in the Washington Post concerning a unique miracle that occurred during the December 26, 2004 tsunami that hit various locations in the Indian Ocean.  I asked if anyone knew where I could get a hold of that article.  I received numerous responses in my e-mail with links to various news sources, including the Washington Post, on that story.  Thank you to all of those who responded with the information.  I also had a number or requests for me to send the article if it was found.  Many of you have seen this story, but for those who haven’t heard the story yet, here it is.  I decided to go with the article or version from (Christian Broadcast Network).


Standing Against the Waves: One Man's Tsunami Miracle

By George Thomas
CBN News Sr. Reporter – BATTICALOA, Sri Lanka - The whole world knows about the devastating tsunami tragedy in Asia. But there were also stories of incredible miracles during that crisis, including one man who stood against the waves to save some orphans.                      


Daylan Sanders, along with 28 children, his wife and three-year-old daughter, found themselves and their small beachside orphanage in the path of a massive tidal wave. A 30-foot-high wall of water, stretching from one end of the beach to the other, was racing towards them.                                   


Sanders heard a thunderous roar, turned around and looked out at the ocean. He said, “It was like a marauding force, like a thousand freight trains charging at [us] at the same time.”                                               


Sanders' wife Kohila was in the kitchen with their daughter when she saw the monster wave approach. She exclaimed, “I could not bear to look. I just prayed, 'Lord, help us! Lord, help us!'”                            


With only seconds to spare, Sanders yelled at the top of his lungs, and ordered everyone at the orphanage to run to a boat that was afloat on the side of the house. He said, “I heaved them into the boat, all the children, and then I asked for my daughter, you know, and one of the older girls thrust her into my arms.”  All of this was happening as the wall of sea continued to gain strength.                                


Sanders said, “Something miraculous had to happen if we were going to get out of this alive.”                


It was at that moment, faced with certain death, that a scripture verse from Isaiah popped into his mind He said, “And I just stretched my hands (shows what he did) and said, 'Based on the strength of the Scriptures, where it says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall raise up a standard against it.”              


Speaking to the wave, Sanders said, 'I command you in the name of Jesus, stop!'”                                


Sanders said that what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. The wall of water that was seconds away from engulfing them began to slow down.                                                                 

“It became sluggish, it was straining against what I thought at the moment was some invisible wall,” Sanders explained. “It was trying to break free, but something was holding it back. The only force or power that could have stopped it was the power of God. And God with His power and with His hand slowed it down and stopped the wave for us, and gave us the time to get away.”                                


But before they could get away, they had to first get the boat they had all jumped into, started.              


Sanders yelled, "Pull on the starter cord! And with one pull, it started. That again was another miracle, because it takes three or four pulls before it starts.”                                                    

They escaped the first wave. But their ordeal was far from over. While crossing the lagoon, a second wave began bearing down on them, threatening to overtake them from behind.                                 


According to Sanders, it was during the second wave that he ordered the captain of his small vessel to turn the boat around and head straight for the oncoming wave.                                                                     


Sevan, an experienced fisherman, was at the helm of the boat. He told Sanders that attacking the wave head-on was extremely dangerous.                           


Sevan said, “I thought we were all going to die that day.”                                                                                  


But Sanders had made up his mind. He said, “I said no! I said you do what I tell you to do. Go back, turn and come, nose first, and we are going to take this head on!”                                                                 


And so, the small fiberglass boat, 15-feet long, with a 15-horsepower engine and 32 people on board, went full throttle into the wave.                                 


Sanders said, “We hit the bottom of the wave, and it kept pushing us a way back, and we kept straining, and I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, we are coming up!’ And again, it was the hand of God that lifted the boat and He placed us right on top of the wave!”                                                                   


CBN News asked Sanders, “You were the chief rescuer, right here?”                                                  


Sanders replied, “No! The Chief Rescuer was up there (pointing to heaven)! We were only playing a small part.”                                                                      


And an hour later, the whole ordeal was over. Sanders, his family and the 28 children had survived the deadly tsunami. But the orphanage he took 20 years to build was destroyed in a matter of seconds.                                                             


Sanders gave CBN News a tour of the devastation. Walking through the rubble, he said, “This was our recreation room right here, and only just a fraction of it is left. The sea literally lifted entire blocks, chucks of metal into the ocean.”                      


Sanders said over 70 percent of their orphanage was damaged.                                                


One of the few and most precious things that did not get destroyed during the tsunami was his Bible. Sanders found it buried under two feet of sand. And except for the missing cover, Sanders said, not a single page from the Bible was missing.                


Sanders remarked, “Jesus said 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words will not pass away! Tsunamis can take anything and everything from us, but the Word of God never can [be taken away], because it's more powerful than anything in this whole world.”                


CBN News was on hand this past week to witness the first Sunday service held at the orphanage since the disaster.                  


Sanders says he is determined to rebuild the place. He said, “I feel very strongly that this is where God wants me to be, and this is where God wants me to witness for Him. And all these children you see here are one day going to be powerfully used by God.”





The following update on Asteroid 2004 MN4 is an article by Bill Cooke that was released by the Astronomy Magazine website on February 10, 2005.


Will Earth break up 2004 MN4?

An asteroid buzzing past Earth in 2029 will come closer than expected — and may not survive intact.

For a few days at the end of December, an asteroid named 2004 MN4 looked like it might be Earth's biggest impact threat. Based on available information about its orbit, astronomers gave odds of 1 in 37 that 2004 MN4 would strike Earth April 13, 2029. But astronomers found images of the asteroid taken before its discovery, giving them a longer arc of its orbit, and the collision threat evaporated. It appeared the rock would miss Earth by 40,000 miles (64,400 kilometers).                 

Now, radar measurements suggest MN4 will miss us by half that distance — and come so close Earth's gravity could rip it apart.                                                  

Between January 27 and 30, a team led by Lance Benner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, tracked the asteroid using the enormous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. By bouncing radio waves off the asteroid, the astronomers received precise information about its position and speed that enabled them to plot the object's course over the next 24 years with great accuracy.                                                        


The results shocked some astronomers. The new orbit indicates the asteroid will miss Earth by 22,000 miles (35,400 km), passing just inside the belt of geostationary satellites.                                                     


A miss is still a miss, so what's the big deal? At first glance, the change in the miss distance doesn't seem surprising. Astronomers are constantly updating comet and asteroid orbits, and changes are expected.


But for 2004 MN4, the change in the miss distance was greater than the error computed in the December analyses. Put another way, 2004 MN4 is now outside the uncertainty box — the region astronomers thought would contain the object's most likely locations on April 13, 2029.                        


The asteroid, whose chance of striking Earth was once computed to be improbably high, has presented us with the improbable once again. Scientists place great store in their error estimates — sometimes too much. One of the most prominent asteroid researchers, Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Boulder, Colorado, notes that who deal with low-probability, high-consequence events, like airplane crashes, place very little faith in error estimates. Perhaps, he suggests, this is a lesson the asteroid community needs to learn.                                                                  


But there's another reason for concern. According to Dan Durda, another SWRI astronomer, 2004 MN4 is likely to be a "rubble-pile" asteroid, consisting of material only loosely held together by gravity. Because the asteroid will pass us at just 2.5 times Earth's diameter, tidal forces could tear it apart. The result would be a trail of rocks drifting slowly apart with the passage of time. One or more of these might hit Earth in the more distant future, creating a spectacular fireball as it burns up in the atmosphere.                                


Although a miss in 2029 is virtually certain, if MN4 survives its Earth flyby, astronomers cannot rule out potential collisions in the 2030's. Therefore, 2004 MN4 still holds at 1 on the Torino impact hazard scale, a classification designed to quantify the impact risk of near-Earth asteroids (similar to the Ritcher scale for earthquakes).


Clark Chapman says the past few weeks have been "educational for the asteroid impact community," and he refers to 2004 MN4 as the "most significant event, by far, in decades."


So, take note: On Friday, April 13, 2029, from dark-sky sites throughout Europe, 2004 MN4 will look like a 3rd-magnitude star. It will be moving a quarter of the way across the sky in just an hour, its motion among the stars clearly evident.           


And maybe, just maybe, you'll see an asteroid die.


See the January 2005 issue of Biblical Astronomy for the previous article on this asteroid.





The following article by Robert Naeye was released by the Sky & Telescope website on February 18, 2005.


The Brightest Blast


On December 27, 2004, more than a dozen spacecraft recorded the brightest event from outside the solar system ever observed in the history of astronomy. The spacecraft, which included Earth-orbiting satellites as well as interplanetary probes such as Cassini, Mars Odyssey, and Ulysses, picked up a powerful burst of gamma rays and X-rays from one of the most exotic beasts in the galactic zoo: a magnetar. These bizarre objects are neutron stars possessing magnetic fields a million billion times more powerful than Earth's field, or some 1,000 times greater that those of normal neutron stars.


The "superflare," from a magnetar named SGR 1806–20, irradiated Earth with more total energy than a powerful solar flare. Yet this object is an estimated 50,000 light-years away in Sagittarius, on the far side of the Milky Way galaxy behind dense interstellar clouds. "This is mind-boggling when you think about how far away it is," says Kevin C. Hurley (University of California, Berkeley), one of the lead investigators.


Bryan M. Gaensler (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), who conducted radio observations of the superflare's afterglow, notes that only the Sun and perhaps a handful of spectacular comets have doused Earth with more total energy than SGR 1806–20's superflare during the two-tenths of a second that it peaked in intensity. During that flicker of time it outshone the full Moon by a factor of two. The magnetar must have let loose as much energy as the Sun generates in 250,000 years, assuming that the distance estimate is accurate.


The burst was so powerful that some of its gamma rays and X-rays reflected off the Moon (a very poor mirror) and were detected by the Russian Helicon-Coronas-F satellite. Amateur radio solar observers with the American Association of Variable Star Observers easily detected the superflare's ionizing effects on Earth's upper atmosphere, even though the radiation smacked into our planet's daylight hemisphere and thus had to compete with the Sun.


The superflare has generated intense observational and theoretical research around the world, as the astronomical community has been forced to confront the question of how such a tiny object, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) across, could unleash such unmitigated fury.


Although the details remain shrouded in mystery, the energy almost certainly resulted from SGR 1806–20 shedding part of its extraordinary magnetic field. Magnetars, in fact, have the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. Four magnetars, including this one, are known as soft gamma repeaters, or SGRs, because they occasionally release powerful flares of low-energy (soft) gamma rays. But the December 27th event was roughly 100 times more powerful than any previously observed SGR flare.


Magnetic field lines weaving through the star probably flex its solid crust and heat its interior, leading to stress that is occasionally relieved in sudden "starquakes." Such an event allows the magnetic field to jerk pieces of the crust around and rearrange itself to a lower-energy state. This rearrangement, which is a vastly scaled-up version of a solar flare (a "reconnection event" in the magnetic field), releases a huge amount of magnetic energy in the form of gamma rays, electrons, and positrons (the antimatter counterpart of electrons). It's this radiation that was responsible for the initial spike, which contained 99.7 percent of the superflare's total energy.


Electrons and positrons confined by the magnetar's magnetic field annihilate one another over the next several minutes, accounting for a fading tail of emission after the initial 0.2-second spike. This "trapped fireball" model was developed in the mid-1990s by Robert C. Duncan (University of Texas, Austin) and Christopher Thompson (Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics), who also predicted the existence of magnetars in 1992.


The SGR superflare might partially explain a long-standing mystery surrounding gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). These mega-powerful explosions fall into two distinct classes: long events lasting several seconds to several minutes, and short bursts, which last no more than two seconds.


If one took SGR 1806–20 and moved it to another galaxy, the superflare would mimic a short gamma-ray burst (GRB). Previous generations of satellites would have detected the initial 0.2-second spike, but they would not have been sensitive enough to detect the fading tail. Astronomers have long suspected that that the short bursts are triggered by the merging of two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. But as Duncan points out, "These theories remain speculative. We've seen that SGRs can produce short GRBs." NASA's recently launched Swift satellite could detect an event like SGR 1806–20's out to about 100 million light-years, which future observations should enable astronomers to determine what fraction of short GRBs are caused by SGR superflares.


Thanks to the magnetar's great distance, the superflare posed no threat to humanity or Earth's biosphere. The International Space Station was on the opposite side of Earth when the flare hit our planet, but even if the astronauts had faced the full fury of the blast, they would have received a radiation dose less than a dental X-ray. An SGR superflare's pulse of high-energy radiation could seriously damage a planet's atmosphere only if it occurred within about 6 light-years, according to Adrian L. Melott (University of Kansas).


Numerous papers about the event have already appeared on the preprint server Astro-ph. A number of other papers, including theoretical research that might explain the outburst, are currently being peer-reviewed prior to publication in professional journals. Because of embargoes imposed by some of these journals, astronomers have not been allowed to communicate their results to other scientists, which has hindered progress in understanding this event so far. More details about the superflare, including amateur observations of the atmospheric disturbance, will appear in the May Sky & Telescope.


Glimpse of a magnetar

An artist imagines SGR 1806-20, with magnetic field lines and "hot spots" at the polar regions. The X-ray oscillations viewed by Swift correspond to the magnetar's revolution.  NASA


Bob Wadsworth will be speaking on celestial events that coincided with major Biblical events throughout history on March 5, 2005 at the Beit Emet Congregation, 708 NE 78th Street, Vancouver, Washington.  Shabbat services start at 4 pm.  For directions and other info call 360-910-6621.