Observing Conditions at the Wise Observatory

From a paper, by Dr. Noah Brosch , 1992.

The quality of the nights at the Wise Observatory, in terms of cloudiness and fraction of useful time, has been collected from the interim observing reports filled by the astronomers at the end of each observing night for 17 consecutive years. This report is based on 11 years of operating the observatory that were processed manually and six years when the interim reports were processed by computer. The fraction of nights when no clouds were reported is typically about 70%. The best season, when practically no clouds are observed, is June to August, while the highest chance for clouds are in the period January to April. The actual breakdown of cloudiness percentage for individual months is given in Table A.1.

Table A.1: Clear nights 1972 to 1983

Month Percent clear
January 52 [10]
February 56 [17]
March 55 [12]
April 51 [10]
May 77 [10]
June 89 [10]
July 92 [06]
August 90 [05]
September 76 [16]
October 67 [19]
November 60 [12]
December 64 [13]
Yearly mean 69 [15]

Note: The standard deviation of the mean is given in square brackets.

A.1  Extinction

Since 1975 extinction coefficients are measured at the Wise Observatory on a fairly regular basis. Their collection gives an idea about the character of the site and may be useful to observers if no measurement of the extinction was obtained for a certain observation. The results presented here combine about 100 observing nights when at least UBV standard photometry with adequate standards was done. We include among them results presented by Vidal et al. (1978) from the preliminary test of the photometric qualities of the site. The photoelectric system used at the Wise Observatory is based on Landolt (1973) UBV standards with the RI extension based on stars from Moffett and Barnes (1979). Table A.2 shows the median value of the extinction coefficients for different years and the number of different nights from which the median values were derived.

Table A.2: Median extinction coefficients for the Wise Observatory

Period kV kB-V kU-B kV-R kR-I Nmeasurements
1975-80 0.26 0.15 0.33 - - 5
1981-82 0.26 0.17 0.31 - - 20
1984 0.45 0.07 0.14 0.01 0.02 9
1986-87 0.24 0.14 0.23 0.05 0.06 23
1988 0.24 0.14 0.22 0.05 0.07 26
1989 0.22 0.14 0.24 0.08 0.04 14

Notes: The measurements before 1984 used the bi-alkali photomultiplier and were limited to the UBV bands. We find no ready explanation for the anomalous extinction coefficients measured in 1984.

The typical extinction at zenith, taken as the median value over all the measurements, is 0.24 at V. The color-dependent terms are kB-V=0.14, kU-B=0.22, kV-R=0.05 and kR-I=0.07.
For comparison, the typical extinction at La Silla, as given in the ESO User's Manual, is 0.11 at V and the color-dependent terms are kB-V=0.09, kU-B=0.26, kV-R=0.08 and kR-I=0.02. Similar values can be derived for the CFHT. At Mauna Kea Krisciunas et al. (1987) measured kV=0.113 and kB-V=0.082 at the mountain peak and kV=0.149, kB-V=0.158 at 2800 m altitude.
The extinction at Wise is slightly worse than at ESO or at the CFHT, by about 0.13 mag at zenith. This is to be expected, considering the altitude difference between Wise Observatory and ESO/La Silla (2400m) or the CFHT (4204m).

A.2  Sky Brightness

The sky brightness is measured on a star-free sky patch one arcminute in diameter. In 1976 November-December the zenith sky brightness toward the Perseus cluster of galaxies yielded ``U''=23.0 (see note about the definition of the U-band in Vidal et al., 1978), B=22.7 and V=21.6 mag/square arcsec. In 1979 July the sky brightness during a dark night was measured at U=21.7, B=22.2 and V=21.6 mag./square arcsec. In March 1989 the measurement was repeated towards the Coma region with a different photomultiplier and filter combination. The results are comparable with those of 1979, implying no worsening of the sky conditions.

Table A.3: Sky brightness in mag/square arcsec

Period/Band U B V R I Notes
Nov-Dec 1976 23.0 22.7 21.6 - - from Vidal et al. (1978)
July 1979 21.7 22.2 21.6 - - Bi-li tube
Mar 1989 21.5 22.2 21.7 21.2 20.4 Ga-As tube
AAT - 22.5 21.5 20.8 19.3 AAO Newsletter
CFHT 21.6 22.3 21.1 20.3 19.2 User's manual
ESO 22.0 23.0 21.9 21.1 20.2 User's manual
KPNO - 22.9 21.9 - - Garstang
CTIO - 22.5 21.6 - - Garstang
DDO - 19.9 19.2 - - Garstang
Palomar - 22.9 21.5 - - Garstang

A summary of sky brightness measurements is given in Table A.3, together with representative values for CFHT (CFHT User's manual, 1990 edition, p. 5-2), for ESO (ESO User's manual), and for the AAT (AAO Newsletter No. 56, 1991). A location in California, with dark skies, was reported to have a typical sky brightness of B=22.3-23.1 and V=21.2-22.1, depending on solar activity (Walker, 1988). From all these we conclude that Wise Observatory has a similar sky brightness as other observatories.

A.3  Seeing

The typical seeing reported by various observers at the Wise Observatory ranges from 2" to 3". Rare nights exhibit 1" seeing or less; these are only a few per year and occur mainly in winter, after the passage of a storm front. This determination is based on individual, visual estimates of various observers, sometimes by observing double stars with known separation, and is confirmed by measurements of stellar integrated profiles obtained with the photometer and a large aperture, while the star is drifting at the sidereal rate through the field of view.

The seeing evaluation is also based on many hundreds of CCD exposures obtained since 1986 that were analyzed at the Wise Observatory. The average FWHM of stellar images is 3.5". Bad seeing produces images of 7" FWHM; worse images are not recorded. In general, the seeing improves after midnight, following the reduced wind speed mentioned by Vidal and Feldman (1974).

Wise Observatory - Site description