Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/18/19

Saturday:  Every year near the summer solstice, the orbital path of the International Space Station (ISS) is aligned with the Earth’s day-night terminator line, meaning the ISS is illuminated by the Sun for its entire orbit. Since the ISS just takes about 90 minutes to orbit the Earth, it will be visible about five times a night from many locations. For more information about the ISS’s orbit, go to https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/watch-international-space-station/. To see the ISS, go outside tonight (in Washington state) and look to the south-southeast at 9:35 pm, 11:10 pm, 12:47 am, 2:24 am, and 4:02 am.

Sunday: Are you thirsty. I’ll wait while you get some water. I will NOT wait while Corvus the crow gets you some water. The Greco-Roman god Apollo made this mistake. He sent Corvus the crow to get some water in the cup known as Crater. Some figs distracted Corvus and he waited for them to ripen so he could eat them. When Corvus got back late, Apollo put Corvus and Crater in the sky with the gently tipping cup just out of the reach of the perpetually thirsty crow. Corvus is a trapezoid-shaped constellation about two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 9:30 p.m. Crater is just to the right of Corvus.

Monday: Jupiter is less than a half a fist to the left of the nearly full Moon at 5 a.m. The latest plan is for humans to return to the Moon by 2024. Watch this video to get excited about the upcoming trip https://youtu.be/vl6jn-DdafM.

Tuesday: You can set your watch tonight by carefully observing Navi, the center star in the W-shaped Cassiopeia. It will be due north at exactly 10:02 p.m. However, another star in Cassiopeia is causing astronomers to doubt whether or not they can use neutron stars as the most precise known clocks in the universe. Neutron stars have such a precise spin rate that they are used to set clocks on Earth. However, in 2013, astronomers using NASA’s Swift x-ray telescope noticed that the neutron star called 1E 2259+586 exhibited a spin glitch that that had never seen before. The spin rate of about eight times a minute decreased by 2.2 millionths of a second. Read more about this at http://goo.gl/C4V8R1. In 2016, astronomers using NASA’s Swift x-ray telescope observed the slowest rotating neutron star, once every 6.5 hours. What is it with using a telescope named Swift to make discoveries about something slowing? Maybe that slow developing question will be answered at https://tinyurl.com/y6ag6g7c.  

Wednesday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the upper left of the Moon at 5 a.m.

Thursday: Are you thirsty when you get up in the morning? I know you are not waiting for Corvus. That’s okay because the Big Dipper is positioned to hold water in the morning sky. Look three fists above the northwest horizon at 4:30 a.m. You’ll see three stars that make a bent handle and four stars that make a cup.

Friday: Are you up at 1:59 a.m., looking due north and thinking you see a UFO coming to take you away? That's no UFO. It's the bright star Capella, a circumpolar star that never goes below the horizon as viewed from Ellensburg.


The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/11/19


Saturday:  You know Metis and Thebe and Adrastea and Amalthea. Io and Ganymede and Callisto and Europa. But do you recall? There are 79 Jovian moons in all.  Just 60 years ago, Jupiter was thought to have only 12 moons. But, astronomers are red-nosed with delight that the advent of supersensitive electronic cameras has caused the number of discovered moons to rapidly increase. Jupiter’s 79 moons range in size from Ganymede, with a diameter of 5,262 kilometers, to numerous moons with diameters of only one kilometer. Our moon has a diameter of 3,475 kilometers. (One kilometer is 0.62 miles.) Saturn is second place in the moon race with 62. Uranus is next with 27. Then comes Neptune with 14, Mars with 2, and Earth with 1. Even dwarf planets have moons. Pluto has 5, Eris has 1, Haumea has 2, and Makemake has 1. Eris is an outer solar system object that was discovered in 2005 and named in September of 2006. Because astronomers thought it was larger than Pluto, people called it the tenth planet for a while. (More recent measurements show Eris to be a little smaller in diameter than Pluto.) Haumea, the newest dwarf planet with a moon, was discovered in 2004 and officially named a dwarf planet on September 17, 2008. Go to http://goo.gl/Xkoeq for more information about Solar System moons.

Sunday: So you think your mother has problems on Mother’s Day because she had you as you as a child? Her mother issues can’t be as bad as Cassiopeia’s issues. First, she was chained to a chair for boasting about her beauty. Second, she has to revolve around the North Star night after night. Third, her daughter Andromeda was nearly killed by a sea monster. Look for poor Cassiopeia about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the north horizon at 10 p.m. Cassiopeia looks like a stretched out “W”.

Monday: Give me an “M”. Give me a “3”. What does that spell? “M3.” “Big deal,” you say. It was a big deal to French comet hunter Charles Messier (pronounced Messy A). M3 was the 3rd comet look-alike that Messier catalogued in the late 1700s. M3 is a globular cluster, a cluster of over 100,000 stars that is 32,000 light years away. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye but is fairly easy find with binoculars. First find Arcturus six fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Move your binoculars up one binocular field of view so two stars of nearly identical brightness are in your field of view. When the top star is in the lower left part of your field of view, there should be a fuzzy patch near the center of your field of view. This is M3.

Tuesday: Jupiter is a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 11:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Spica is less than one fist below the Moon, about three fists above the south horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Mars’ two small moons, Phobos and Deimos, are not visible in typical backyard telescopes. But they are an interesting study. The prevailing view among most astronomers is that they are captured asteroids. That makes sense given Mars’ proximity to the asteroid belt. But recent findings by European astronomers indicate that Phobos is very porous and made of material similar to the surface of Mars. This implies that Phobos may consist of chunks of Martian debris that was blasted off by numerous impacts and gravitationally bound together. Unfortunately, the Russian Phobos-Grunt probe launched late 2011 to collect material from Phobos crashed to Earth after malfunctioning. For more information about this recent model of Phobos’ formation, go to http://goo.gl/8sw3rM. For more information about Mars, look about two fists above the west horizon at 9:30 p.m.

Friday: At 5 a.m., Jupiter is a fist and a half above the south-southwest horizon, Saturn is two fists above due south, and Venus is just peeking up above the east horizon, nearly lost in the glare of the rising Sun.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/4/19

Saturday:  The CWU Physics Department is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show today from noon to 1 p.m. STEM Teaching major McKenzie Bailey will give a show called Solar System Travels. You will learn about a few key missions to explore the Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of the school year hosted by different CWU astronomers and astronomy educators. The CWU Lydig Planetarium is room 101 in Science Phase II, just off the corner of 11th and Wildcat Way, H-11 on the campus map found at https://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.

Sunday: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow morning. But since this meteor shower has a fairly broad peak range, there will be many more meteors than in the typical pre-dawn sky throughout the month of May. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius near the star Eta. This point is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 4 a.m. The Moon is just past the new Moon phase so the sky will be dark for most of the night. The Eta Aquarid meteors slam into the Earth at about 40 miles per second. They often leave a long trail. The Eta Aquarid meteors are small rocks that have broken off Halley’s Comet. For more information about the Eta Aquarids, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=158833.

Monday: Mother’s Day is about a week away. What are you going to get her? Get her a Gem(ma). The star Gemma, also known as Alphekka, is the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Gemma, Latin for jewel is the central gemstone for the crown. It is four fists above due east at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Mars is about a half a fist to the upper right of the crescent Moon in the western sky tonight.

Wednesday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the southeast horizon at midnight. By 5 a.m., it is all the way over in the southwestern sky, a little less than two fists above the horizon. Saturn is two fists above the south horizon.

Thursday: Read carefully now. The daytime is bright and the nighttime is dark. Place the Earth and its atmosphere in fairly close orbit around any star and the daytime rule would still apply. But put the Earth and its atmosphere in orbit around a star at the center of a globular cluster and the night sky would never be dark. Astronomers estimate that the sky would be 10 to 20 times brighter than the current sky when the Moon is full. One of the brightest globular clusters, M3, is seven fists above due south at 11:30 p.m. It is nearly one and a half fists to the upper right of the bright orangeish star Arcturus. It will look like a fuzzy patch in your binoculars. For a hypothetical view of what the night sky would look like at the center of this or a similar globular cluster, go to https://tinyurl.com/yyp88w7x.

Friday: This weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day with the big mom of the sky, Virgo. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated this portion of the sky with their own goddess of the harvest, either Demeter (Greeks) or Ceres (Roman). Demeter was the mother of Persephone and Ceres was the mother of Proserpina. According to myth, each of these daughters was abducted causing their mothers great grief. The first star in Virgo rises in the afternoon. Spica, the bright bluish star in the constellation rises at 7:00 and is three fists above the south-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.


Friday, April 26, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/27/19

Saturday: As the rock group Journey once thought of singing, “Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’. Know where the Dipper’ll be tomorrow.” Every night, the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia make a wheel in the sky that turns around the North Star in a counter clockwise direction. Every year on April 27 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 28 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 29 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 30 at 10 p.m., well, you get the idea. Of course, there are subtle charges in the position from night to night. Each northern constellation moves about one degree counterclockwise from one night to the next. But this is not going to change their position in the sky drastically over a few days. So, if you know where the Big Dipper is tonight, you DO know where it’ll be tomorrow. If you are really struggling to understand this concept, Don’t Stop Believin’ in yourself. Just keep studying Faithfully.

Sunday: Do you wish you could archive your own lunar images but you don’t have a camera for your telescope? Why not go old school and actually sketch your observations? Visual artist Bettina Forget will be giving a workshop on Facebook Live called Sketching the Moon during which she’ll give you some tips for drawing lunar features. So, gather up some paper, sharpen your pencils, and go to  https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/astroarts/4682-sketching-the-moon.html for more information. The workshop starts at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Monday: Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5 a.m. Neptune is a much bigger binocular observational challenge at this time. It is a half a fist above the Moon. First find the Moon with your binoculars and put the Moon at the bottom of your field of view. There should be a triangle-shaped clump of stars to the upper right of the moon, a solitary star of similar brightness near the center of your field of view, and a solitary star of similar brightness near the top of your field of view. Neptune is to the left of the star at the top of your field of view.

Tuesday: Mars is two and a half fists above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Wednesday: Winter must be over because the winter constellations are becoming less visible. Orion is setting in the west starting at about 9 p.m. At this time, Orion’s belt is one fist above the west-southwest horizon and Betelgeuse is nearly two fists above the west horizon. By mid-May, Orion will be lost in the glare of the Sun.

Thursday: Jupiter rises at 11:30 p.m. By 4 a.m., it is two fists above due south. It looks so peaceful up there. But life is not peaceful for Jupiter. According to a recent study by astronomers, Jupiter gets hit by a 5-20 meter in diameter asteroid 10 to 65 times a year. For comparison, the object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 was 20 meters in diameter. Earth gets hit by a 20-meter asteroid about once every 50 years. For more information, go to https://goo.gl/RxPc5G.

Friday:  The CWU Physics Department is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show tomorrow from noon to 1 p.m. STEM Teaching major McKenzie Bailey will give a show called Solar System Travels. You will learn about a few key missions to explore the Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of the school year hosted by different CWU astronomers and astronomy educators. The CWU Lydig Planetarium is room 101 in Science Phase II, just off the corner of 11th and Wildcat Way, H-11 on the campus map found at https://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/20/19

Saturday:  Sometimes you get to your car and realize that you are missing your keys or your sunglasses. The asteroid/dwarf planet Ceres is missing craters. Astronomers thought there would be many large, old craters marking the surface of Ceres. Instead, close-up images from NASA’s Dawn mission shows that Ceres is covered with numerous small, young craters. Possible explanations include the relatively soft icy surface smoothing out over time or that eruptions from ice volcanoes, called cryovolcanoes, buried the older craters. Ceres is visible in small telescopes or even 10x50 binoculars. But you’ll need to get up early to observe it highest above the horizon. At 4:00.m., it is two and a half fists above due south. First find Jupiter, the brightest point of light in the southern sky. It is two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southern horizon. Then find Sabik, the medium bright star one fist to the upper right of Jupiter. With Sabik in the upper right hand portion of your binocular field of view, Ceres will be in the lower right, beneath a group of stars shaped like a backwards letter “C”.

Sunday: Mars is two and a half fists above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Monday: Remember the old saying: April showers bring… meteors. The Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight through tomorrow morning. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight and close to straight overhead near dawn. The best time to look is just before dawn since that is when the radiant, or point from which the meteors appear to come, is high in the sky. This year, the Moon is in the waning gibbous phase so it will provide enough light to obscure the meteors during the prime viewing time after midnight. Typically, this is one of the least interesting major meteor showers of the year. However, it is also one of the most unpredictable. As recently as 1982, there were 90 meteors visible during a single hour. In addition, the Lyrid meteor shower has historical interest because it was one of the first ones observed. Chinese records say “stars fell like rain” in the shower of 687 B.C. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. For more information, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=158735.

Tuesday: Try to fit your pinky between the Moon and Jupiter this morning. Just try. You can’t do it because Jupiter is only a half a degree below the Moon at 5:30 a.m., two fists above the south-southwest horizon. At this same time, Saturn is nearly two fists above the south-southeast horizon and Venus is less than a half a fist above the east horizon. If you were up at 1 a.m. reading, you may have noticed that Jupiter was three times farther from the Moon in the sky. Over the course of a night, the Moon moves noticeably eastward.

Wednesday: Are you getting bored with our Solar System? Looking to move but don’t like the available options? Last year, astronomers announced the discovery of a system of three Super-Earths orbiting a star located only 100 light-years away. Of course, we have no way of travelling that far yet. But, you can dream. And your dreams should involve two of the planets being in the size range in which planets could be either rocky like Earth or gas planets like Neptune. Also, no need to dress warm because all three of the planets likely have surface temperatures over 400 degrees Celsius (760 degrees Fahrenheit). Once the James Webb Space Telescope is operational in about 2022, it will be able to study the atmosphere of these planets. For more information and to start planning your trip, go to https://goo.gl/eSpmJx.

Thursday: Do people think you have a magnetic personality? The star Cor Caroli understands how you feel. Cor Caroli has one of the strongest magnetic fields among main sequence stars similar to our Sun. This strong magnetic field is thought to produce large sunspots that cause the brightness of Cor Caroli to vary. Cor Caroli is nearly straight overhead at 11:45 p.m..

Friday: The Space Shuttles have been retired. But NASA is still making plans about the future of space flight. Here is a small NASA poster summarizing the future of American Human spaceflight: https://goo.gl/Gd3q9q. It is interesting to compare the sizes of these real spaceships to the dozens of fictional spacecraft summarized on a poster found at http://goo.gl/F95aEL. Next time you are in Seattle, go see the Full Fuselage Space Shuttle Trainer at The Museum of Flight (http://www.museumofflight.org/).


The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/13/19

Saturday:  In 1979, The Police released the song called “Walking on the Moon”. Today at 1:00 p.m., The Virtual Telescope project will host an online lunar observing session to allow you to virtually walk on the Moon. This is your opportunity to see the Moon close-up. Go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/online/4693-walking-on-the-moon.html to access the observing session.

Sunday: The Stargate movies and TV shows have access to a portal to other planets. Harry Potter has access to a portal to the Chamber of Secrets. You have access to a Portal to the Universe. This portal is not in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom but on the web at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/. It is a repository of up-to-date astronomy news, blogs, and podcasts.
One recent feature highlights the first direct image of a black hole. You probably saw the now famous donut-shaped image taken by the Event Horizon Telescope in the news last week. NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory obtained a much wider field of view of the same black hole, showing the giant jet of high energy particles launched by the strong magnetic and gravitational fields. This jet is more than 1,000 light years long. For more images, go to http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2019/black_hole/.

Monday: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks next week. But there will be increased meteor activity for the next ten days in the vicinity of the constellation Lyra. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists above the east-northeast horizon at midnight and close to straight overhead near dawn.

Tuesday: Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5 a.m.

Wednesday: The early modern astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote about the “music of the spheres”, exploring the relationship between planetary orbits and musical intervals. It turns out there is no actual relationship. On the other hand, Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Renzo gets inspiration from astronomy videos and photos from around the world to put on the Cosmic Concert. Original music and videos will flow together to form one coherent work of art. Listen and watch the concert starting at today noon Pacific Daylight Time by going to

Thursday: Tonight’s full Moon is in the constellation Virgo. The bright star Spica remains to the lower right of the Moon throughout the entire night.

Friday: Astronomers are often fascinated with large objects. Planets that could fit 1000 Earths (Jupiter). Stars that would fill up the entire inner Solar System (Betelgeuse). Galaxies with 400 billion stars (Milky Way). But what about the smallest objects? One of the smallest stars is Proxima Centauri, the closest known star other than our Sun. It is about 12% of the mass of the Sun. Three years ago, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting Proxima Centauri indicating that even very small stars can have planets. The smallest theoretically possible star would be about 7.5% of the mass of the Sun. Any smaller and it could not support the nuclear reactions characteristic of stars. For more on small stars, go to http://goo.gl/EHBdOX.
Jupiter, the object that will fit 1000 Earths rises at 12:30 a.m. and is two fists above due south at 5 a.m.


The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/6/19

Saturday:  The CWU Physics Department and the College of the Sciences is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show today from noon to 1 p.m. CWU professor Bruce Palmquist and STEM Teaching major Katy Shain will give an overview of the night sky and Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. Today’s show is likely to fill up because the official planetarium dedication ceremony will follow at 1:15. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of the school year hosted by different CWU astronomers and astronomy educators. The CWU Lydig Planetarium is room 101 in Science Phase II, just off the corner of 11th and Wildcat Way, H-11 on the campus map found at https://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.

Sunday: International Dark Sky Week is just ending https://www.darksky.org/. But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore our obligation to minimize stray light for the next 51 weeks. Lights that are aimed upward illuminate the atmosphere and obscure dim objects. Having too much light shining where it shouldn’t is considered light pollution. And just like other forms of pollution, light pollution can be hazardous to our health and the health of other animals. That’s right. Harmful. Watch this episode SciShow for more information: https://youtu.be/_nlFcEj41Xk.

Monday: Tonight at 9 p.m., the Moon forms a quadrilateral with three other prominent objects in the western sky. The open star cluster called the Pleiades is one fist to the upper right of the Moon. Mars is less than one fist above the Moon. The bright star Aldebaran is one fist to the upper left of the Moon. The center of the quadrilateral is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due west. Did you look up the word quadrilateral yet? “Quad” or “quadri” is Latin for “four” and “laterus” is Latin for “sides”.

Tuesday: Deneb is about one finger-width above due north at 8:33 p.m. It almost looks like a bright yard light or streetlight many kilometers away.

Wednesday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) were actually: “You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought they were.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0506a/ for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, six fists above the north-northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Thursday: At 6 a.m., Jupiter is two fists above the south horizon, Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon and Venus is a half a fist above the east horizon.

Friday: Art and science mix at noon today in Opticks, a live Networked Performance between the Earth and Moon. Media artist Daniela de Paulis and her collaborators convert images to radio waves and transmit them to the Moon. The waves bounce off of the moon, return to Earth and are converted back into optical images. The effect is sort of like painting your image as seen in a dirty mirror. For more information, go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/astroarts/4674-opticks-echoes-from-the-moon.html.
In 1979, The Police released the song called “Walking on the Moon”. Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., The Virtual Telescope project will host an online lunar observing session. This is your opportunity to see the Moon close-up. Go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/online/4693-walking-on-the-moon.html to access the observing session.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm