Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of 9/24/16


Saturday: Last week you hung out on Titan’s lakes and dunes. Now dream about Enceladus’ ocean. Wow, that’s a lot of liquid in the Saturn moon system. Titan’s lakes are made of methane. But astronomers think there is a liquid water ocean beneath the icy surface of Enceladus.  Read all about it at http://goo.gl/6E0sHp. Saturn and its moons are one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south-southwest horizon at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: Did you time the exact length of the day and night on Thursday, the first day of autumn? They were not equal in duration. Many people think that the day and night are the same duration on the autumnal equinox. The day is a little longer than the night for two reasons. First, the Sun is an extended object so even when the lower half has set, the upper half is still above the horizon lighting the sky. The second, and more influential, reason is that the atmosphere acts like a lens, bending light from the Sun above the horizon when the Sun is actually below the horizon. Day and night are closest in duration today.

Monday: Jerry Seinfeld gave his best friend some good advice to see Mars this week: “You’ve got to go downtown George. Just like the song says.” Just like the downtown, or core, of a distant city has a glow from human-made light, the “downtown”, or core of the Milky Way galaxy has a glow from starlight. And this week, Mars is lined up right in the middle of this glow; one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 8 p.m. Read more about the glow at https://goo.gl/3IVGcy.

Tuesday: Aldebaran, the bright orangish star in the constellation Taurus, is one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: Mercury will be as far away from the Sun in the sky as it will get this orbital cycle. This "farthest away" point is known as the planet's greatest elongation. Since Mercury is in morning sky, it is west of the Sun and this occurrence is called the greatest western elongation. This morning will be the best morning to observe Mercury for the next few weeks. Mercury is nearly a fist above due east at 6:15 a.m. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will move toward the Sun in the sky. By early December, it will be visible in the evening sky.

Thursday: To the people of Ancient Greece, the stars that are about five and a half fists above the east-northeast horizon at 10 p.m. were known as Cassiopeia and Andromeda, a mythological queen and her daughter. But not all cultures imagined the same pictures in the sky. To the people of Polynesia, the stars of Cassiopeia and Andromeda represented a dolphin, called Kwu. Cassiopeia formed its tail, the brightest stars of Andromeda formed its fins, and its fainter stars outlined the dolphin’s body.

Friday: The moon almost directly between the Earth and Sun today. That means you won’t be able to see it. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Contrary to the belief of toddlers and immature politicians, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Note a double negative statement followed by a triple negative statement. I’m not unsorry about that.) Now, back to the science. What would happen to the earth if the moon really didn’t exist? In that 2013 blockbuster Oblivion, aliens destroy the moon and Tom Cruise survives. But the long-term effects on the earth would be devastating to life, as we know it. The moon stabilizes the spin axis of the earth keeping the seasons fairly uniform over time. For more information on what would happen to the earth if the moon were destroyed, go to http://goo.gl/4EbzLa. For more information on Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 9/17/16


Saturday: “You know Aries and Cancer and Draco and Libra. Leo and Pisces and Virgo and Hydra. But, do you recall, the pointiest asterism of all? Triangulum, the three sided asterism, had a very pointy edge….” Sorry. Some stores have started sending out their Christmas catalogues and that has put me in the mood to modify some Christmas songs. Anyway, Triangulum is a small constellation between the more prominent Andromeda and Aries. Its main feature is a skinny triangle oriented parallel to and nearly four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

Sunday: Venus is about a half a fist above the west-southwest horizon at 7:30 p.m. If you use binoculars, you may be able to spot the bright star Spica right below it.

Monday: There is a rumor (started by my dog and me) that The Beach Boys are working on a new solar system-themed record. I bet the first single will be “Surfin’ Titan” with lyrics such as “If everybody had an ocean, across Saturn’s moon. Then everybody’d be surfin’ and hanging out on the dunes. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, doesn’t have an ocean. But it has Kraken Mare, a large liquid hydrocarbon sea as shown in the video that you can find at http://goo.gl/ndXDhd. And it has dunes in a region called Shangri-La shown here: https://youtu.be/P0RbbNb8Pns. Who is up for a “Surfin' Safari”? Saturn is one and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 8 p.m.

Tuesday: To celebrate the start of school at Central Washington University tomorrow, you could take a quick trip to Mars. How about America’s desert Southwest? Not enough time? Then just look at some photos from… from…. Hmmm. The photos at https://goo.gl/Elx7O8 look like they could be from either place. The Murray Buttes region of Mars, where the Curiosity rover has been exploring, look a lot like the landscape of Utah. So much so that the Mars-based movie John Carter was filmed there. Look for John Carter at your local video store. (“What’s that?” said the child.) Look for Mars one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Do you see something small and twinkling about one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 10:30 p.m.? Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. That’s the open star cluster called The Pleiades making its way to the evening sky. It looks like a tiny measuring cup on its side.

Thursday: At precisely 7:21 a.m. PDT, the center of the Sun crosses the celestial equator and passes into the southern sky. The celestial equator is an imaginary line that divides the sky into a northern and southern half. When the Sun is in the southern half of the sky, it appears to take a shorter path from rising to setting. It also does not get as high in the sky at noon. This leads to shorter days and longer nights. Since the Sun crosses the celestial equator today, there is an instant when it is equally in the northern and southern sky, called the north and south celestial hemispheres. This so-called “equal night” is given by the Latin word equinox. Thus, today is known as the Autumnal Equinox. However, the day and night are not of equal duration today. The sun rises at 6:49 a.m. and sets at 6:58 p.m. Day and night are closest to equal duration on Sunday.

Friday: According to “One world, group hug, love everyone” philosophy, political borders are human-made and can’t be seen from space so why can’t we all just get along. According to real world, pragmatic discoveries, some human-made political borders CAN be seen from space. Since 2003, India has illuminated its border with Pakistan to prevent illegal crossings. In 2011, astronaut Ron Garan took a picture of that border from the International Space Station. For more information, including the photo, go to http://goo.gl/mY8xG.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 9/10/16


Saturday: Today: “Excuse me, do you have the time?”
“No, but the Big Dipper does.”
You can use the orientation of the Big Dipper to tell time with a precision of about 15-30 minutes. First, find the two stars at the far end of the Big Dipper cup, the stars that do not touch the handle. Draw an imaginary line segment starting at the North Star and passing through the two Big Dipper cup stars. Now, draw a big circle around the North Star. Your circle is a 24-hour clock. Number the circle from 0 hours at the top, counterclockwise to 12 hours at the bottom of the circle, and back up to 24 hours at the top. (O hours and 24 hours are the same on this clock because the day is 24 hours long.) The hour number on the big circle closest to where your imaginary line intersects this circle is called your raw time. Due to the location of the Big Dipper compared to the rest of the stars, the time nearest the intersection (the raw time) is correct for March 6. For any other night, subtract two times the number of months the current date is after March 6 from the raw time. For example, let’s say the imaginary line between the North Star and the Dipper stars is pointed to the right. That means the raw time is 18 hours or 6 p.m. If you made this observation on October 6, which is seven months after March 6, you would subtract two times seven or 14 hours from the raw time.  Thus, the time for November 6 is 18 hours minus 14 hours or 4 hours. In other words, 4 a.m. Don’t forget to convert for daylight savings time if needed. For a more complete explanation on how to do the Big Dipper clock math, go to http://goo.gl/02HmA. If you prefer a more visual tool, and a fun project to do with your kids, there is a simple “star clock” template and instructions at http://goo.gl/SFKrE. Use this paper star clock whenever you watch is broken.

Sunday: The calendar says summer is nearing an end. School starting says summer is nearing an end. The summer triangle in the sky begs to differ, as it is still high in the sky. Vega, the brightest star in the triangle, is a little bit west of straight overhead at sunset. Deneb is a little bit east of straight overhead and Altair is five fists above the south horizon.

Monday: Venus is about five degrees above the west horizon at 7:45 p.m.

Tuesday: Fomalhaut, the southernmost bright star visible from the northern USA, is one fist above the south-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: In most parts of the country, a mixture of tasty carbon-based material and healthy minerals is called a casserole. In Minnesota, it is called a hot dish. (Uffdah, you betcha!) In space, it is called a supergiant. Antares, a supergiant in the constellation Scorpius, is forging lighter elements into carbon, oxygen, silicon, and iron in its core. This stellar casserole is about one fist above the south-southwest horizon at 9 p.m. Mars, the brighter and tastier side dish, is about a fist to the upper left of Antares. Saturn, the ringed dessert, is less than a fist above Antares.

Thursday: Stuart Sutcliffe was the fifth Beatle. d’Artagnan was the fourth Musketeer. Ophiuchus is the thirteenth constellation in the Zodiac. The Zodiac consists of all the constellations that the Sun appears to line up with as the Earth’s celestial perspective changes throughout its annual orbit. You know twelve constellations in the Zodiac because they are the 12 horoscope signs. But the Sun also lines up with Ophiuchus for about two weeks every year. You can spend some time with Ophiuchus tonight. The center of the coffin shaped group of stars is three fists above due southwest at 9 p.m., right above the Mars-Saturn-Antares triangle.

Friday: Shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky. It’s just like a full moon in January, February, June and July. The only difference is that near the Autumnal Equinox (also known as the first day of fall), the full moon rises close to sunset resulting in a full night of light for the harvest. The harvest moon looks more orange than usual when it is near the horizon because of the dust kicked up from the harvest. The dust scatters the white light reflecting off of the Moon resulting in slightly more of the red and orange components of the white light reaching your eyes. Although the Moon has a dull yellow color whenever it is near the horizon owing to light scattering off of dust and atmospheric particles, the effect is more noticeable for the harvest Moon. Tonight’s full moon is also nearly a Super Moon, meaning it is near its closest point to Earth for the month. For more information about the harvest moon, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=4162. Tonight the Moon passes through the partial shadow of the Earth, leading to a barely noticeable penumbral lunar eclipse.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 9/3/16


Saturday: The Ellensburg Rodeo is a “Top-25” rodeo. What does it take to be a “Top-25” star? There are many ways to rank stars. The most obvious way for a casual observer to rank stars is by apparent brightness. The apparent brightness is the brightness of a star as seen from Earth, regardless of its distance from the Earth. Shaula (pronounced Show’-la) is the 25th brightest star in the nighttime sky as seen from Earth. It represents the stinger of Scorpius the scorpion. In fact, Shaula means stinger in Arabic. Shaula has a visual brightness rating of 1.62. Sirius, the brightest star has a visual brightness rating of -1.46. (Smaller numbers mean brighter objects.) The dimmest objects that can be seen with the naked eye have a visual brightness rating of about 6. There are approximately 6,000 stars with a lower numbered visual brightness rating than 6 meaning there are 6,000 stars visible to the naked eye. Shaula is a blue sub-giant star that radiates 35,000 times more energy than the Sun. It is 700 light years away making it one of the most distant bright stars. Shaula is a challenge to find because it never gets more than a half a fist above the horizon. Look for it tonight about a half a fist held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon, a little bit west of due south, at 8:30.

Sunday: School starts this week so it is time for a little geometry review. A square is a regular quadrilateral, which means it has four equal sides, four equal angles, and it uses the restroom on a set schedule. Go outside at 10 p.m. tonight with notebook in hand to sketch one. The Great Square of Pegasus is balancing on its corner two and a half fists above due east. The top corner of the square is two fists above the bottom corner. The other two corners are to the left and right of the line segment connecting the top and bottom corners.

Monday: Labor Day was the brainchild of labor unions and is dedicated to American workers. The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882. The Greek mythical hero Hercules probably wished there was a Labor Day to commemorate his work. As punishment for killing his family while he was temporarily insane, he had to perform twelve nearly impossible tasks such as killing monsters or stealing things from deities. Hmmm. Maybe we shouldn’t commemorate his labors. But we can enjoy his constellation. The keystone asterism representing the body of Hercules is six fists above the west horizon at 10 p.m. For more information about the Labors of Hercules, go to http://goo.gl/ozVF5.

Tuesday: Geometry review, part 2. Go outside at 10 p.m. tonight with notebook in hand. (Good teaching involves a little repetition.) You’ll have an easy time seeing your notebook because the moon is just a little past full. A triangle is a polygon with three corners and three line segments as sides. A good example is the Summer Triangle made up of the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. Vega, the brightest star in the triangle, is a little bit southwest of straight overhead. Deneb is a little bit east of straight overhead and Altair is five fists above the south horizon.

Wednesday: Look for Venus and Jupiter very low in the western sky right after sunset. By 8 p.m., Venus is less than a half a fist above the west horizon.

Thursday: “I’m a little teapot, short and stout. The galactic center, I pour it out.” (I’m a Little Teapot, astronomy version, 2014.) Despite its great size and importance, the center of our Milky Way galaxy and its giant black hole remains hidden to the naked eye behind thick clouds of gas and dust. By plotting the orbits of stars near the middle of the galaxy, astronomers have determined that the black hole’s mass is equal to about 4.5 million Suns. While you can’t see the actual galactic center, you can gaze in the direction of the center by looking just to the right of the teapot asterism in the constellation Sagittarius. This point is about one fist above the south-southwest horizon at 9 p.m.

Friday: The most effective learning requires frequent review, especially when first introduced to a topic. So let’s review triangles. Mars, Saturn, and Antares form a small triangle one fist above the southwest horizon and just to the left of the Moon at 9 p.m. Mars, the brightest object is on the far left. Saturn is one fist to the right of Mars and Antares is less than a fist below Saturn.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 8/20/16


Saturday: Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury crowd very low, making a small triangle above due west a half hour after sunset. Jupiter is at the upper left of the triangle, a half a fist held upright and at arm’s length above due west. The bright Venus is less than a fist to the right of Jupiter. Mercury is lost in the glare below Jupiter.

Sunday: Arcturus is two fists above due west at 10:30 p.m. This star, whose name means bear watcher, is the brightest in the sky’s northern hemisphere. It follows Ursa Major, the Great Bear, around the North Star. Arcturus is the closest giant star to Earth. It is one of the few stars whose diameter can be measured directly rather than being inferred from its density and mass, which, themselves are derived from other parameters.

Monday: Had the script been written a little differently for a well-known Robin Williams movie, we might have heard Mr. Williams shout, “Goooood Morning Orion the hunter”. Orion is typically thought of as a winter constellation. But, it makes its first appearance in the summer sky. The lowest corner of Orion’s body, represented by the star Saiph (pronounced “safe”), rises at 3:30 a.m., well before the Sun. By 5:30 a.m., Orion’s belt is nearly three fists above the southeast horizon.

Tuesday: Have you ever gone to a family reunion, looked around and asked, “How in the world are we related to each other?” Astronomers look around the Solar System and wonder if there is life anywhere else that we are related to. The Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars in 2012 to investigate whether it ever had conditions favorable for life. The Cassini Mission continues to study the plume of complex organic chemicals streaming from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. NASA and the European Space Agency are planning missions to study Europa, the Jovian moon with an ice-covered ocean. And many astronomers consider the methane haze in the atmosphere in Saturn’s moon Titan similar to that of the early Earth. To learn more about the search for life in the Solar System and beyond, go to https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/. While you won’t see anyone waving back, you can see Saturn, Mars, and the bright star Antares in a short line segment in the sky. Saturn is two fists above and Mars, which is about twice as bright as the ringed planet, is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon. Antares is right below Mars.

Wednesday: Deneb is nearly straight overhead at 11:30 p.m. When you look at Deneb, you are seeing light that left Deneb about 1,800 years ago.

Thursday: In 1987, the rock group Def Leppard sang “Pour some sugar on me, in the name of love. Pour some sugar on me, come on fire me up”. In 2012, some European astronomers “found some sugar near stars, they were very young. Found some sugar near stars, out where planets formed.” Astronomers observed molecules of glycolaldehyde, a simple form of sugar, in the disk of gas and dust orbiting young binary stars. This is the first time astronomers have found this simple sugar so close to a star indicating that organic molecules can be found in planet-forming regions of stars. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/tfwy1.

Friday: All stars rotate. Our Sun takes a little less than an Earth month to make one rotation. Astronomers have started to study the relationship between mass, stellar rotation, and planetary formation by aiming NASA’s Kepler space telescope toward the Pleiades open star cluster. All 1,000 stars in this group is nearly the same age, 125 million years old. Since all of the stars are the same age and formed from the same set of materials, astronomers have the ideal “laboratory” to isolate the role star mass plays on star rotation and evolution. Read more about the findings at http://goo.gl/osijIY. See the Pleiades for yourself, one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 11:30 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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 8/13/16

--> Saturday: Sometimes you find a quarter on the ground. Maybe you find a dollar in the lining of your jacket. But how often do you find a galaxy in a well-known part of the sky? The Hubble Space Telescope discovered a face-on spiral galaxy in the Coma Cluster of galaxies about 320 million light years away. This galaxy, called NGC 4911, contains regions of gas and dust as well as glowing newborn star clusters. The Coma Star cluster is in the constellation Coma Berenices, found two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west-northwest horizon at 10 p.m. For more information about this recently discovered galaxy, plus a zoomable image, go to http://goo.gl/5OXUX.

Sunday: Saturn, Mars, and Antares make an equilateral triangle about a fist and a half above the south-southwest horizon at 9 p.m. Mars, the brightest of the three objects, is on the right hand side and Saturn is on the top.

Monday: Let’s all sing the galactic black hole monster song: “D is for dusty, that’s good enough for me. D is for dusty that’s good enough for me. D is for dusty that’s good enough for me. Oh dusty, dusty, dusty starts with D.” Astronomers know that spiral galaxies such as our own have super massive black holes in the center, black holes that are billions of times the mass of the Sun. They thought they got to be this massive by mergers where two galaxies collide and the gas, dust and black holes at the center of each colliding galaxy form a larger central black hole. But many distant galaxies show no signs of galactic mergers. Astronomers think the black holes at the center of these galaxies grew simply by snacking on the gas and dust that comes from supernova explosions and normal star formation. Just like the Cookie Monster gains weight by snacking on individual cookies rather than eating a cookie factory. Cookie crumbs, I mean dust, block your view of the center of our galaxy.  It is about one fist above due south at 10 p.m., between the constellations Sagittarius and Scorpius. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/L9ppJf.

Tuesday: Hit the road Mercury. And don’t you come back no more, no more. For a few weeks, Mercury has been hitting the road and moving away from the Sun in the sky. Today, Mercury is as far away from the Sun as it will get on the evening half of this cycle. This is known as its greatest eastern elongation. Yet, this distance does not translate into good viewing because Mercury will be very low in the sky…. Wait a minute. Look back at the April 16, 2016 entry of this column. I wrote the exact same thing. Am I just lazy, taking advantage of the secret organizations paying me a million doll hairs to write this column? Yes, I am. But, the statement is true once again and will be true in a few months. As the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury moves back and forth from the morning to the evening sky several times a year. In addition, it never gets very far from the Sun in the sky so it is almost always difficult to view.
Tonight, Mercury is less than a half a fist above due west at 8:30 p.m., between the much brighter Jupiter to its left and Venus to its right. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will move toward the Sun in the sky. After it passes in front of the Sun, it will appear in the morning sky by the end of September.

Wednesday: Need a caffeine pick-me-up? Make it a double. Need an astronomy pick-me-up? Make it a double double. Find Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, nearly straight overhead at 10:00 tonight. Less than half a fist to the east (or left if you are facing south) of the bright bluish star Vega is the “star” Epsilon Lyra. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through binoculars, it looks like two stars. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through a large enough telescope, you will notice that each star in the pair is itself a pair of stars.  Each star in the double is double. Hence, Epsilon Lyra is known as the double double. The stars in each pair orbit a point approximately in the center of each respective pair. The pairs themselves orbit a point between the two pairs.

Thursday: The August full moon was called the full sturgeon moon by Midwest and northeastern Native American tribes because the sturgeon in lakes in this part of the country were easiest to catch during this full moon time.

Friday: Hercules stands six fists above the southwest horizon at 10:00 this evening. Four moderately bright stars form a lopsided square that represents his body, while his head points southward.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 8/6/16


Saturday: The Perseid meteor shower hits its peak late for the next few nights with Thursday and Friday being the peak of the peak. The meteors appear to come from a point just below the W of the constellation Cassiopeia. This point is about two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeast horizon at 11 p.m. By dawn, this point is about seven fists above the northeast horizon. If you fall asleep or forget to set your alarm, you will be able to observe this shower from about 11 p.m. to dawn for the next few nights in about the same location in the sky. The Perseid shower is one of the longest lasting showers. With dark skies owing to the moon being below the horizon during peak viewing times, you may see over 100 meteors per hour in the late night and early morning hours all week. For tips about optimizing your viewing this year, go to http://goo.gl/Ylk9jA. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. These meteors are sand to pea-sized bits of rock that fell off of Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are traveling about 40 miles per second as they collide with the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Sunday: At 8:45 tonight, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus make a two fist wide line, low on the horizon, angling down toward the west horizon. Venus, the brightest of the three, is on the bottom right of the line and Jupiter is on the upper left.

Monday: Sometimes you get to your car and realize that you are missing your keys or your sunglasses. The asteroid, dwarf planet, and fifth Beatle (not really) 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. Read more about this “whodunit” at http://goo.gl/uoU9kc. Ceres is visible in small telescopes or even 10x50 binoculars, three and a half fists above due southeast at 4 a.m. First find Menkar, the second brightest star in Cetus the sea monster. It is a reddish star a little east of due southeast and a little more than three fists above the horizon. Then move your binoculars to the upper right until a star about half as bright as Menkar is in the lower left portion of your field of view. Ceres will be a point of light in the upper right portion of your field of view, looking like part of an arc of stars.

Tuesday: Altair, at one corner of the Summer Triangle, is four fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Altair is one of the closest bright stars, so close that fictional astronauts visited a planet orbiting Altair in the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet”.

Wednesday: Saturn, Mars, and Antares make an equilateral triangle about two fists above the south horizon at 9 p.m. Mars, the brightest of the three objects, is on the right hand side and Saturn is on the top.

Thursday: Many big city dwellers never see the milky white, nearly continuous band of stars known as the Milky Way. As cities grow and add more lights, it has become harder to see the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy, our home in the universe. But, there are two easy ways to see the Milky Way. The first way is to look in the mirror. You are part of the Milky Way. The second way is to look from due north through the point straight overhead (called the zenith) to due south from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the next two weeks. This is the time of year when the Milky Way is highest in the sky and away from the city lights on the horizon.

Friday: Friday night is date night and there is no better date than going to the Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center to view the Perseid meteor shower. The event starts with kids activities at 8 p.m. and a twilight turbine tour at 8:30 p.m. The viewing starts at 10 p.m. The CWU Astronomy Club and other people will be there with telescopes. This will be a great opportunity to see meteors, distant celestial objects, and the Milky Way. For more information, go to https://goo.gl/tlPPSD.

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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.