Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/26/18

Saturday:  Today: In 1979, the group Foreigner recorded the song “Head Games”. They could have been singing about the constellations Hercules and Ophiuchus when they said “head games, it’s just you and me baby, head games, I can’t take it anymore” because the heads of these two constellations have been right next to each other in the nighttime sky for all of human history. And just to make it easy for you, a star that bears an Arabic name that means “the head” represents each head. In Hercules, it's Ras Algethi (head of the kneeler); in Ophiuchus, Ras Alhague (head of the serpent charmer). At 11 p.m., Ras Alhague, the brighter of the two, is three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon. Ras Algethi is about a half a fist to the upper right of Ras Alhague. 

Sunday: At 11 p.m., the bright star Regulus is less than a fist from the upper left of the Moon. But what if it is cloudy or you are study inside all day and night? Easy, check out the Moon online. One of the best live Moon maps is found at http://goo.gl/wRXQqa. See the most up to date lunar images at fantastic resolution, down to about two meters. You could easily tell the difference between a car and a minivan on the moon. 

Monday: The questions who, what, where, and when can only be asked with a “W”. At 10:30 p.m., the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia is about one and a half fists above due north. The middle star in the W was used as a navigation reference point during the early space missions. The American astronaut Gus Grissom nicknamed the star Navi, his middle name Ivan spelled backwards. After he died in the Apollo 1 fire, the star name was kept as a memorial. 

Tuesday: Altair, the lowest star in the Summer Triangle, is one fist above due east at 11 p.m. 

Wednesday: NASA recently launched InSight, a mission to study Martian seismology. When it lands on Mars in late November, it will monitor the seismic waves that occur when rocks and land masses shift. By measuring the size and frequency of these marsquakes, astronomers will learn more about the structure, history, and formation of Mars. For more about marsquakes, including a short video, go to https://goo.gl/ybFETD. You can see Mars for yourself, one and a half fists above due south at 5 a.m. 

Thursday: The month of June is named after Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and the mythological protector of the Roman state. In ancient Rome, the month began when the crescent moon was first seen in the evening sky from Capitoline Hill in Rome. If we still started months this way, June would start on a different day each year. Celebrate the first sunset in June by actually watching it… and then looking for the visible planets. At 9:30 p.m., one and a half fists above the west horizon and Jupiter is nearly two and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon. If you wait until 11:30 p.m., you can see Saturn and the Moon rising up from the southeast horizon. 

Friday: The CWU Physics Department and the College of the Sciences is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show tomorrow from noon to 1 pm. Local science educator Megan Rivard will give a presentation about what can be seen in the summer sky called "Summer Night Lights – A Tour". Shows are free and open to all ages. There will be a show at noon on the first Saturday of every month hosted by different CWU astronomers and astronomy educators. The 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 

Friday, May 18, 2018

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

Saturday:  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. 

Sunday: The bright star Capella is one and a half fists above the northwest horizon at 9:30 p.m. 

Monday: 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 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. But the neutron star called 1E 2259+586 (how’s that for a celebrity baby name) exhibited a spin glitch that astronomers had never seen before. To find out more about this new excuse for being late, go to http://goo.gl/C4V8R1. 

Tuesday: At 9:30 p.m., Venus is one and a haf fists above the west horizon and Jupiter is two fists above the southeast horizon. 

Wednesday: You’ve seen all of the top 100 lists: top 100 ways to use sandpaper, top 100 Tex-Mex restaurants in Ellensburg, etc. Now get excited for next week’s full Moon by reading about and finding some of the lunar 100 at http://goo.gl/ldGvH6 This list describes 100 interesting landmarks on the Moon that are visible from Earth. They are listed from easiest to see, starting with the entire moon itself at number 1, to most difficult (Mare Marginis swirls, anyone?). Stay up all night to binge watch the moon or just make a few observations a month. It’s your decision. It’s our moon. Start your viewing tonight at 9:30 p.m. when the Moon is due south. I suggest starting with Mare Crisium, the circular, dark, basaltic plain in the upper right-hand portion of the moon. Items such as Crisium were names "Mare" by early astronomers who mistook them foe seas, instead of the hardened lava beds that they really are.  

Thursday: Mars and Saturn are both two fists above the horizon and on either side of due south at 4:30 a.m. Mars is a little bit east (to the left) of due south and Saturn is a little bit to the west (to the right) of due south. 

Friday: 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. 

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 10, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/12/18

Saturday:  You know Metis and Thebe and Adrastea and Amalthea. Io and Ganymede and Callisto and Europa. But do you recall? There are 69 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 69 moons range in size from Ganymede, with a diameter of 5,262 kilometers, to S/2002 J12 and S/2003 J9, with a diameter 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 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: Are you up at 2:51 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.  

Tuesday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 11 a.m. 

Wednesday: 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.  

Thursday: Venus is less than a fist to the left of the young crescent Moon at 10 p.m. 

Friday: 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 resent 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 due south early in the morning. Mars and Saturn are both two fists above the horizon and on either side of due south at 5 a.m. Mars is a little bit east (to the left) of due south and Saturn is a little bit to the west (to the right) of due south. 

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