Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/25/17

Saturday: “Hey baby! What’s your sign?”
“Ophiuchus, of course”
The Sun is in the same part of the sky as the stars of Ophiuchus from about November 29 to December 17. This is what astrologers mean when they say the Sun is “in” a constellation. Thus, if you were born between these dates, you should be an Ophiuchus. The fact that the horoscopes never list Ophiuchus is a major flaw of astrology. Astrology says that some of our characteristics are based on the location of the Sun at our birth. How can astrologers leave out three weeks from their system? That is like a scientist saying she can explain the results of her experiment every month of the year except early December. Ophiuchus was a mythical healer who was a forerunner to Hippocrates. According to myth, he could raise people from the dead. Maybe that is why he is ignored by astrology. Raising people from the dead is much less impressive than giving spot-on advice such as “Today is a good day to watch your finances.”
The bright stars of Ophiuchus rise just before the Sun. Rasalhague (pronounced Ras’-al-hay’-gwee), the brightest star, is about a half a fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Sunday: Tonight’s first quarter Moon is in the constellation Aquarius the Water Bearer, in the southern sky at 5 p.m. Before the Moon distracts you, look a half a fist above the southwest horizon. This will be the last week you can observe Saturn in the evening sky before it gets obscured by the glare of the setting Sun. Even more challenging is the planet Mercury, between Saturn and the horizon.

Monday: Have you been shopping all weekend? Do you need an evening sky break? You deserve a big reward so make it a double. A Double Cluster, that is. The Double Cluster, also known as h and Chi Persei, consists of two young open star clusters in the constellation Perseus. Of course, young is a relative term as these clusters are about 13 million years old. Each cluster is spread out over an area about the same size as the full moon. To the naked eye, the Double Cluster shines with a steady, fuzzy glow. Binoculars resolve dozens of individual stars in the clusters. The Double Cluster is five and a half fists above the northeast horizon at 6 p.m., about a fist below the sideways “W” of Cassiopeia and three fists above the bright star Capella.

Tuesday: Have you even seen a Black Hole? Neither have scientists. But they have seen the effects of a Black Hole. Black holes have a strong gravitational influence on anything that passes close to them, including light. Cygnus X-1, the first Black Hole candidate ever discovered, is six fists above the west horizon at 7 p.m., in the middle of the neck of Cygnus the swan. NASA launched the Chandra X-ray observatory in 1999 to study black hole candidates and other high-energy events.

Wednesday: Mars and Spica are less than a half a fist apart, two and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 6:45 a.m. Mars has a red tint and Spica looks bluish-white. Now that you are up, you might as well find something else. How about Jupiter, the king of the plants, one and a half fists above the southeast? Not satisfied? Follow the line from Mars through Jupiter down to the horizon. Venus is just above the horizon, almost obscured by the rising Sun.

Thursday: Is your favorite astronomy-loving relative asking for a telescope this Christmas? Before reaching for your credit card, read this guide to choosing your first telescope, available at http://goo.gl/5oXmGj. If cost is an issue, look no further than this article about low cost telescopes https://goo.gl/8yyddy. These are not cheap telescopes. They are simple, low-cost, easy to use telescopes that your future astronomer will still use for quick observing sessions long after she has purchased a much larger instrument for richer viewing. If you want to give a gag astronomy gift to someone who really bugs you, give them a copy this column. After such a dud “gift”, you’ll never hear from them again. And that may be the best gift of all.

Friday: I am guessing that some of you don’t like the line of reasoning from Tuesday: that seeing the effects of a Black Hole is good enough to claim there are Black Holes. You have never seen the wind. But, you have seen the effects of the wind. And no Ellensburg resident doubts the existence of the wind.


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, November 15, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/18/17

Saturday: Do you want to learn more about what goes on at night in the natural world? You can at a free event called Nature of Night on the CWU campus, today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Go to the two largest science buildings on campus, J-9 and H-10 on the map found at http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map. There will be planetarium shows, fun nighttime projects, telescopes, animals, cookies and much more. The College of the Sciences gets help from various community organizations to put on this event.

Sunday: Are you disappointed because you are not going anywhere for Thanksgiving? Why not take a (virtual) trip to outer space using Google’s new visualization tool called 100,000 Stars. It shows the stars in our neighborhood in a very good 3-D simulation. The Sun is initially at the center. If you zoom in, you can click on neighboring stars and learn more about them. Go to http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/ for the simulation. It works best on a Chrome browser.

Monday: Saturn is about two finger widths to the lower left of the crescent Moon at 5 p.m. Both are low in the southwestern sky. Mercury is below the pair, just above due southwest.

Tuesday: So, you are not into virtual vacations like the Google Simulation, hmmm? How about a vacation to the most recently discovered Earth-sized temperate planet in our stellar neighborhood? The European Southern Observatory discovered that Ross 128, a red dwarf star only 11 light-years away (the 12th nearest star system to Earth) has a rocky planet in its habitable zone. Convenient for those not willing to make a commitment yet, Ross 128 and its planet are moving towards Earth. In only 79, 000 years, it will be the star and exoplanet closest to Earth. This extremely dim star is three and a half fists above due southeast at 6 a.m. For more information about the discover, and to possibly book a trip, go to http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1736/.

Wednesday: Are you thankful that you live in a solar system with multiple planets? You should be. A giant planet like Jupiter cleans up planetary debris that could have collided with Earth and hindered the formation of complex life. Any inhabitants of the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae are thankful for this, as well. Upsilon Andromedae, a star in the constellation Andromeda, was the first Sun-like star discovered to have multiple planets orbiting it. So far, all of its planets are giant planets like Jupiter. But, the system is likely to also contain smaller planets. The dim star, but certainly not its planets, is barely visible straight overhead at 9 p.m. Jupiter is much easier to see, but you have to wait until tomorrow morning to see it. It is nearly one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 7 a.m. Venus is below it, just above the horizon.

Thursday: Some of us have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. But, probably not as much as Andromeda had to be thankful for. According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. Her mother Queen Cassiopeia and her father King Cepheus didn’t know what to do. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came Andromeda’s boyfriend, the great warrior Perseus. Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monster’s neck and killed it. This was the first time in recorded history that a set of parents actually welcomed an uninvited Thanksgiving visit from the boyfriend. Perseus is about five fists above the east-northeast horizon and Andromeda is about seven fists above the east horizon at 7 p.m.

Friday: The brightest star in the nighttime sky is making its way into the evening sky. Sirius is a little more than a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 11 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.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/11/17

Saturday: This morning, you have a great opportunity to see a star, other than the Sun, during the daytime. And, not only will you see the star, you will see it be occulted by the Sun. Disappears at 8:40 am, reappears from the unlit side of the Moon at 9:20 a.m.
We wish you a Merry Martinmas. We wish you a Merry Martinmas. We wish you a Merry Martinmas. And a happy Friday. Martinmas is a holiday in many parts of the world commemorating Saint Martin of Tours. He was buried on November 11, 397. What does this have to astronomy? Not much except that the celebration on November 11 often doubles as a cross-quarter day celebration, a day that is halfway between an equinox and a solstice. Also, according to an agricultural calendar, November 11 marks the practical beginning of winter.

Sunday: Saturn is less that a fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon at 5:30 p.m. Say good-bye because in less than two weeks, Saturn will be obscured by the light of the Sun, beginning a two and a half month period in which there will be no naked eye planets visible in the evening sky.

Monday: Jupiter and Venus are less than the width of the full moon apart from each other in the early morning sky. They are a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.
When you think of space, the first image that comes to mind is a few large, massive bodies surrounded by a lot of empty space. After all, it is called “outer space”, not “outer stuff”. But that so-called empty space is filled with powerful radiation and high-speed sub-microscopic particles. Much of this is dangerous to life. However, many planets, including Earth, have a shield against radiation and particles called a magnetic field. Jupiter’s magnetic field is the strongest of all the planets.

Tuesday: Imagine Opie and Andy Taylor walking down the dirt path at night to that fishing hole in the sky. They’d probably be looking to catch Pisces, the two fish already conveniently tied together with two ropes. The ropes are connected at the star Alrescha, Arabic for “the cord”. Alrescha is about a half a fist to the lower right of the Moon at 10:30 p.m. The fish are attached to lines of stars that branch out at one o’clock and three o’clock from Alrescha. By the way, “The Fishing Hole”, The Andy Griffith Show’s theme song, was rated the 20th best TV theme song of all time by ign.com. That’s too low of a ranking in my opinion.

Wednesday: The Big Dipper is a circumpolar asterism for the northern part of the United States, meaning it is a group of stars that never goes below the horizon. Alkaid, the outermost star in the Big Dipper handle, gets the closest to the due north horizon at 10:10 p.m., making it to within about a half a fist from the horizon.

Thursday: Lieutenant Worf, the Klingon Starfleet officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, might say “Today is a good day to die.” But Deneb, the bright supergiant star in Cygnus the Swan would say “two million years from now is a good day to die.” This may seem like a long time. But, compared to most stars, two million years from now is as close as today. For example, the Sun will last about five billion years. Small stars known as red dwarfs may last trillions of years. Prepare your astronomically short good byes to Deneb tonight at 7 o’clock when it is seven fists above the west horizon.

Friday: The Leonid meteor shower peaks early this morning and tomorrow morning. These meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Leo the lion. This point is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night and into the morning, as it will remain about one fist above the bright star Regulus. The Moon will be below the horizon nearly the whole night so you should see a pretty good show. The Leonid meteors are particles from the tail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, a comet discovered by Ernst Tempel and Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1866. These are exceptionally fast moving meteors – over 150,000 miles per hour! Go to http://goo.gl/GkLiw7 to read everything you need to know about the Leonid meteor shower. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.
The Nature of Night event takes place tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Science Phase I and Science Phase II on the CWU campus (at J-9 and H-10 on the campus map found at http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map). There will be planetarium shows, fun nighttime projects, telescopes, animals, cookies and much more.


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, November 1, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/4/17

Saturday: Before you fall back on to your bed tonight, set your clock back one hour to the real time. Daylight savings ends early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. This means one more hour of sky watching at night because the Sun will set one hour earlier. Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “saving daylight” by adjusting our clocks way back in 1784. Daylight savings time was first utilized during World War I as a way to save electricity. After the war, it was abandoned. It was reintroduced during World War II on a year-round basis. From 1945 to 1966, some areas implemented daylight savings and some did not. Also, it was not implemented with any uniformity as to when it should start and stop. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 codified the daylight savings rules.

Sunday: The bright star Aldebaran is about a finger-width to the upper right of the Moon at 7 p.m. Observers on the east coast of the United States will see the Moon occult Aldebaran, meaning the Moon will pass between Aldebaran and the Earth, blocking it from our view for about 30 minutes.

Monday: Saturn is less that one fist above due southwest at 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Did you look up Ruby Payne-Scott and Grote Reber based on last week’s Halloween costume suggestion? Ruby Payne-Scott was an Australian pioneer of science and the first female radio astronomer. She discovered many different types of stellar radio phenomena. She also discovered sexism in the workplace because married women were not allowed to hold permanent public service jobs. So she married in secret. Grote Reber created the first parabolic reflecting antenna to be used as a radio telescope. This is a standard design today.

Wednesday: Mars is two fists above the east-southeast horizon at 6 a.m. Venus is just barely above the east-southeast horizon at this time.

Thursday: While Stonehenge is an ancient burial ground visited by religious people for thousands of years, MIThenge is an 825-foot long hallway on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited by the Sun’s rays twice a year.  Every year in November and January, the setting Sun lines up with a narrow window at the end of the long hall and the light shines down to the opposite end. This season’s alignment is from November 10-12. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/0hwFQf or visit MIT. In addition, challenge yourself to find a similar alignment.

Friday: The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night. These are slow moving meteors that result in the occasional fireball. The Taurid meteor showers produce a few bright meteors every hour. The waning crescent Moon rises well after midnight so it won’t be much of a problem. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull, near the open star cluster called the Pleiades. This point is about three fists above the east horizon at 8 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist above the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.


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, October 26, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/28/17

Saturday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 9 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta.

Sunday: What do Justin Bieber and Betelgeuse have in common? Both are superstars. One will shine brightly for about a few hundred thousand more years. The other will only seem to be around for that long. “Sorry” Beliebers. “If you Love Yourself”, you and your “Boyfriend” need to learn more about Betelgeuse, the real super giant star that is big enough to hold about one million Suns. “What Do You Mean” you don’t know where to look? For more information about Betelgeuse, go to http://goo.gl/0MyfHT. You’ll find it one fist above due east at 11 p.m.

Monday: What time is tea time? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea. Mars is riding the teapot, about one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Tuesday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite radio astronomers: Ruby Payne-Scott and Grote Reber. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Hevelius’s come to your door tonight night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Saturn, one fist above the southwest horizon at 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that November 1, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

Thursday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life. For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 light years to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major. Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists above due south at 9 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.

Friday: At 7 am, Mars is two fists and Venus is a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon.


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, October 17, 2017

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of 10/21/17

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the next big name event, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to stay up late for a few nights. These two showers overlap from mid-October to mid-November. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is nearly four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke. For more information about the Taurid meteor showers, go to https://goo.gl/oqnZWy.

Sunday: Halloween is coming soon so make sure you load up on peanut clusters, almond clusters, and open star clusters. That last one will be easy (and cheap… actually free) because two of the most prominent open star clusters in the sky are easily visible in the autumn sky. The sideways V-shaped Hyades Cluster is two fists above due east at 10 p.m. Containing over 300 stars; the Hyades cluster is about 150 light years away and 625 million years old. The Pleiades Cluster, a little more than three fists above due east, is larger at over 1000 stars and younger. Compared to our 5 billion year old Sun, the 100 million year age of the Pleiades is infant-like. The moon will help you find these clusters. This morning at 6:30 a.m., the Pleiades cluster is less than one fist to the upper right of the moon and the Hyades cluster is about one fist to the upper left of the moon. Tomorrow morning, the moon sits in the “V” of the Hyades cluster.

Monday: Saturn is about one fist above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Tuesday: Vega, the bright bluish star in the constellation Lyra, is six fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Along with the not-so-subtle drug reference in their name, The Doobie Brothers could have made an astronomy reference in their song lyrics if they would have written: “Old Earth water, keep on rollin’, Mississippi moon won’t you keep on shining on me.” Astronomers now think that some of the water on Earth may be older than the Solar System. The chemical signature of the water indicates it came from a very cold source, just a few degrees above absolute zero. The early Solar System was much warmer than this meaning the water came from a source outside the Solar System. For more information about the old Earth water, go to http://goo.gl/QsEu5P.

Thursday: Rho Cassiopeiae is the most distant star that can be seen with the naked eye by most people. It is about 8,200 light years away. That means that the light that reaches your eyes from that star left over 8,000 years ago, before the beginning of time according to the Byzantine calendar. Rho Cassiopeiae is six fists above the northeast horizon at 8 p.m., just above the zigzag line that marks the constellation Cassiopeia.

Friday: At 7 a.m., Mars is two fists and Venus is one fist above the east-southeast horizon.


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, October 12, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/14/17

Saturday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.

Sunday: Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Monday: The Milky Way makes a faint white trail from due northeast through straight overhead to due southwest at 9 p.m. Starting in the northeast, the Milky Way “passes through” the prominent constellations Auriga the charioteer, Cassiopeia the queen, and Cygnus the swan with its brightest star, Deneb, nearly straight overhead. After Cygnus, you’ll see Aquila the eagle with its brightest star Altair about four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon.

Tuesday: The waning crescent Moon, Venus, and Mars are in close proximity in the early morning sky. At 6:30 a.m., the Moon is low in the eastern sky with Mars about two finger widths above it and Venus about a half a fist below it.

Wednesday: The constellation Vulpecula, the fox, stands six fists above due southwest at 9 p.m. It is in the middle of the Summer Triangle, which is defined by the bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The fox is so faint that you need dark skies to see it.

Thursday: The moon is 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.

Friday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks tonight after midnight. This is not a meteor shower that typically results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night but not the storm that some showers bring. Luckily, the Moon will not be out to obscure the dimmer meteors with its light. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about one fist above due east at midnight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/8f8J50.


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.