Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 2/13/16

Saturday: Hopefully you’ve spent a few pre-dawn mornings over the last month looking at the five naked eye planets. That fun is not going to last because soon there will be just three visible planets. However, if you have binoculars, you should be able to find the asteroid Vesta in the post-dusk evening sky. Vesta is the brightest and second largest asteroid. In 2011, Vesta became the first asteroid orbited by a human-made satellite when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived.  Make Dawn the first asteroid observed by looking in the southwest sky at 7 p.m. First find the fairly bright star Deneb Kaitos less than one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon. Next, find the Great Square of Pegasus two and a half fists above the west horizon. Draw an imaginary line up from Deneb Kaitos and draw another imaginary line to the left from the left-most star in the Great Square. Aim your binoculars where those two lines cross. Your eyes might first be attracted to a bluish dot in the vicinity. That’s the planet Uranus. When you place Uranus in the right-hand side of your field of view, Vesta will be on the left-hand side. It will not stand out from the rest of the stars. The only way you’ll know it is Vesta is if you check again over the next few nights. All of the points of light in your field of view will remain in place except Vesta. It will move to the upper left of your field of view. Uranus will also move up but not nearly as much. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/vCusUC.

Sunday: Today: 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. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came the great warrior Perseus, fresh off his defeat of the evil Gorgon, Medusa. The only similarity between Andromeda and Medusa was that Andromeda caused people to stand still and stare at her beauty while Medusa turned people to stone because of her ugliness. (And, you thought you looked bad in the morning.) 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 monsters neck and killed it. In a little known addendum to the story, Perseus carved “Percy (heart symbol) Andi” in the rock, thus originating the use of the heart symbol as a substitute for the word “love”.
You can find these lovers in the sky this Valentine’s Day. Just remember it is rude to stare – and you never know when you might turn to stone. First, find the Great Square of Pegasus at 7 p.m. between one and a half and three and a half fists above the west horizon. The lowest star in Andromeda is the top star in the square. This represents Andromeda’s head. Perseus is at her feet, nearly straight overhead. Mirphak, the brightest star in Perseus, is about eight fists above the west horizon. Perseus’ body is represented by the line of stars to the left and right of Mirphak.

Monday: You think wintertime weather is bad in Ellensburg. Astronomers have discovered storms and earth-sized clouds on a brown dwarf. These are cool, small stars that are not massive enough to fuse hydrogen atoms and fuse hydrogen. In fact, they are more similar to gas giant planets such as Jupiter that to the Sun. In this context, the discovery of storms similar to the giant Red Spot on Jupiter makes sense. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/jQS3k.

Tuesday: As mentioned earlier, the Naked Planet Morning Peep Show will be ending soon. (That sounded more innocent when I said it in my head.) This morning at 6:30, Jupiter is one and a half fists above the west horizon. Mars is two and a half fists above the south horizon. Saturn is to the left of Mars, two fists above the south horizon. Venus, the brightest planet, and Mercury are less that a half a fist above the southeast horizon, with Mercury being to the lower left of Venus.

Wednesday: The bright star Arcturus is nearly two fists above the east horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Pluto. Happy Birthday to you.” On this day in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, at that time classified as the ninth planet. However, as astronomers started discovering a lot of similar objects in that part of the solar system, they realized that had a classification crisis on their hands. Should everything in this region of the solar system be named a planet? Eventually the International Astronomical Union (IAU) reclassified Pluto and all future Pluto-like objects as dwarf planets.
All noteworthy birthdays need a party so the CWU Museum of Culture and Environment is hosting an 86th birthday party for Pluto at 5:30 pm. Members of the CWU physics department will talk about Pluto and recent Solar System discoveries. The museum is in Dean Hall, found at K-8 on the campus map: http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map. Parking is free after 4:30.

Friday: Jupiter is nearly two fists above the east horizon at 9 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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 2/6/16

Saturday: Are you going to watch the super bowl tomorrow night? Is the bowl really that super? After all, half the night the bowl is tipped upside down, spilling out all of its contents. But don’t just focus on the functionality of the bowl. Think about how it inspires people all across the world to sit on the green grass and look into the dark blue early evening sky. In Mongolia, participants in the super bowl are known as gods. An Arabian story says the super bowl is a coffin, one that can even hold dying patriots. I encourage you go outside tonight at about 8 p.m., after whatever unimportant thing you have been doing since 3:30 p.m. Look low in the north-northwest sky and watch the super bowl, also known as the Big Dipper, balancing on the end of its handle, proudly displaying its large bowl.

Sunday: Don’t waste time watching the big game. Effectively use time learning about your surroundings. The universe contains everything from gigantic galaxy clusters to tiny parts of atoms so it is difficult to visualize all of it on the same scale. Cary and Michael Huang have created an interactive scale model of the universe which allows you to “slide” from a vantage point outside the known universe down to the smallest things ever theorized. To take this trip, go to http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140112.html.

Monday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next week or so. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This morning at 6:45, Jupiter is two fists above the west-southwest horizon. Mars is two and a half fists above the south horizon. Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon. The bright and reddish star called Antares is one fist to the lower right of Saturn. Venus, the brightest planet, is a little less than one fist above the southeast horizon. Mercury is a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Venus.

Tuesday: Orion stands tall in the southern sky. At 10:30 p.m., the middle of Orion’s belt is four fists above due south. And talk about belt tightening! Alnilam, the middle star in the belt, is losing mass at a rate of about 100 thousand trillion tons a day. That’s a 1 followed by 17 zeros tons per day.

Wednesday: Winter is a good time to see the thick band of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches high in the high in the early evening starting in the southeast by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Climbing from Sirius through the "horns" of Taurus high overhead, it drops down toward M-shaped Cassiopeia in the north and the tail of Cygnus, the swan, in the northwest.

Thursday: Do you sleep in and miss seeing all of the planets in the early morning sky? You don’t have to change your sleeping habits at all to see Jupiter. It is one fist above the eastern horizon at 9 p.m.

Friday: This President’s Day weekend, let’s remember Abraham Lincoln: 16th president, country lawyer, man on the penny, vampire hunter, and astronomer. Vampire hunter? No. Astronomer? Well, maybe not an astronomer, but someone who used observational evidence from the sky to solve a problem. In 1858, Lincoln defended Duff Armstrong, a family friend who was accused of murder. The prosecution thought they had a strong case because their primary witnesses claimed to have observed the killing by the light of the nearly full moon. Let’s listen in on the trial courtesy of the 1939 film, Young Mr. Lincoln.
Lincoln: How’d you see so well?
Witness: I told you it was Moon bright, Mr. Lincoln.
Lincoln: Moon bright.
Witness: Yes.
(Dramatic pause as Lincoln reaches for something)
Lincoln: Look at this. Go on, look at it. It’s the Farmer’s Almanack (sic). You see what it says about the Moon. That the Moon… set at 10: 21, 40 minutes before the killing took place. So you see it couldn’t have been Moon bright, could it?
Lincoln used the known information about Moon rising and setting times for August 29, 1858 as evidence in a trial. This is one of the earliest uses of forensic astronomy. You may confirm Lincoln’s findings on the Moon set time by going to http://goo.gl/PsCmff, the US Naval Observatory website, and filling out Form A. For more information about Lincoln’s “almanac trial”, go to http://goo.gl/r83q4X.


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, January 27, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/30/16

Saturday: Winter is the best season for finding bright stars. And if you only want to set aside a few minutes, 10 p.m. tonight just might be the best time because the winter hexagon is due south. Starting at the bottom, find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, two and a half fists above the south horizon. Going clockwise, Procyon (6th brightest star visible from Washington state) is about two and a half fists to the upper left of Sirius. Pollux (12th brightest) is about two and a half fists above Procyon. Capella (4th brightest) is about two and a half fists to the upper right of Procyon and close to straight overhead. Going back to Sirius at the bottom, Rigel (5th brightest) about two and a half fists to the upper right of Sirius. Aldebaran (9th brightest) is about three fists above Rigel. Betelgeuse (7th brightest) is in the center of the hexagon. Adhara (16th brightest) is a little more than a fist below Sirius and Castor (17th brightest) is right above Pollux. That’s nine of the 17 brightest stars visible in the northern United States in one part of the sky.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next two weeks. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This week, the Moon moves among them, as well. This morning at 6:45, Jupiter is two and a half fists above the west-southwest horizon. Mars is joined by the moon, three fists above the south horizon. Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon. The bright and reddish star called Antares is one fist to the lower right of Saturn. Venus, the brightest planet, is a little less than one fist above the southeast horizon. Mercury is a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Venus.

Monday: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow this morning, he is telling us that he follows the Chinese calendar and that spring starts early. On the Chinese calendar, equinoxes and solstices occur in the middle of their respective seasons. In order for the vernal equinox to occur in the middle of spring, spring must start on February 3 or 4, depending on the year. Thus, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, legend is that spring will start on February 3 or 4 as on the Chinese calendar. If Phil sees his shadow, he is telling us he agrees with the western calendar and that there will be six more weeks of winter meaning spring will start near March 20.

Tuesday: “Oooo, they’re little runaways. Orion’s stars moved fast. Tried to make a getaway. Ooo-oo, they’re little runaways,” sang Bon Jovi in his astronomical hit “Runaway.  At least that’s what I hear when I listen to the song. After all, it fits the recently calculated trajectory of AE Aurigae, Mu Columbae, and 53 Arietis. Extrapolating the actual motion of these three stars back in time, they were all in the location of the star-forming region called the Orion Nebula a few million years ago. What kicked these stars out? Not paying rent? Excessive partying? No, it was simply gravitation interactions with near-by stars. Find out more about the eviction at http://goo.gl/UeLwKQ.

Wednesday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making nuanced judgments of images. So, go to http://www.uahirise.org/ and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Friday: The good news is the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. The better news is the farther north you go in the United States, the longer the days get. Here in Ellensburg, there is one and a half more hours of daylight than on the first day of winter. In the southern part of the US, there is only 35 more minutes of sunlight. On the North Pole, the day length has gone from zero hours to zero hours in the past month and a half. If you’d like to have your own fun with day lengths and other time questions, go to http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/sunrise.html.


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, January 20, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/23/16

Saturday: Do you hear the wolves howling in the wintertime? Native Americans in the northeast United States did because they called the January full Moon the Full Wolf Moon. At 7 p.m. tonight, the open star cluster called the Beehive Cluster is a half a fist to the left of the Moon.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next three weeks. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This week, the Moon joins them, as well. This morning at 7:15, Jupiter is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon. Mars is three fists above the south horizon. Saturn it two fists above the south-southeast horizon. The bright and reddish star called Antares is one fist to the lower right of Saturn. Venus, the brightest planet, is more than one fist above the southeast horizon. Mercury is a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Venus. Over the next few days, Mercury will move more out of the glare of the Sun and be easier to find in the morning sky.

Monday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 9:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at the lower left-hand corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Tuesday: About a century ago, the search for “Planet X” was motivated by irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. It turned out the “irregularities” were simply errors but the search for Planet X led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Last week, Caltech astronomers published their hypothesis that irregularities in the orbits of some small, icy bodies in the outer Solar System can be explained by the presence of a planet about ten times the mass of Earth. This planet, nicknamed Planet Nine, orbits the Sun about 20 times farther out than Planet Eight, better known as Neptune. Planet Seven, also known as Uranus, is four fists above due southwest at 7 p.m. You’ll need binoculars to see it. It is on the right side of a side of a set of six stars that looks like a wedge. Read or listen to http://goo.gl/HlZPYy to learn more about Planet Nine.

Wednesday: Jupiter is a half a fist above the Moon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Currently, the brightest star in the night sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. It’s two and a half fists above the south horizon at 10:30 p.m. One fist below Sirius is the blue giant star Adhara. Currently it is less than one tenth the brightness of Sirius as seen from Earth. But 4.7 million years ago, Adhara was a lot closer to Earth and shined ten times brighter than Sirius.

Friday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is nearly four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.


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, January 13, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/16/16

Saturday: Who can forget that memorable song by Three Dog Constellations Night, “The sky is black. The stars are white. Together we learn to find the light.” Well, maybe it didn’t go like that. Which is good. Because not all stars are white. Most stars are too dim to notice a color. But, two of the stars in the constellation Orion provide a noticeable contrast with each other. Betelgeuse, five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 10:30 p.m. is a red giant. Rigel, the bright star about two fists to the lower right of Betelgeuse, is a blue giant.
By the way, the three dog constellations are Canis Major, the greater dog, found one and a half fists to the lower left of Orion; Canis Minor, the lesser dog, found two and a half fists to the left of Betelgeuse; and Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs, found low in the northeast sky. Canis Major contains Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next month. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This morning at 7:15, Jupiter is three fists above the southwest horizon. Mars is three fists above the south horizon. Venus, the brightest planet, is more than one fist above the southeast horizon. Saturn is a fist to the upper right of Venus. Mercury is just above the east-southeast horizon. Over the next few days, Mercury will move more out of the glare of the Sun and be easier to find in the morning sky.

Monday: The moon is spending a fun-filled Monday night under seven sisters. I hope it doesn’t get crushed. At 8 p.m., the moon is one fist below the open star cluster called the Pleiades, or the seven sisters. They stay close together the whole night, finally setting at about 3 a.m. tomorrow.

Tuesday: If you don’t want to get up early in the morning, you can still look for Jupiter one and a half fists above the east horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: Have you ever planned a vacation to a place because it was supposedly the up-and-coming locale? Then, when the vacation time finally arrives, you find out the place doesn’t live up to its billing? A little over three years ago, astronomers discovered that the star Tau Ceti, one of our closest neighbors at 12 light years away, has five planets. They claimed two of the planets are in the so-called habitable zone where the temperature is just right for having liquid water. Time for a va-ca-tion! Well, not so fast. A new model indicates that one of the planets is in the habitable zone only is you make very generous assumptions. And the other probably moved into the habitable zone fairly recently. In any case, you’ll want to do some research before you travel there. Tau Ceti is two and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m. For more information about the discovery, go to http://goo.gl/mVdncK.

Thursday: You never see a giraffe on the ground in Ellensburg. But you can look for one every night in the sky. The constellation Camelopardalis the giraffe is circumpolar from Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees north meaning it is always above the horizon. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the stars in Camelopardalis. The brightest star in the constellation appears only about half as bright as the dimmest star in the Big Dipper. However, the actual luminosities of the three brightest stars in Camelopardalis are very high, each at least 3,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alpha Camelopardalis, a mind boggling 600,000 times more luminous than the Sun, is seven fists above the northern horizon at 9 p.m.

Friday: Listen; do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Whoa oh, oh. The Beatles certainly didn’t write this song about the Barringer meteorite crater in Arizona. Astronomers are studying this 50,000-year-old impact to learn more about our planet’s violent history as well as the physics of impacts throughout the solar system. If you’d like to be let in on some of these secrets, go to http://goo.gl/sqbBe.


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, January 6, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/9/16

Saturday: How do you study the life cycle of a dog? Easy. Get a dog from the animal shelter, care for it for 15 years and study it. How do you study the life cycle of a star? Easy. Pick a star, watch it for a few billion years, and…. Wait a minute. Astronomers can’t observe something for a few billion years. Instead, they study stars that are at different points in their long life cycle and piece together the information from those different stars. What they do is like studying a one-year-old dog for a few minutes, then studying a different two-year-old dog for a few minutes, and so on. The sky in and near the constellation Orion provides an example of four objects at different points of star life.
First, find Rigel, the bright star in the lower right corner of the constellation Orion. This star, rapidly burning its fuel for a high energy but short-lived existence, is three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 10 p.m. It was not, is not, and never will be like our Sun. However, about one fist up and to the left are the three objects of Orion’s sword holder. The middle “star” is really a star-forming region called the Orion nebula. There you’ll find baby Suns. Now, look about two fists to the right and one fist down from Rigel. You should be looking at a star that is about one tenth as bright as Rigel but still the brightest in its local region. The third star to the right of that star is Epsilon Eridani, the most Sun-like close and bright star. Betelgeuse, in the upper left corner of Orion, is a star at the end of its life that started out life a bit larger than the Sun.

Sunday: Do you see a hunter when you look at Orion? Betelgeuse and the bright star one fist to the right of it are the broad shoulders of the hunter. Rigel and Saiph, the bright star to the left of Rigel, represent the knees.  The Maya saw the equilateral triangle formed by Rigel, Saiph, and the left-most belt star as the “Three Stones of the Hearth”. The Orion Nebula is in the center of the hearth and it represents the flame, called K’ak.

Monday: Star Wars: The Force Awakens with its strangely shaped light saber is showing in theaters. The awakened force of a star is showing in the Orion B molecular cloud complex. When stars form, gas and dust is gravitationally pulled in and jets of energized gas shoot out its poles. The Hubble Space Telescope has taken images of twin jets that resemble Darth Maul’s double bladed light saber in Star Wars Episode 1. For more information about this star, along with more marginally accurate references to Star Wars, go to http://goo.gl/zOyZYb.

Tuesday: Jupiter is one fist above the east horizon

Wednesday: January is the coldest month of the year so it is time to turn up the furnace. Fornax the furnace is one fist above due south at 7 p.m.

Thursday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky from January 20 to February 20. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. Even now, you can see four of the five naked eye planets. Jupiter is three fists above the southwest horizon. Mars is three fists above the south horizon. Venus, the brightest planet, is more than one fist above the southeast horizon. Saturn is a half a fist to the upper right of Venus. In about a week, Mercury will move out of the glare of the Sun and join it’s fellow planets in the morning sky.

Friday: Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, is two and a half fists above due south at 11:15 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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/2/16

Saturday: If the Sun looks big today, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The Earth is at perihelion at about 3 p.m., Pacific Standard Time. If you dig out your Greek language textbook, you’ll see that peri- means “in close proximity” and helios means “Sun”. So, perihelion is when an object is closest to the Sun in its orbit, about 1.5 million miles closer than its average distance of 93 million miles. Since it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere now, the seasonal temperature changes must not be caused by the Earth getting farther from and closer to the Sun. Otherwise, we’d have summer when the Earth is closest to the Sun. The seasons are caused by the angle of the sunlight hitting the Earth. In the winter, sunlight hits the Earth at a very low angle, an angle far from perpendicular or straight up and down. This means that a given “bundle” of sunlight is spread out over a large area and does not warm the surface as much as the same bundle in the summer. For the Northern Hemisphere, that very low angle occurs in December, January and February.

Sunday: Late tonight and early morning’s weather forecast: showers. Meteor showers, that is. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks late tonight and early tomorrow morning between midnight and dawn. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. That makes this shower mysterious because there isn’t any constellation with this name now. The shower was named after Quadrans Muralis, an obsolete constellation found in some early 19th century star atlases. These meteors appear to come from a point in the modern constellation Draco the dragon. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeast horizon at 1 a.m. This year, the waning crescent moon will not obscure the dimmer meteors. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. Most meteors are associated with the path of a comet. This shower consists of the debris from an asteroid discovered in 2003. Keeping with the comet-origin paradigm, astronomers think the asteroid is actually an “extinct” comet, a comet that lost all of its ice as it passed by the Sun during its many orbits. For more information about the Quadrantid meteor shower, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=4287.

Monday: Jupiter is a half a fist above due east at 11 p.m.

Tuesday: On these cold mornings, it is difficult to get going. You just want to plop into a chair and sit still. But, are you really sitting still? You’re moving at about 700 miles per hour due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis and 66,000 miles per hour due to the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. If that’s not enough, the entire solar system is orbiting the center of the galaxy at a whopping 480,000 miles per hour! So while you may be sitting still with respect to your living room (and all of the over achievers in your house), you are NOT sitting still with respect to the center of the galaxy. For more information about this concept, go to http://goo.gl/lPVPS. Before you barf from all of that motion, go outside at 7 a.m. and observe five Solar System objects. Bright Venus is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon. Saturn is about a half a fist to the lower left of Venus. Mars is three fists above due south. Jupiter is three and a half fists above the southwest horizon. And, of course, I bet you spotted the moon while you were finding the other objects. Speaking of motion, because of Saturn’s rapid rotation, only 10.5 hours, it appears visible flattened.

Wednesday: Has it been tough to wake up this past week? It should have been because the sunrise has been getting a little later since summer started. I know. I know. December 21 was the shortest day of the year. But, because the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is elliptical and not circular, the Earth does not travel at a constant speed. It moves faster when it is closer to the Sun and slower when it is farther away. This leads to the latest sunrise occurring around the first of January and the earliest sunset occurring in early December, not on the first day of winter, the shortest day of the year. On the first day of winter, however, the interval between sunrise and sunset is the shortest. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/SJC5r.

Thursday: A new year leads us to contemplate our future. Let’s take some time to contemplate the Sun’s future. The Sun has spent a few billion years as a stable star fusing hydrogen into helium. Once that easily fusible hydrogen is gone, the Sun’s outer layer will puff up like a hot air balloon, getting larger, cooler, and redder. The star Aldebaran, in the constellation Taurus looks like what our Sun will look like in a few billion years. Read more about Aldebaran and the Sun’s future at https://stardate.org/radio/program/moon-and-aldebaran-25. At 9:30 p.m., Aldebaran is almost exactly 60 degrees, or six fists, above due south.

Friday: Have you ever looked down on the ground and spotted a penny? In Yakima? While you were standing in Ellensburg? If you have, then you may be able to see the star Hamal as more than just a point of light. It has an angular diameter that can be directly measured from Earth. Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries the ram, has the same angular diameter as a penny 37 miles away. (For comparison, the moon is about half the diameter of a penny held at arm’s length.) Hamal is three and a half fists above due west 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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.