Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 11/1/08

Today: The Southern Taurid meteor shower reaches a maximum over the next few nights with a peak on November 5. This is not a prominent shower but it averages one or two bright fireballs per hour. 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 about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the 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 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.
Don’t forget to “fall back” tonight. Before you fall back on to your bed, 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. But, 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: Did you look up Williamina Fleming and Harlow Shapley based on last week’s Halloween costume suggestion? Williamina Fleming was the first American woman elected to the Royal Astronomical Society of London. Harlow Shapley was the first astronomer to realize that the Sun is not at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. They make much better, and more realistic, heroes than rock stars and super models.

Monday: Jupiter is about a finger’s width to the upper right of the moon at 6 p.m.

Tuesday: Venus is a half a fist above the southwest horizon at 5:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Tonight’s first quarter moon is in the constellation Capricornus the sea goat. It sets a little after 11 p.m., just in time to look for a few Southern Taurid meteors in the south-southeast sky.

Thursday: What do you and Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi have in common? Probably nothing right now. But after tonight, you may have both seen an asteroid. Piazzi discovered the first asteroid, Ceres. With binoculars, you can easily spot Vesta, the brightest asteroid. Look about three and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 9 p.m. Find Menkar, the nose of Cetus the sea monster, and the brightest star in the vicinity. To the upper right of Menkar is a star that is about half as bright. Continuing to the upper right, you should see a line of dots of similar brightness and much dimmer than Menkar. The middle dot, not quite in line with the other two, is Vesta. To confirm this, look again a couple nights later. Vesta will have moved with respect to the other stars.

Friday: Saturn is four fists above the southeast horizon at 6 a.m.

The positional information in this column about stars and any planet except Mercury is accurate for the entire week.

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