Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 11/22/08

Today: The Nature of Night takes place today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Black Hall on the CWU campus. There will be planetarium shows, fun nighttime projects, storytelling, cookies and much more. The event is free. The Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education at CWU and various community sponsors work together to put on this event. If you go, ask about Venus. It is nearly a fist above the southwest horizon at 5:30 p.m. You can even see it in the daytime sky if you know where to look. At 2:47 p.m., Venus is nearly two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south. Use binoculars to scan about two or three binocular fields of view up from due south.

Sunday: Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, is one fist above the southwest horizon at 6 a.m.

Monday: Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, is a half a fist above the Moon at 6 a.m.

Tuesday: Saturn is four and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 6 a.m.

Wednesday: Jupiter is one fist above the southwest horizon at 6 p.m.

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: 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, is the only Sun-like star 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.

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

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