Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 12/6/08

Saturday: The earliest sunset of the year occurs this week. The Sun is at its southernmost point with respect to the background stars on the day of the winter solstice. This means the Sun spends the least amount of time above the horizon on that day. But, the Sun rise and set time depends on more than its apparent vertical motion. It also depends on where the Sun is on the analemma, that skinny figure-8 you see on globes and world maps. During the second week in December, the Sun is not quite to the bottom of the analemma. But, it is on the first part of the analemma to go below the horizon.

Sunday: “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 highly personal 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 one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Monday: Venus is about a fist above the southwest horizon at 6 p.m. Jupiter, about one fifth as bright, is less than half a fist to the lower right of Venus.

Tuesday: Saturn rises at about midnight. By 6 am, it is nearly five fists above due south.

Wednesday: At about 11 p.m., the Moon occults the Pleiades. That means the Moon passes between the open star cluster called the Pleiades and the Earth, blocking the light of the Pleiades from reaching Earth. They are six and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon when this happens.

Thursday: Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, is one fist above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Friday: In 1981, the well known astronomy rock group Blondie released The Tide is High in two versions: the radio version and the astronomy version. In the astronomy version, Debbie Harry sang: “The tide is high ‘cause the moon is full. Higher still when the moon’s close, Will.” (Will must be Debbie’s sky watching partner.) The full moon is the phase where the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. That means the moon and Sun are both stretching the Earth in the same direction causing the ocean water in line with the Sun and moon to be pulled upward. The highest high tides occur when the moon is full or new. In addition, the moon is at perigee this evening. Peri- means close and –gee refers to the Earth so this is the day of the month when the moon is closest to the Earth. This accentuates the upward pull on the water and makes the tides really high.

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

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