Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/7/09

Saturday: Are you scared of snakes? Then don’t look due east at 6:30 p.m. The pentagon-shaped head of Hydra the water snack is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon. And, this is no ordinary water snake. It is the largest constellation in the sky, more than twice the size of Orion. Hydra’s tail does not rice until after midnight.

Sunday: Tonight and tomorrow morning’s full moon is in the constellation Leo the lion. Because February is typically the snowiest month, some Native American tribes in the northeastern United States called the full moon in February the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes referred to how the harsh winter conditions affected their food gathering ability by calling the February full moon the Full Hunger Moon. The name Full Hunger Moon is especially appropriate this month because Leo the lion seems to be stalking the moon throughout the night to hunt it down for food.

Monday: Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the lion is about a thumb width to the left of the Moon at 7 p.m. They are both low on the eastern horizon.

Tuesday: Hydra is not the only long, squiggly constellation in the sky. Draco the dragon wraps around the cup of the little dipper. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 7:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at one corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco. Eridanus the river starts next to Rigel, the bright star in the lower right corner of Orion, and meanders down below the south horizon. Rigel is three and a half fists above due south at 7:30 p.m. That means at 7:30 tonight, there are long, squiggly constellations in the lower northern, southern and eastern sky.

Wednesday: Saturn is less than a fist above the Moon at 6 a.m. They are about two fists above the west-southwest horizon.

Thursday: In the past decade or so, astronomers have discovered 339 planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. All of these exoplanets, as they are called, have been much larger than Earth, gas giants like Jupiter or Neptune. However, last week European scientists using the COROT telescope discovered a planet with a diameter less than twice that of Earth orbiting a Sun-like star. Before you pack your bags, please realize that this planet is so close to its star that it has an estimated surface temperature of greater than 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. It orbits a dim star in the constellation Monoceros the unicorn in the middle of the triangle formed by the stars Betelgeuse, Sirius, and Procyon. This star, too dim to be visible even with binoculars, is four fists above due south at 9 p.m. For more information, go to

Friday: Mercury is less than a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will get higher and higher in the morning sky.

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

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