Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/7/09

Saturday: Don't forget to set you clocks ahead one hour tonight for the annual ritual called daylight savings. Daylight savings originated in the United States during World War I to save energy for the war effort. But a recent study by two economists shows that switching to daylight savings time may actually lead to higher utility bills. When the economists compared the last three years of energy bills in the section of Indiana that just started observing daylight savings, they discovered that switching to daylight savings cost Indiana utility customers $8.6 million in electricity. In an even more important consequence of daylight savings, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia discovered a 7% jump in traffic accidents on the Monday after we "spring ahead". Blame it on the lost hour of sleep. And, sky watchers lose even more sleep because the sky does not get dark for an additional hour.

Sunday: Tonight is one of the best nights of the year to observe Saturn because it is at opposition. That doesn’t mean that Saturn is now a teenager. Opposition means that Saturn is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun. In this case, Saturn is also at its biggest and brightest of the year. When an object is in opposition, it is at its highest point in the sky during the darkest time of the day. Saturn is about four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south southeast horizon at midnight.

Monday: Tonight, the Moon is between two bright objects in the sky. Regulus is about a fist to the upper right of the Moon and Saturn is about a fist to the lower left. Look for them in the southeast sky at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Leo the lion. While we may refer to the moon tonight by the boring title, “a full moon in March”, Native Americans in the eastern United States called this moon the Full Worm Moon. By March, the temperature has increased enough so the ground starts to thaw and earthworms make their first appearance. Earthworms attract birds. Northern tribes thought of the bird connection when they referred to the March full moon as the Full Crow Moon. Tribes in parts of the country with maple trees call this full moon the Full Sap Moon For more full moon names, go to

Wednesday: Venus is about a fist and a half above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Thursday: Jupiter is less than a fist above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Friday: Today’s sunrise is at 7:14 Pacific Daylight Time. Enjoy the sunrises while you can because you have only 7.6 billion more years of them. As the Sun ages, it slowly expands. The latest estimate is that the outer layer of the Sun will have expanded out to the Earth’s orbital path in 7.6 billion years. Of course, long before then – perhaps about a billion years from now – the Sun would have expanded enough to boil off all of the Earth’s water and burn off the atmosphere making Earth an unpleasant place to watch the next 6.6 billion years of sunrises. Isn’t that a happy thought for this Friday the 13th?

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week.

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