Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the night of 5/2/09

Saturday: The Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) invites you to “Get Intimate with the Shrub Steppe” (GISS) at Helen McCabe Park this morning and early afternoon. The CWU Astronomy club will have opportunities for safe solar viewing as well as information about the sky. Go to for more information about the entire event. I invite you to Get Intimate with Super Spectacular Saturn (GISSS) tonight. Saturn is five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 10 p.m. With a small telescope, you can see the rings of Saturn and at least one of its moons – Titan. With a good pair of 10X50 binoculars and a tripod, Titan will be visible. The “10X” in 10X50 indicated the binoculars have a magnification of ten times. The “50” means that the diameter of the lenses on the front are 50 millimeters. 10X50 is a common size for binoculars.

Sunday: Wake up early this morning for a nice spring shower – a meteor shower. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks just before dawn on Wednesday morning. But since this meteor shower has a fairly broad peak range, there will be many more meteors than in the typical pre-dawn sky for the next week. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius near the star Eta. This point is about one fist above the east horizon at 4 a.m. Although dawn is starting to light the sky, you could be rewarded with as many as 30 meteors per hour. As an added bonus, the Eta Aquarid meteors are bright and fast – slamming into the Earth at about 40 miles per second. They often leave a long trail. The Eta Aquarid meteors are small rocks that have broken off Halley’s Comet.

Monday: Go shopping tonight (in Ellensburg, of course) with Mercury, the Roman god of commerce. The planet Mercury is less than a half a fist above the west horizon at 9:15 p.m. Because Mercury rarely gets more than two fists from the Sun in the sky, it is often obscured by the Sun’s glare. Within a few days, it will be too late to spot it in the evening sky.

Tuesday: Are you a henpecked husband? King Cepheus was. He was so captivated by his wife Cassiopeia’s beauty that he let her rule their home. You can tell who is boss by looking in the northern sky at 10 p.m. Cassiopeia is the prominent W-shaped grouping of stars two fists above the north horizon. Cepheus is the much dimmer house-shaped grouping of stars about a fist to the right of Cassiopeia.

Wednesday: The bright star Spica is a little more than a finger’s width to the upper left of the Moon at 10 p.m.

Thursday: Do people think you have a magnetic personality? The star Cor Caroli understands how you feel. Cor Caroli has one of the strongest magnetic fields among main sequence stars similar to our Sun. This strong magnetic field is thought to produce large sunspots that cause the brightness of Cor Caroli to vary. Cor Caroli is nearly straight overhead at 10:30 p.m.

Friday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Libra the scales. Since this is the time for “May flowers”, this full moon is called the Full Flower Moon.

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

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