Friday, June 5, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 6/6/09

Saturday: Every night’s “rival of Mars” is in the constellation Scorpius. Antares, which means “rival of Mars,” is the brightest star in Scorpius. Perhaps tonight it should be called “Ant-Luna” because it is attempting to rival the moon tonight. At 10 p.m., Antares is less than a finger’s width to the upper right of the moon. They remain close throughout the night. In the southern and eastern parts of the United States, the moon occults Antares. An occultation occurs when one object passes in front of, or blocks, another object.

Sunday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Ophiuchus the serpent bearer. This month, Ophiuchus may be thinking of bearing some strawberries instead. Some Native American tribes call the June full moon the strawberry moon to honor (or remember) the short strawberry harvesting season. A more descriptive name this year is the Short Moon because this is the full above the horizon for the least amount of time this year – only eight hours. Summer full moons are always above the horizon less than winter full moons. Since the full moon is on the complete opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, the full moon is going to be in the sky whenever the Sun is not in the sky, namely the entire night. During the summer, the nights are shorter so the full moons time above the horizon will also be shorter.

Monday: Venus is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above due east at 4:30 a.m.

Tuesday: Saturn is three and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: Mizar is a well known binary star in the constellation Ursa Major. You can find it at the bend in the Big Dipper handle, nearly straight overhead at 10 p.m. tonight. Its name is Arabic for waistband. Mizar has an optical double called Alcor which is less than a pinky width away and can easily be seen with the naked eye. Optical doubles are stars that are close together in the sky but do not orbit a common center of mass as true binary stars. Not wanting to deceive sky gazers who call Mizar a binary star, two stars that DO orbit a common center of mass, Mizar actually is a binary. It was the first binary star system discovered by telescope. Mizar A and Mizar B are about 400 astronomical units apart from each other and about 80 light years from Earth. 400 astronomical units is about 10 times the distance between the Sun and Pluto.

Thursday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 4 a.m.

Friday: Hit the road Mercury. And don’t you come back no more, no more. For a few weeks, Mercury has been hitting the road and moving away from the Sun in the sky. This morning, Mercury is as far away from the Sun as it will get this cycle. This is known as its greatest western elongation. Mercury is just above the east-northeast horizon at 4:30 this morning. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will move toward the Sun in the sky. After it passes behind the Sun, it will appear in the evening sky by late July.

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

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