Friday, August 14, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 8/22/09

Saturday: Orion's the hunter. Searching for love in these lonely skies again. (Apologies to my favorite 1980s heavy metal band, Dokken.) Orion is such a prominent constellation, there are many myths about him. Nearly all involve him getting killed. In one myth, he is accidentally killed by his girlfriend Diana, the goddess of the moon and of hunting. She felt so guilty that she repaid her debt by pulling him across the sky each night in her moon chariot. In another myth, Orion is killed by the bite of Scorpius, the scorpion. Obviously, Orion wants to avoid Scorpius in the night sky so he does not get bit again. That is one story of why Orion sets just as Scorpius rises.
Notice that both of these stories have an element of truth. Orion really does cross the sky each night. Orion really does set as Scorpius rises. Many people think a myth is simply a fake story. Instead, a myth is a story used to communicate a message. Myths always have some truth in them. Try to create your own myth about Orion as you see it about two to two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon at 5 a.m. The bright reddish star two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon is Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The bright bluish star two fists above the southeast horizon is Rigel.

Sunday: 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. Today, Mercury is as far away from the Sun as it will get on the evening half of this cycle. This is known as its greatest eastern elongation. Yet, this distance does not translate into good viewing because Mercury will be very low in the sky. Mercury is less than a half a fist above the west horizon at 8:30 p.m. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will move toward the Sun in the sky. After it passes in front of the Sun, it will appear in the morning sky by late September.

Monday: Jupiter is two fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Pegasus, the winged horse flies across the sky tonight. The horse’s body, represented by a large diamond is between three and five fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: Venus is one and a half fists and Mars is about four fists above the east horizon at 5 a.m. Venus is a little bit north of east and Venus is a little bit south of east.

Thursday: Tonight’s first quarter Moon is in the constellation Scorpius. The bright star Antares is less than a half a fist to the right of the Moon at 10 p.m. In the southern United States, the Moon will pass between the Earth and Antares and block, or occult, Antares.

Friday: Vega, the third brightest star visible from Ellensburg, is nearly straight overhead at 9 p.m.

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

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