Friday, August 14, 2009

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

Saturday: If the 1970s group The Knack were bigger fans of astronomy, they may have sang: “Oo, my little pretty one, pretty one. When you gonna give me some time, Corona?” The constellation Corona Borealis is a pretty one. Depending on what source you read, the myth associated with the constellation can be happy or sad. Bacchus, Roman god of wine, presented his bride, Ariadne, with a golden crown set with seven diamonds. Some sources say Bacchus tossed the crown in the air out of joy when he married Ariadne. Other sources say he threw the crown into the sky after Ariadne died because it reminded him of her. In either case, his friends among the gods thought the crown was beautiful and hung it in the sky to show it off. You can see if you agree with the Roman gods by looking for Corona Borealis tonight. Seven stars represent the seven diamonds. Look about five and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon or two fists above the bright star Arcturus at 11 p.m. The seven stars form a bowl.

Sunday: Saturn is just about to be obscured by the light of the setting Sun. It is less than a half a fist above the west horizon at 9:15 p.m. Within a few nights, you will not be able to see it. By early October, Saturn will be visible in the morning sky just before sunrise. But, you still have an evening planet to enjoy. Jupiter is a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon at this time.

Monday: Deneb is about seven fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m. When you look at Deneb, you are seeing light that left Deneb about 1,800 years ago.

Tuesday: The Perseid meteor shower peaks late tonight and early tomorrow morning. The meteors appear to come from a point just below the W of the constellation Cassiopeia. This point is about two and a half fists above the northeast horizon at 11 p.m. By 4 a.m., the peak time, this point is about seven fists above the northeast horizon. If you fall asleep or forget to set your alarm, you will be able to observe this shower from midnight to dawn for a few days before and after tonight in about the same location in the sky. The Perseid shower is one of the longest lasting showers. You may be able to see up to 20 meteors per hour in the late night and early morning hours all week. However, the light of the waning gibbous Moon will obscure the dim meteors. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. These meteors are sand to pea-sized bits of rock that fell off of Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are traveling about 40 miles per second as they collide with the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. For more tips about meteor watching, go to

Wednesday: Rise and shine and look at the planets at 5 a.m.! Venus, the brightest point of light in the sky, is two fists above the east horizon, a little bit north of east. Mars is three and a half fists above the east horizon, a little bit south of east.

Thursday: This morning’s last quarter Moon is in the constellation Aries the ram.

Friday: Many big city dwellers never see the milky white, nearly continuous band of stars known as the Milky Way. As cities grow and add more lights, it has become harder to see the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy, our home in the universe. But, there are two easy ways to see the Milky Way. The first way is to look in the mirror. You are part of the Milky Way. The second way is to look from due north through the point straight overhead (called the zenith) to due south from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the next two weeks. This is the time of year when the Milky Way is highest in the sky and away from the city lights on the horizon.

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

No comments: