Friday, September 11, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 9/12/09

Saturday: You can use the position of the Big Dipper as a clock. During the late evening in the autumn, the Big Dipper cup is facing up to hold water. During the late evening in the spring, the Big Dipper cup is facing down to produce those spring showers. The water-holding Big Dipper is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the north horizon at 11 p.m.

Sunday: This morning, the Moon starts a week of close encounters in the morning sky. At 6 a.m., Mars is a finger width below the Moon. They are even closer in the sky as viewed from Greenland and Lapland. (Yes, Lapland – look it up.) Residents there will see the Moon block, or occult, Mars. Of course, you have to hang out close together up there because it can be so cold.

Monday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Look out moon! Don’t get stung. The Beehive Cluster, an open star cluster in the constellation Cancer the crab, is about a finger’s width to the upper left of the Moon. They are two fists above the east horizon at 5 a.m.

Wednesday: After surviving a bee scare yesterday morning, this morning the Moon gets close to something far more vexing yet potentially magnificent - a goddess. Venus, the Roman goddess of love, is about a finger’s width to the left of the Moon at 6 a.m.

Thursday: Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Saturn is in conjunction with the Sun today. That does not mean Saturn and the Sun are connected with an “and”. It means that Saturn AND the Sun share the same sky longitude, called Right Ascension. (I guess they are connected with an “and”.) Today Saturn is behind the Sun as viewed from Earth but a little bit above the Sun. That means if someone could turn off the Sun light at 11:00 a.m., you would be able to see Saturn about a finger width above the Sun. Thus, Saturn is impossible to see in backyard telescopes. It will not be easily visible until late next month.

Friday: Tonight’s Moon is new. Don’t bother looking for it. The new moon is the phase where the Moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun. Hence the side of the Moon facing Earth is not receiving any sunlight and cannot be seen. Even there was a giant, well-lit base on the Moon; you still could not see it. The new Moon is nearly in line with the Sun so the glare and illuminated blue sky would overwhelm the hypothetical moon base light.

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

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