Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 10/10/09

Saturday: Halley's Comet returns this month! In the form of little pieces of its tail, that is. The Orionid meteor shower consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Sunday: This morning’s last quarter Moon is in the constellation Gemini the twins.

Monday: Venus and Saturn are right next to each other in the sky for the next few mornings. This morning, the very bright Venus is at the top of a tiny triangle with Saturn less than a pinky width to the lower left and the star Zavijava less than a pinky width to the lower right. The bending of light from Zavijava by the Sun provided early experimental evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Einstein predicted that objects such as the Sun were so massive that they could noticeably bend light from a star. During a total solar eclipse in 1922, Zavijava was almost directly behind the Sun such that bits light would have to pass near the Sun on its way to the Earth. Astronomers measured its position on that day to be slightly different from its position on star charts meaning its light had been slightly deflected by the Sun. This morning the triangle is a fist above the east horizon at 6:30 a.m. Mercury is about a fist below them.

Tuesday: The southernmost bright star visible from Ellensburg, Fomalhaut (pronounced Fo'-mal-ought) is one fist above the south horizon at 10 p.m. Fomalhaut is the brightest star in the constellation Pisces Austrinus, the southern fish. This fish is said to be the parent of Pisces, the two zodiacal fish. The parent fish must have moved south to get away from the cold weather.

Wednesday: Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, is about a half a fist above the Moon at 6:30 a.m.

Thursday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the south horizon at 9 p.m.

Friday: Mars is six fists above the south-southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

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

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