Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/17/09

Saturday: 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. This is a little like the morning of October 9 when the NASA satellite crashed into the lunar south pole crater Cabeus. The expected giant plume of dust that would be visible on Earth never materialized. But the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the warmth of the collision in the infrared wavelength band.

Sunday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8:30 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.

Monday: Venus is one fist above the east horizon and Mars is six fists above the south-southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Tuesday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks this tonight into early tomorrow morning. This is not a meteor shower that results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night. The chance of seeing meteors this year is greater than usual because the waxing crescent moon will set early this evening, before the peak viewing time. 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 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. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November.

Wednesday: What time is tea time? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea.

Thursday: In order to celebrate Galilean Nights, a world-wide astronomy outreach event, the CWU Astronomy Club is hosting a star party from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Lind Hall on the NW corner of University Way and Chestnut Street. The evening will start with a presentation about Jupiter and its moons. At 7:30, we’ll go upstairs to the CWU Observatory and view the night sky. Interested participants can participate in the Worldwide Star Count. In honor of you, the participant, we have rewritten an England Dan and John Ford Coley song for the event: “I didn’t know light would be so strong. Waiting and wondering about you. I didn’t know stars would last so long. Galilean Nights are forever without you.”

Friday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above due south at 8 p.m. For more information about Jupiter’s four largest moons, discovered by Galileo, go to

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

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