Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 11/28/09

Saturday: As Lawrence Welk used to say, “wonderful, wonderful”. It is too bad Mr. Welk isn’t around to introduce us to the star Mira, Latin for “the Wonderful”. Mira is a star that undergoes a huge variation in brightness. At its brightest, it is about 600 times brighter than at its dimmest. For the next week, Mira is near its maximum brightness. Look three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon and two fists below the Moon at 8 p.m. Mira will be the brightest star in that region of the sky, dominated by Mira’s constellation, Cetus the sea monster. At its dimmest, it is not even visible through binoculars. David Fabricius first noted Mira’s variability in 1596 making it the first periodic variable star, other than cataclysmic variables such as novae and supernovae, to be discovered.

Sunday: Have you been shopping all weekend? Do you need an evening sky break? You deserve a big reward so make it a double. A Double Cluster, that is. The Double Cluster, also known as h and Chi Persei, consists of two young open star clusters in the constellation Perseus. Of course, young is a relative term as these clusters are about 13 million years old. Each cluster is spread out over an area about the same size as the full moon. To the naked eye, the Double Cluster shines with a steady, fuzzy glow. Binoculars resolve dozens of individual stars in the clusters. The Double Cluster is six and a half fists above the northeast horizon at 7 p.m., about a fist below the sideways “W” of Cassiopeia.

Monday: Do you like to look in a nursery and say “it’s a boy” or “it’s a girl”? Not me. I say, “it’s a star”. Of course, I like looking into a stellar nursery – a star forming region such as the Orion Nebula in the middle of Orion’s sword holder. The Orion Nebula looks like a fuzzy patch to the naked eye. Binoculars reveal a nebula, or region of gas and dust, that is 30 light years across. The center of the nebula contains four hot “baby” stars called the Trapezium. These hot stars emit the ultraviolet radiation that causes the Nebula’s gas to glow. The Orion Nebula is three fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. For more information about the Orion Nebula, go to http://astronomy2009.nasa.gov/observe.htm and click on December. It is the last “Go Observe” for 2009, the International Year of Astronomy.

Tuesday: Jupiter is about two and a half fists above the south horizon at 6 p.m. So is Neptune. And, thanks to Jupiter and a well-placed line of stars, it is easier to find with binoculars than usual. Place Jupiter in the lower right hand portion of your binocular field of view. There will be a diagonal line of three stars near the middle of the field of view. The upper right star should be the brightest. Neptune is to the upper left of this line of three stars.

Wednesday: December does not seem to be the month to enjoy a full cold drink. But it is the month to enjoy the Full Cold Moon. This is one of the names some Native American tribes have given the December full moon. Another nickname, long night moon is appropriate for two reasons. First, winter nights are much longer than summer nights. Second, the wintertime full moon is above the horizon a much longer time than a summertime full moon. That is because a full moon is our all night, regardless of season. So the season with the longer nights will be the season with full moons that are out longer.

Thursday: Mars is one and a half fists above the east horizon at 11 p.m.

Friday: Saturn is a little over four fists above the south horizon at 6:30 a.m.

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


Ted said...

Thanks for the posts. I really appreciate your measuring in "fists" above the horizon. I find that really helpful and a practical way to measure.
I am a proponent of
telescope binoculars instead of telescopes, since I think their ease in set up can't be beat. And better a binocular that is used for astronomy, than a telescope that sits in the closet.

Bruce Palmquist said...

Using even a pair of more typical 10X50 binoculars is better that having a big telescope that you don't use.