Friday, February 12, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/13/10

Saturday: According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came the great warrior Perseus, fresh off his defeat of the evil Gorgon, Medusa. The only similarity between Andromeda and Medusa was that Andromeda caused people to stand still and stares at her beauty while Medusa turned people to stone because of her ugliness. (And, you thought you looked bad in the morning.) Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monsters neck and killed it. In a little known addendum to the story, Perseus carved “Percy (heart symbol) Andi” in the rock, thus originating the use of the heart symbol as a substitute for the word “love”.
You can find these lovers in the sky this Valentine’s Day. Just remember it is rude stare – and you never know when you might turn to stone. First, find the Great Square of Pegasus at 7 p.m. between one and a half and three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon. The lowest star in Andromeda is the top star in the square. This represents Andromeda’s head. Perseus is at her feet, nearly straight overhead. Mirphak, the brightest star in Perseus is about eight fists above the west horizon. Perseus’ body is represented by the line of stars to the left and right of Mirphak.

Sunday: Give your sweetheart a ring for Valentine’s Day. No, no, no. Don’t break the bank. Show your sweetheart Saturn, the ringed planet. It is nearly three fists above the southeast horizon at 11:30 p.m.

Monday: Catch a glimpse of a Moon sliver this evening. The Moon will resemble a thin bowl pointing away from the Sun one fist above the southwest horizon at 6:30 p.m. You may notice that the entire Moon appears to be dimly lit. The bright crescent portion is sunlight that has bounced (reflected) off the Moon. The dim light of the rest of the Moon comes from sunlight which has bounced off the Earth and then off the Moon before reaching your eye back on Earth. This light is called earthshine.

Tuesday: The calendar may say February, but the late night sky is starting to say “summer triangle”. Vega, the brightest star in the summer triangle rises at 10:30 p.m. By midnight, it is a little less than one fist above the northeast horizon. The Summer Triangle is a set of three stars that is visible high throughout most of the night in the summer sky.

Wednesday: Vesta, the second most massive asteroid in the main asteroid belt, is at opposition tonight. This means Vesta is at its brightest and closest point to the Earth in this orbital cycle. Even thought Vesta is the brightest asteroid, you’ll still need binoculars to see it. First find Regulus, the brightest star in Leo and the bottom of the backwards question mark that represents Leo’s head. It is five fists above the southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m. Algieba, the second brightest star in the region, is about a fist to the upper left of Leo. Put Algieba in the middle of your binocular field of view. Vesta will be a little to the right of the middle. Look to this portion of the sky for the next few nights. Vesta will be the point of light than moves from night to night. For more information about finding Vesta, go to

Thursday: “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday dear Pluto. Happy Birthday to you.” Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, the solar system object formerly known as a planet, on this day in 1930.

Friday: Mars is six fists above the southeast horizon at 9 p.m.

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

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