Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/27/10

Saturday: If the National Enquirer was around in Galileo’s day, it may have featured the headline: “Saturn has love handles; Opis leaves him for a much thinner Mars”. When Galileo first observed Saturn through a telescope, he reported objects that looked like bulges on either side of Saturn’s midsection. He was actually seeing Saturn’s rings through less than ideal optics. Go to http://astronomy2009.nasa.gov/observe_mar.htm. for more information about Saturn. Go to two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. to see Saturn.

Sunday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Leo the lion. Because February is typically snowy month, some Native American tribes in the northeastern United States called the full moon in February the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes referred to how the harsh winter conditions affected their food gathering ability by calling the February full moon the Full Hunger Moon.

Monday: Saturn is one fist to the upper left of the Moon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: It’s getting dark. The last remnant of twilight has disappeared. Suddenly, you notice a large softly radiant pyramid of light in the western sky. The base of this ghostly triangle is along the west horizon and the peak stretches two or three fists above the horizon. It is not really a ghost. It is an effect called the zodiacal light. This light comes from sunlight reflecting off dust grains in our solar system. The effect is the most visible when the band of constellations called the zodiac makes a steep angle with the horizon. You need a clear dark sky with no haze or light pollution to see the zodiacal light. At its brightest, the zodiacal light rivals the light of the central Milky Way. Look for this light after twilight in the middle evening for the next few weeks.

Wednesday: How many stars can you see in the constellation Orion? From tonight through March 16, you can help answer that question. The organization called GLOBE at Night is looking for people all over the world to count how many stars they can see in the constellation Orion. Participants use star charts found at http://www.globeatnight.org/ to observe Orion and compare what they see to the charts. After making the observations, participants can go to the website and add their findings to those of thousands of other observers. The main goal of GLOBE at Night is to research the pattern of light pollution across the globe. A secondary goal is to increase interest in observing and awareness of the night sky. You can find Orion four fists above the southwest horizon at 9 p.m. In Orion, you’ll see four of the 30 brightest stars in the night sky: Rigel, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and Alnilam.

Thursday: Tonight, the Central Washington University Astronomy Club will be putting on three planetarium shows at the Mary Grupe Center on the CWU campus. During the 45 minute shows, starting at 7, 8, and 9 p.m., the astronomy club will provide an overview of what’s up in the sky as well as share constellation myths from a number of cultures. The Grupe Center is on coordinate G-12 on the CWU map at www.cwu.edu/newmap.html.

Friday: Mars is six and a half fists above due south at 9:30 p.m.

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

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