Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/27/10

Saturday: Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may be looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20 mile long run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 9 p.m. Hopefully there won’t be as much light pollution as usual because this is in the middle of Earth Hour. Earth Hour, which goes from 8:30-9:30 p.m. local time, is the World Wildlife Fund's global program where individuals and organizations turn off unnecessary lights for one hour to support climate change initiatives.

Sunday: Saturn is about a fist to the left of the moon at 10 p.m. They are three fists above the southeast horizon.

Monday: While we may refer to the moon tonight by the boring title, “a full moon in March”, Native Americans in the eastern United States called this moon the Full Worm Moon. By March, the temperature has increased enough so the ground starts to thaw and earthworms make their first appearance. Earthworms attract birds. Northern tribes thought of the bird connection when they referred to the March full moon as the Full Crow Moon. Tribes in parts of the country with maple trees call this full moon the Full Sap Moon For more full moon names, go to

Tuesday: Venus is a half a fist above the west horizon at 8:30 p.m. A much dimmer Mercury is a finger width to the lower right of Venus.

Wednesday: Orion is getting lower and lower in the nighttime sky. Its brightest star Rigel is only two fists above the southwest horizon at 9 p.m.

Thursday: After a long journey through space, there is nothing will quench your thirst better than a few drops of refreshing Mars water. Wait! Is this an April Fool’s Day joke? No. After analyzing photos taken by the Mars Phoenix Lander, a group of astronomers discovered drops of very salty liquid water on one of the Lander’s legs. Because Mars is so cold and has such a thin atmosphere, astronomers thought water could exist in solid and vapor form only. But, temperature fluctuations in the Mars polar region and the saltiness of the soil where Phoenix landed probably created a pocket of water too salty to freeze. Salt water freezes at a lower temperature than fresh water, no matter what planet it is found on. Scientists think that ice was melted by the Lander’s exhaust and splashed on the leg at impact. Furthermore, some of the muddy, salty water drops seem to have grown by absorbing water vapor from the atmosphere. This is similar to how water droplets form and grow on the outside of a cool glass. Look for Mars and those refreshing drops of water six fists above the southwest horizon at 10 p.m. For more information about liquid water on Mars, go to

Friday: Give me a “W”. Cassiopeia, a W-shaped group of stars is two fists above the north horizon at midnight.

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

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