Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/13/10

Saturday: Don't forget to set you clocks ahead one hour tonight for the annual ritual called daylight savings. Daylight savings originated in the United States during World War I to save energy for the war effort. But a recent study by two economists shows that switching to daylight savings time may actually lead to higher utility bills. When the economists compared the last three years of energy bills in the section of Indiana that just started observing daylight savings, they discovered that switching to daylight savings cost Indiana utility customers $8.6 million in electricity. In an even more important consequence of daylight savings, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia discovered a 7% jump in traffic accidents on the Monday after we "spring ahead". Blame it on the lost hour of sleep. And, sky watchers lose even more sleep because the sky does not get dark for an additional hour.

Sunday: Mars is six and a half fists above the south horizon at 10 p.m.

Monday: 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.

Tuesday: Venus is about as half a fist to the left of the young crescent Moon at 8 p.m. They are both less than a half a fist above the west horizon.

Wednesday: Ask someone on which day in March the day becomes longer than the night. Go ahead, ask someone. Why are you still reading this? I can wait. If they said the first or second day of spring, they are wrong. Today, three days before the first day of spring, is the day in which there are more minutes of daylight than night. There are two main reasons for this. First, the atmosphere acts like a lens, bending light from the Sun above the horizon when the Sun is below the horizon. Thus, the Sun appears to rise before it actually rises and it appears to set after is actually sets. Second, spring starts when the center of the Sun passes through the point called the vernal equinox. But, the Sun is not a point. The upper edge of the Sun rises about a minute before the center of the Sun and the lower edge sets a minute after the center of the Sun. Thus, even if we didn’t have an atmosphere that bends the sunlight, daytime on the first day of spring would still be longer than 12 hours.

Thursday: So far this week, I have written about Mars and Venus. Do you even care about these planets or does another planet really catch your fancy? If you’d like to know what most people’s favorite planet is, go to and click on “Launch Interactive”. The public TV special called “The Pluto Files” has set up a website in which astronomers give a 30-second pitch for why a certain planet might be their favorite. After listening to the pitch, you may vote for your favorite planet. Of course, you may also do what most people do for political elections: vote for the candidate with the best name or the one with the most interesting campaign slogan. So whether you carefully consider each planet or simply “Swoon for Neptune”, go to “The Pluto Files” and vote. Saturn will be holding a campaign rally tonight at 11 p.m., three and a half fists above the southeast horizon.

Friday: The bright star Arcturus is three fists above due east at 11 p.m.

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

1 comment:

Ann-Michelle said...

Here is a letter for you about a favorite planet: