Friday, May 28, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 5/29/10

Saturday: Jupiter is two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon at 4:30 a.m. It will be easy to find since it is the brightest object in that portion of the sky. Uranus typically is not so easy to find. But for the next few mornings, Uranus will be about a pinky width to the left of Jupiter and be easy to spot with binoculars. It will look like a pale blue star compared to Jupiter.

Sunday: There are so many bright planets visible in the early evening sky, they deserve a tribute song. Since the movie “Grease” is being re-released this summer, how about this song sung to the tune of “Sandra Dee”: “Look at me, I’m evening sky. Lousy with planets moving by. Won’t go to bed ‘til my planet needs are fed. I can’t, I’m evening sky.” Those planet needs can be fed at 10 p.m. when Venus is one fist above the west-northwest horizon, Mars is three and a half fists above the west-southwest horizon and Saturn is four fists above the southwest horizon.

Monday: “Hey baby! What’s your sign?”
“Ophiuchus, of course”
The Sun is in the same part of the sky as the stars of Ophiuchus from about November 29 to December 17. This is what astrologers mean when they say the Sun is “in” a constellation. Thus, if you were born between these dates, you should be an Ophiuchus. The fact that the horoscopes never list Ophiuchus is a major flaw of astrology. Astrology says that some of our characteristics are based on the location of the Sun at our birth. How can astrologers leave out three weeks from their system? That is like a scientist saying she can explain the results of her experiment every month of the year except early December. Ophiuchus was a mythical healer who was a forerunner to Hippocrates. According to myth, he could raise people from the dead. Maybe that is why he is ignored by astrology. Raising people from the dead is much less impressive than giving highly personal advice such as “Today is a good day to be careful in love.”
Rasalhague (pronounced Ras’-al-hay’-gwee), the brightest star in Ophiuchus, is four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Its name comes from the Arabic words for “head of the serpent charmer” or Ras Alhauge. The rest of Ophiuchus spreads out down and to the right of Rasalhague.

Tuesday: The month of June is named after Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and the mythological protector of the Roman state. In ancient Rome, the month began when the crescent moon was first seen in the evening sky from Capitoline Hill in Rome. If we still started months this way, June wouldn’t begin until about two weeks from now.

Wednesday: Although Venus is brighter, Arcturus is probably the first star you’ll see tonight. It is nearly six fists above the southeast horizon at 9:15 p.m.

Thursday: Nearly 400 years ago, Galileo viewed the Pleiades star cluster through his telescope and saw that the seven or so stars in the region visible to the naked eye became a couple dozen. Now we know there are about 100 stars in this open star cluster. There are two main types of star clusters. Open star clusters are groups of a few dozen to a few thousand stars that formed from the same cloud of gas and dust within our galaxy. Stars in open star clusters are young as far as stars go. The stars in the Pleiades are about 100 million years old, much younger than our five billion year old Sun. Globular clusters are groups of up to a few million stars that orbit the core of spiral galaxies such as our own Milky Way. June’s “Hot Topic” for astronomy is star clusters. Go to for more information.

Friday: One of the most well known star clusters is the globular cluster in Hercules, an object that is fairly easy to find with binoculars. First find Vega, the bright bluish star five fists above the east horizon at 11 p.m. Two fists above Vega is a keystone shape. Aim your binoculars at the upper left hand star of the keystone. The globular cluster is one third of the way to the rightmost star of the keystone. It looks like a fuzzy patch on the obtuse angle of a small obtuse triangle. If you don’t know what an obtuse angle is, you should not have told your teacher, “I’ll never need to know this stuff”. Go to for more information about the Hercules globular cluster.

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

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