Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/17/10

Saturday: Being in a coma is a bad thing. Looking at the Coma Star Cluster is a good thing. The Coma Star Cluster is an open cluster of about 50 stars that takes up more space in the sky than 10 full Moons. It looks like a fuzzy patch with the naked eye. Binoculars reveal dozens of sparkling stars. A telescope actually diminishes from the spectacle because the cluster is so big and the telescope’s field of view is so small. The Coma Star Cluster is in the faint constellation Coma Berenices (ba-ron-ice’-ez) or Queen Berenice’s hair. Queen Berenice of Egypt cut off her beautiful hair as a sacrifice to the gods for the safe return of her husband Ptolemy III from battle. The Coma Star Cluster is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 10:30 p.m.

Sunday: There is a small herd of planets moving along the ecliptic low in the western sky tonight. The what? You know, the west. The direction where the Sun sets. Oh wait. You know that word. The word “ecliptic” is the new word for you. The ecliptic is the apparent path that the Sun takes through the background stars. Since the planets orbit the Sun, they can also be found along the ecliptic. Look at 10 p.m. Venus is a half a fist above the west horizon, a little bit north of west. Mars is a fist above the west horizon, a little bit south of west. Finally, Saturn is a fist and a half above the west-southwest horizon.

Monday: Take a two and a half hour walk. Too long, you say? Forty-one years ago tomorrow, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first ever walk by humans on another world. They spend two and a half hours setting up scientific instruments and collecting rocks for study back on Earth. Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the spacecraft the three astronauts would use to return to Earth.

Tuesday: What are you going to do tonight? Certainly not watch the junk on TV. Clean the garage? Yeah, like that’s going to happen. No, you want to go to the astronomy celebration at Lind Hall on the Central Washington University campus from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m. The evening starts in Lind Hall, room 215 with a brief astronomy lecture. At 9:30, we’ll start observing a variety of celestial objects. Dress warm and be ready to be edutained.

Wednesday: If you want to show your loved ones a celestial sign that they should hang up their clothes, show them Brocchi's Cluster, commonly known as the Coat Hanger cluster because of its resemblance to an upside down coat hanger. The cluster is six fists above the southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m., midway between Altair and Vega, the two brightest stars in the Summer Triangle. You'll need binoculars to make out the shape. First find Altair four fists above the southeast horizon. Slowly move your binoculars up toward Vega. You will run into the coat hanger along the way. And while you are at it, put away your shoes.

Thursday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the east horizon at midnight.

Friday: Do you wish it was easy to find due north? After all, a compass points to magnetic north which is a few degrees off of true geographic north. Well, tonight’s your night. Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer, is due north at exactly 10:14 p.m. It looks like a bright light on a pole on the north ridge because is only about one degree above the horizon.

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

No comments: