Tuesday, September 28, 2010

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

Saturday: Mnemonics are helpful for remembering astronomy facts. (Similarly, “Johnny Mnemonic”, the 1995 cyberpunk film, was helpful in getting Keanu Reeves’ career going.) After all, school children all around the country are learning the order of the planets by remembering, “My very excellent mother just served us nine….” Oops, I guess that one needs updating. Well, here’s one that will not need updating for nearly 100,000 years: the order of the stars in the Big Dipper. Because the nighttime stars are so far away from us, their actual motion through the sky, called their “proper motion” is not noticeable over even thousands of years. That is why the constellations have remained the same since ancient times. But two stars in the Big Dipper have a proper motion large enough such than in 100,000 years, the stars will no longer make a dipper shape. Until then, you can remember the names of the seven dipper stars in order from handle to cup by remembering “morning, morning, evening, death” or “amampmd”. The stars are Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phad, Merek, and Duhbe. Morning, morning, evening, death is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the north horizon at 11 p.m.

Sunday: Astronomers, philosophers, and smart children have been contemplating the fate of the universe for centuries. Galileo, arguably the first modern astronomer, did not start that endeavor. But by turning his telescope toward the night sky, he opened a new source of evidence for determining that fate. To honor Galileo’s contribution to this question, the International year of Astronomy Hot Topic for October is “What is the fate of the universe?”. For more information, go to http://astronomy2009.nasa.gov/topics_oct.htm.

Monday: For the first time in months, the evening sky has only one naked eye planet. But, what a planet it is. Jupiter, the king of planets, is three fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. But don’t sit at home and look at it alone. Go to the CWU Astronomy Club’s First Monday Astronomy Event from 8:00 to 10:00 pm. We will meet in Lind Hall, room 215 for a brief introduction to the night sky. There will be numerous telescopes in use to view Jupiter and other interesting celestial objects. Dress warm. If the sky is overcast, come anyway to hear a presentation about the Solar System. Lind Hall is on the corner of Chestnut Street and University Way. There is ample close free parking near Lind Hall at this time of night.

Tuesday: Mercury is less than a half a fist above due east at 6:30 a.m.

Wednesday: Fomalhaut, the southernmost of the bright stars, is a little more than a fist above the south horizon at 10:30. It is in the constellation Piscis Austrinus or the southern fish.

Thursday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is about five fists above the northwest horizon at 10 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Typically, this is a minor shower. However, Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere near where we see the constellation Draco. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Friday: The bright star Arcturus is about two fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m. Some people may mistake it for a planet because it is bright and it is low in the western sky near sunset. But, you are not “some people”…. You are the one person who actually reads this column.

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

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