Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/9/10

Saturday: Mars is in the process of disappearing into the glare of the setting Sun so tonight is a good night to say “good night Mars”. Look a little less than one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon, about a half a fist to the upper right of the crescent Moon. You will probably need binoculars to pick it out of the bright twilight sky.

Sunday: Halley's Comet returns this month! In the form of little pieces of its tail, that is. The Orionid meteor shower consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Monday: “She loves Jup yeah, yeah, yeah. And with a love like that, you know Jup should be glad.” In 1963, The Beatles released the song “She Loves Jup” to celebrate Jupiter being exceptionally bright. However, when they test marketed it, the astronomy reference was not understood by most people. So they did a hasty rewrite to “She Loves You” and it became a smash hit. This year, Jupiter is a smash hit in the night sky, being brighter than any time since 1963. Jupiter is three fists above the southeast horizon at 9 a.m.

Tuesday: Since Halloween is coming up, the stores are filled with bags of candy clusters. Instead, take time to look at a star cluster. The Hyades cluster is an open star cluster that represents the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull. It is one of the biggest and nearest star clusters with about 200 stars 150 light years away. The Hyades cluster was the first cluster to be the subject of detailed motion studies. These studies allowed astronomers to pinpoint the distance to the Hyades and provide important information about the scale of the universe. Aldebaran, nearly two fists above due east horizon at 11 p.m., is a foreground star and not a part of the Hyades cluster.

Wednesday: Arcturus is one fist above the west-northwest horizon at 8 p.m.

Thursday: Tonight’s first quarter Moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer. It is two fists above due south at 7 p.m.

Friday: Saturn has finally moved out from the glare of the Sun. It is less than a fist above the east horizon at 6:30 a.m. Right above Saturn is a kite-shaped set of stars that makes up part of the constellation Virgo. Near the top of the “kite”, one fist above Saturn is the star Zavijava. The bending of light from Zavijava by the Sun provided early experimental evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Einstein predicted that objects such as the Sun were so massive that they could noticeably bend light from a star. During a total solar eclipse in 1922, Zavijava was almost directly behind the Sun such that bits light would have to pass near the Sun on its way to the Earth. Astronomers measured its position on that day to be slightly different from its position on star charts meaning its light had been slightly deflected by the Sun. This morning the triangle is a fist above the east horizon at 6:30 a.m.

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

No comments: