Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 11/20/10

Saturday: The Nature of Night takes place today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Black Hall on the CWU campus. There will be planetarium shows, fun nature at night experiments, storytelling, telescopes, and much more. The event is free. The Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education at CWU and various community sponsors work together to put on this event.

Sunday: Well, it is late November. It is time to set the beaver traps before the swamps freeze so you have a supply of warm winter furs. You must be getting ready to do that because the November full moon is known as the full beaver moon. Or maybe you shop for winter coats at a fine Ellensburg business (shop local). If that is the case, you may think the name full beaver moon came about because the beavers, themselves, are preparing for winter. Setting their human traps for…. I guess I shouldn’t continue that thought. Look for an open star cluster called the Pleiades is a half a fist to the upper right of the full beaver moon at 8 p.m.

Monday: Jupiter is four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 8 p.m.

Tuesday: Saturn is three fists above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m. The much brighter Venus is almost two fists above the southeast horizon. Spica is less than a half a fist to the upper right of Venus.

Wednesday: Most constellations don’t look like the object their name refers to. Most constellations don’t have such a simple to object to emulate as Triangulum. As you probably guessed, Triangulum is shaped like a princess. Wait…. Just a second…. I read my book wrong. Triangulum is shaped like a thin isosceles triangle. Mothallah is the only named star in the constellation. In Latin it is called Caput Trianguli, the head of the triangle. Triangulum is seven fists above the south horizon at 9 p.m. It is pointing down and to the right with Mothallah being the southernmost star at this time of night. The Triangulum Galaxy can be seen with binoculars about a half a fist to the right of Mothallah.

Thursday: Some of us have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. But, probably not as much as Andromeda had to be thankful for. According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. Her mother Queen Cassiopeia and her father King Cepheus didn’t know what to do. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came Andromeda’s boyfriend, the great warrior Perseus. Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monster’s neck and killed it. This was the first time in recorded history that a set of parents actually welcomed an uninvited Thanksgiving visit from the boyfriend. Perseus is about five fists above the east-northeast horizon and Andromeda is about seven fists above the east horizon at 7 p.m.

Friday: Are you thankful that you live in a solar system with multiple planets? You should be. A giant planet like Jupiter cleans up planetary debris that could have collided with Earth and hindered the formation of complex life. Any inhabitants of the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae are thankful for this, as well. Upsilon Andromedae, a star in the constellation Andromeda, was the first Sun-like star discovered to have multiple planets orbiting it. So far, all of its planets are giant planets like Jupiter. But, the system is likely to also contain smaller planets. The dim star, but certainly not its planets, is barely visible straight overhead at 9 p.m.

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

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