Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 12/25/10

Saturday: Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw Jupiter being eclipsed by the Moon in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, Bruce Palmquist version, informed by Michael Molnar). There are many theories as to the physical explanation of the Star of Bethlehem, the celestial object that guided the wise men to the location of Jesus. Some people think it was a recurring nova, a star that explodes again and again. Some think it was a close alignment of bright planets. Some think it was a miracle that requires no physical explanation. In 1991, astronomer Michael Molnar bought an ancient Roman Empire coin that depicted a ram looking back at a star. Aries the ram was a symbol for Judea, the birthplace of Jesus. The Magi, or “wise men”, who visited the baby Jesus practiced astrology and would have been looking in that region of the sky for the king prophesied in the Old Testament. Molnar, a modern day wise person, used sky simulation software to model the positions of planets and the Moon in the region of Aries. According to his model, Jupiter was eclipsed, or blocked, by the Moon on the morning of April 17, 6 BC. Molnar’s theory is supported by a book written by the astrologer of Constantine the Great in 334 AD. The book describes an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries and notes a man of divine nature born during this time. See for more information.
Aries and Jupiter make an appearance in the Christmas sky tonight. At 7 p.m., the dim constellation Aries is about six fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon and Jupiter is three and a half fists above the southwest horizon.

Sunday: Columbia the dove, representing the bird Noah sent out to look for dry land as the flood waters receded, is perched just above the ridge south of Ellensburg. Its brightest star Phact is about one fist above due south at 11 p.m.

Monday: The rapper Lil Bow Wow, now known by his adult name, Bow Wow, has a new album coming out next year. The sky has its own lil bow wow coming out every night this winter. Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor, the lesser dog, is about three fists above the east-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Have you ever looked down on the ground and spotted a penny? In Yakima? While you were standing in Ellensburg? If you have, then you may be able to see the star Hamal as more than just a point of light. It has an angular diameter that can be detected from Earth. Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries the ram, has the same angular diameter as a penny 37 miles away. (For comparison, the moon is about half the diameter of a penny held at arm’s length.) Hamal is six and a half fists above due south at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Are you celebrating New Year Eve eve by staying up late? If so, check out the ringed planet Saturn, one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 2 a.m.

Thursday: Venus is about a fist to the left of the crescent moon at 6 a.m.

Friday: Forget about that big bright ball in Times Square. You can mark the start of the new year with one of the sky’s own big bright balls. That perennial favorite New Year’s Day marker, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, rises to its highest point in the sky a little after midnight on January 1. Thus, when Sirius starts to “fall”, the new year has begun. Look for Sirius about two and a half fists above due south at midnight.

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

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