Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 1/22/11

Saturday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above due north at 9 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at one corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Sunday: Jupiter, the brightest point of light in the evening sky, is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m. Uranus, one of the dimmest lights sometimes visible to the naked eye can be easily found using binoculars because it is very close to Jupiter in the night sky. First find Jupiter. Then, move your binoculars so Jupiter is in the upper left section. Uranus is in the lower right section. Notice how I wrote that they are very close in the night sky. In actuality, they are about 1.5 billion miles apart. This is 15 times farther than the Sun is from the Earth.

Monday: Deneb Kaitos, the "tail of the whale," tries to swim away from Jupiter in the southern sky tonight. The moderately bright orange star forms the tail of Cetus the whale. At 7 p.m., it appears about two fists above the southwest horizon and less than a half a fist to the lower left of Jupiter.

Tuesday: Venus is one fist above the southeast horizon at 6 a.m.

Wednesday: Saturn, the bright star Spica, and the last quarter Moon line up in the southern sky this morning.

Thursday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And, surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making educated judgments of images. So, go to and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Friday: What is the number one threat to the peaceful use of space? Missiles from rogue nations? Nope. Aliens? You wish after seeing that beer commercial during NFL games. It is space junk. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk orbit the earth, most of it in the main human-made satellite region. The US Department of Defense is tracking over 21,000 objects greater than four inches across to assess the danger they pose. Go to to find out what large pieces of that space junk is visible any night. You may select your location from a map, from a list, or enter it manually.

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

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