Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 1/8/11

Saturday: One Family Affair explored the trials of well-to-do civil engineer and bachelor Bill Davis as he attempted to raise his brother's orphaned children in his luxury New York City apartment (as described on Wikipedia). Another family affair explores the set of planets, dwarf planets, comets, and asteroids that orbits our Sun. Just as studying your own family history can tell you about yourself, one reason astronomers study the rest of the solar system is to learn more about the Earth. Comets and asteroids hold many more detectable clues about the early solar system than the Earth does because the Earth’s surface is constantly changing. For more information about this Family Affair go to http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/yss/display.cfm?Year=2010&Month=1.

Sunday: Hit the road Mercury and Venus. And don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more. For the past few weeks in the case of Mercury or months in the case for Venus, these two planets have been hitting the road and moving away from the Sun in the morning sky. Today, both are as far away from the Sun as they will get in the morning this cycle. This is known as a planet’s greatest western elongation. Mercury is about a fist above the southeast horizon and Venus is about two fists above the south-southeast horizon at 7:00 a.m. Over the next few weeks, Mercury and Venus will move toward the Sun in the sky, eventually passing behind the Sun and appearing in the evening sky.

Monday: Another boring Monday night? Not this week. Go to the CWU Astronomy Club’s Monday Astronomy Event from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. We will meet in Lind Hall, room 215 for a brief introduction to the night sky and an impressive demonstration of the size of the galaxy. There will be numerous telescopes in use to view Jupiter and other interesting celestial objects. Dress warmly. 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. If you are staying home, at least go outside and look for Jupiter, one fist held upright and at arm’s length below the Moon in the southwest sky at 8 p.m.

Tuesday: You never see a giraffe on the ground in Ellensburg. But you can look for one every night in the sky. The constellation Camelopardalis the giraffe is circumpolar from Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees north meaning it is always above the horizon. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the stars in Camelopardalis. The brightest star in the constellation appears only about half as bright as the dimmest star in the Big Dipper. However, the actual luminosities of the three brightest stars in Camelopardalis are very high, each at least 3,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alpha Camelopardalis, a mind boggling 600,000 times more luminous than the Sun, is seven fists above due north at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: What you see with the naked eye isn’t all that can be seen. While astronomers can learn a lot from observing the sky in the visible wavelengths, many celestial objects radiate more light, and more information, in wavelengths such as radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma ray. Last year, NASA launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to study objects that radiate in the infrared range such as asteroids, cool dim stars, and luminous galaxies. For an interesting comparison of how different wavelengths show different aspects of a galaxy, go to https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/docs/different_universe.pdf. If it wasn’t for infrared telescopes such as WISE, astronomers would not know about the significant amount of dust in galaxies.

Thursday: January is the coldest month of the year so it is time to turn up the furnace. Fornax the furnace one fist above due south at 7 p.m.

Friday: Saturn is four fists above the south horizon at 6 a.m.

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

No comments: