Friday, February 4, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/5/11

Saturday: “E.T. phone Kepler 11”. This may be the iconic line of dialog if there is a sequel the hit movie “E.T.”. This past Wednesday, scientists working on the Kepler planet finding mission announced 1,235 planet candidates, 68 of which are approximately Earth-size. Five of the near Earth-size planets are in the habitable zone of their host star meaning the temperature is right for liquid water to exist in the surface. The most exciting find is the six planet (so far) system orbiting a Sun-like star dubbed Kepler-11. None of Kepler-11’s planets orbit in the habitable zone. But this is the largest group of planets ever discovered that transit their star. A transiting planet is one that passes between the Earth and its host star such that the host star’s light is dimmed a little bit. Kepler-11 is located about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the northwest horizon at 7 p.m. It is much too dim to be seen with the naked eye but it is near the bright star Deneb in the sky. To learn more about the Kepler mission, go to

Sunday: Jupiter is a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon at 7 p.m.

Monday: Are you looking for a little romance in your sky? If so, go to the planetarium show “Romantic Myths” given tonight at 7:50, 8:30 and 9:10 by the CWU Astronomy Club. Here you will learn important tips for meeting your loved one such as saving them from a sea monster or casting them into the sky. The shows are in the SURC Ballroom, up on the second floor. Located on the CWU campus at the intersection of N Chestnut Street and E 11th Avenue, the SURC has ample free parking available most evenings.

Tuesday: Small bodies can make big impacts. Think babies. Gymnasts. Ferrets. Comets. Comets? While the typical comets we observe are much larger than those other small bodies I listed, they are some of the smallest objects in the Solar System. Yet they have a big impact on our understanding of the formation of the Solar System. Larger objects have processes such as weathering and volcanism that cover up evidence of the early Solar System’s history. But, NASA isn’t covering up any evidence on its Year of the Solar System website. Go to to read more about how the small bodies have big impacts. And, no, I don’t mean bunny rabbits.

Wednesday: Winter is a good time to see think band of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches high in the high in the early evening starting in the southeast by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Climbing from Sirius through the "horns" of Taurus high overhead, it drops down toward M-shaped Cassiopeia in the north and the tail of Cygnus, the swan, in the northwest.

Thursday: Tonight’s first quarter Moon is in the constellation Aries the ram.

Friday: Saturn is one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

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

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