Friday, April 29, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 4/30/11

Saturday: Mother’s Day is just over a week away. What are you going to get her? Get her a Gem(ma). The star Gemma, also known as Alphekka, is the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Gemma, Latin for jewel is the central gem stone for the crown. It is four fists held upright and at arm’s length above due east at 10 p.m.

Sunday: You may be familiar with the 1980s New Zealand rock group “Crowded House”. They are making a comeback this week and rebranding themselves as “Crowded Sky” with a reworking of their 1987 hit “Don’t Dream it’s Over”. Here is a sample of the lyrics. “Hey now, hey now, don’t dream it’s over. Hey now, hey now, when the planets come in. They come, they come to fill the morning sky now. We know they won’t stay.” The planets Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Mars are rising just before the Sun. This morning they are joined by the Moon. But the sky is illuminated by the soon-to-rise Sun so the only planet you’ll see is Venus, just above the east horizon at 5:15 a.m. Because all of the planets orbit the sun at different rates, the planets don’t stay in the same location with respect to the distant stars. The morning will not maintain its Crowded Sky. We know the planets won’t stay.

Monday: Tonight’s Moon is new. Don’t bother looking for it. The new moon is the phase where the Moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun. Hence the side of the Moon facing Earth is not receiving any sunlight and cannot be seen. The term “new” comes from the moon seeming to be reborn with light every lunar cycle. Your calendar may list tomorrow as the new Moon. The moon is directly between the Earth and Sun early tomorrow morning making tomorrow the calendar day that the new Moon occurs. However, the night that starts at sunset this evening is the night of the new Moon.

Tuesday: Wake up before dawn for the next few mornings for a nice spring shower – a meteor shower. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks just before dawn on Friday morning. But since this meteor shower has a fairly broad peak range, there will be many more meteors than in the typical pre-dawn sky throughout the week. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius near the star Eta. This point is about one fist above the east horizon at 4 a.m. Although dawn is starting to light the sky, you could be rewarded with a few bright, fast meteors. The Eta Aquarid meteors slam into the Earth at about 40 miles per second. They often leave a long trail. The Eta Aquarid meteors are small rocks that have broken off Halley’s Comet.

Wednesday: Saturn is four fists above the south-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Thursday: Do people think you have a magnetic personality? The star Cor Caroli understands how you feel. Cor Caroli has one of the strongest magnetic fields among main sequence stars similar to our Sun. This strong magnetic field is thought to produce large sunspots that cause the brightness of Cor Caroli to vary. Cor Caroli is nearly straight overhead at 10:30 p.m.

Friday: This weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day with the big mom of the sky, Virgo. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated this portion of the sky with their own goddess of the harvest, either Demeter (Greeks) or Ceres (Roman). Demeter was the mother of Persephone and Ceres was the mother of Proserpina. According to myth, each of these daughters was abducted causing their mothers great grief. The first star in Virgo rises in the afternoon. Spica, the brightest star in the constellation rises at 6:30 and is two and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. Saturn is about a fist above it.

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

No comments: