Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 5/14/11

Saturday: Betelgeuse, the second brightest star in the constellation Orion, is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above due west at 9 p.m. It is on the short list of stars that could go supernova in the near future: near future meaning next million years. Most heavy elements such as radium and polonium are formed in supernova. Why not go celebrate the discovery of radium and polonium by watching living history re-enactress Carole Berg perform an evening with Madam Marie Curie. Berg, a chemistry professor at Bellevue College, performs all around the northwest as Marie Curie for audiences of all ages and all levels of science. This event is on the CWU campus in the Hertz Hall Auditorium starting at 7 p.m. Hertz Hall is H-8 in the campus map found online at 2011 is the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie being awarded her Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of radium and polonium. What else do you have to do tonight, put together a collage of newspaper clippings?

Sunday: Saturn is four fists above the south horizon at 10 p.m.

Monday: Give me an “M”. Give me a “3”. What does that spell? “M3.” “Big deal,” you say. It was a big deal to French comet hunter Charles Messier (pronounced messy a). M3 was the 3rd comet look-alike that Messier catalogued in the late 1700s. M3 is a globular cluster, a cluster of over 100,000 stars that is 32,000 light years away. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye but is fairly easy find with binoculars. First find Arcturus five and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. (See Wednesday’s entry to learn how to find Arcturus.) Move your binoculars up a little so two stars of nearly identical brightness are in your field of view. When the top star is in the lower left part of your field of view, there should be a fuzzy patch near the center of your field of view. This is M3.

Tuesday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Libra the scales. Since this is the time for “May flowers”, the May full moon is called the Full Flower Moon.

Wednesday: This is a good time of the year to find the Big Dipper. It is nearly straight overhead at 10 p.m. The cup is to the west and the handle is to the east. You can always use the Big Dipper to find some other bright stars. First, follow the curve, or arc, of the Big Dipper down three fists into the southern sky. This is the bright star, Arcturus, the second brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. Next, continue on a straight line, or spike, another three fists down toward the south horizon to the star Spica. Spica is the tenth brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. It is known as the Horn Mansion, one of 28 mansions, or constellations, in the Chinese sky. You now know how to use the Big Dipper handle to “arc” to Arcturus and “spike” to Spica.

Thursday: The bright star Antares is one fist above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Friday: For the entire month of May, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter can be found in the eastern morning sky just before sunrise. Tomorrow morning just before sunrise, the packing is so close that Mercury, Venus and Mars could hide behind your thumbnail held at arm’s length. Venus is about 40 times brighter than Mercury and 100 times brighter than Mars. For a movie of how the planets will dance around each other this month, go to

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

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