Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/1/11

Saturday: Mnemonics are helpful for remembering astronomy facts. (Similarly, “Johnny Mnemonic”, the 1995 cyberpunk film, was helpful in getting Keanu Reeves’ career going.) After all, school children all around the country are learning the order of the planets by remembering, “My very excellent mother just served us nine….” Oops, I guess that one needs updating. Well, here’s one that will not need updating for nearly 100,000 years: the order of the stars in the Big Dipper. Because the nighttime stars are so far away from us, their actual motion through the sky, called their “proper motion” is not noticeable over even thousands of years. That is why the constellations have remained the same since ancient times. But two stars in the Big Dipper have a proper motion large enough such than in 100,000 years, the stars will no longer make a dipper shape. Until then, you can remember the names of the seven dipper stars in order from handle to cup by remembering this helpful advice for teens: “AM, ask mom. PM, dad”. The stars are Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phad, Merek, and Duhbe. Morning, morning, evening, death is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the north horizon at 11 p.m.

Sunday: The increasing sunspot activity has led to prominent auroras in many northern states over the past week. The main cause of these auroras is electrically charged particles coming from the region of a sunspot that is over 10 Earth-diameter in length. (I guess it is more of a “sunstreak” than a sunspot.) For more information about sunspots, auroras and other space weather phenomenon, go to http://spaceweather.com/.
Monday: Jupiter is two fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: What do you like to look at in the night sky? Maria Von Trapp made her choice very clear in an earlier version of The Sound of Astronomy: “Light shining off of the moon and the rings, these are a few of my favorite things.” October 2010 to August 2012 is the Year of the Solar System. NASA is celebrating many solar system missions these 22 months, a Martian year. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is taking high resolution pictures of the Moon and Cassini has drastically updated what we know about Saturn. Saturn is still obscured by the glare of the Sun but the Moon is prominent in the night sky and waiting to be observed by you at an upcoming CWU Astronomy Club event. For more information about moons, rings, and the Year of the Solar System, go to http://goo.gl/jJOPF. For more information about the CWU event, read ahead.

Wednesday: At 6 a.m., Mars is four fists above the east-south east horizon, right in the middle of the constellation Cancer the Crab.

Thursday: Fomalhaut, the southernmost of the bright stars, is a little more than a fist above the south horizon at 10:30. It is in the constellation Piscis Austrinus or the southern fish.

Friday: Tomorrow is International Observe the Moon Night. But why wait? The CWU Astronomy club is having a Moon watching party tonight from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. The event starts in Lind Hall room 215 with a brief presentation about the Moon followed by observing with the CWU observatory and other telescopes. Lind Hall is on the northwest corner of East University Way and Chestnut Street. Parking is free in all CWU lots after 4:30 p.m. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/jh3Zu.

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

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