Friday, October 28, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/29/11

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Lyonid meteor shower is the big name among November meteor showers, the one or two bright fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern Taurids meteor shower may make it worth your while to say up. This shower reaches a maximum over the next few nights with a peak on November 6th. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.

Sunday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite astronomers Henrietta Swan Leavitt and Henry Draper. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Leavitts and Drapers come to your door tomorrow night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Venus, a half a fist above the southwest horizon.

Monday: Are you thinking of dressing up like a student and visiting a scary museum? Then the Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University has an event for you, an interdisciplinary symposium called "Fabricating the Fantastic: The Pleasures and Perils of Exaggeration," at 4:30 p.m. Monday in Dean Hall. The symposium is inspired by the museum's exhibit "Storytelling Through the Mail: Tall Tale Postcards." CWU professors will talk about how exaggeration plays a role in certain fields, including astronomy. Go to for more information. If you doubt that museums can be scary, check out the size of the bugs on some of the postcards. Buzzzzzz, indeed!

Tuesday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that this day, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

Wednesday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the east horizon at 8 p.m.

Thursday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 9 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta. Chinese know this group of stars as a flying serpent or dragon.

Friday: Mars is five and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 7 a.m. Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo is a half a fist to the lower left.

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

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