Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/8/11

Saturday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks tonight. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is about five fists held upright and at arm’s above the northwest horizon at 10 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Typically, this is a minor shower. However, Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere near where we see the constellation Draco. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Sunday: Do the weather people make you mad? Predict the weather yourself. This week, the planet Mars can help. Mars doesn’t actually make the forecast. But, it will help you find an object in the sky that allows you to predict storms. Mars is now close to the Beehive star cluster in the late night/early morning sky. The Beehive cluster is a hazy patch visible to the naked eye under dark, clear skies. If the sky seems clear but the Beehive cluster is not visible, that indicates that faint high-level clouds are moving in, bringing storm clouds in their wake. Mars is about four and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 6 a.m. The Beehive is about a half fist to the upper right of Mars. If you can’t see it, get an umbrella.

Monday: Halley's comet returns this month! In the form of little pieces of its tail, that is. The Orionid meteor shower consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Tuesday: The harvest is over. Animals that have filled themselves up with the excess bounty are wondering around through forests that have lost their leaves. It is a hunter’s paradise. The only thing missing is nighttime lighting. Enter the hunter’s moon. Tonight’s full moon, called the hunter’s moon, is in the constellation Aries the ram.

Wednesday: Since Halloween is coming up, the stores are filled with bags of candy clusters. Instead, take time to look at a star cluster. The Hyades cluster is an open star cluster that represents the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull. It is one of the biggest and nearest star clusters with about 200 stars 150 light years away. The Hyades cluster was the first cluster to be the subject of detailed motion studies. These studies allowed astronomers to pinpoint the distance to the Hyades and provide important information about the scale of the universe. Aldebaran, nearly two fists above due east horizon at 11 p.m., is a foreground star and not a part of the Hyades cluster.

Thursday: Jupiter is a half a fist to the left of the Moon at 6 a.m.

Friday: Arcturus is one fist above the west-northwest horizon at 8 p.m.

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

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