Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 1/7/12

Saturday: One Family Affair explored the trials of well-to-do civil engineer and bachelor Bill Davis as he attempted to raise his brother's orphaned children in his luxury New York City apartment (as described on Wikipedia). Another family affair explores how a well-to-do Solar System raises its constituents from birth, through growth, change, and death. Just like Buffy and Jody started off full of energy, planets start out hot and molten. Cissy got wrinkles as she approached middle age; planets become cratered as they age. We watched the TV show “Family Affair” to learn about a nontraditional Manhattan family grew and changed. Astronomers study other planets to learn how the Solar System will evolve. For more information about this Solar System Family Affair, go to Mars, one of the most studied members of the Solar System family, is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

Sunday: It’s cold. The snow is blowing in your face. Food is scarce. Packs of wild animals are wondering around howling. Does this describe your house after someone broke your window during your New Year’s party? It also describes wolf packs around Native American villages. That’s why many tribes call January’s full moon, which occurs tonight at 11:31, the Full Wolf Moon. It is also called the Moon after Yule.

Monday: The rapper Lil Bow Wow, now known by his adult name, Bow Wow, has a new album coming out soon. The sky has its own lil bow wow coming out every night this winter. Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor, the lesser dog, is about three fists above the east-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: You never see a giraffe on the ground in Ellensburg. But you can look for one every night in the sky. The constellation Camelopardalis the giraffe is circumpolar from Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees north meaning it is always above the horizon. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the stars in Camelopardalis. The brightest star in the constellation appears only about half as bright as the dimmest star in the Big Dipper. However, the actual luminosities of the three brightest stars in Camelopardalis are very high, each at least 3,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alpha Camelopardalis, a mind boggling 600,000 times more luminous than the Sun, is seven fists above due north at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: What you see with the naked eye isn’t all that can be seen. While astronomers can learn a lot from observing the sky in the visible wavelengths, many celestial objects radiate more light, and more information, in wavelengths such as radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma ray. Last year, NASA launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to study objects that radiate in the infrared range such as asteroids, cool dim stars, and luminous galaxies. For an interesting comparison of how different wavelengths show different aspects of a galaxy, go to If it wasn’t for infrared telescopes such as WISE, astronomers would not know about the significant amount of dust in galaxies.

Thursday: The ringed planet Saturn and Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, are three fists above the south horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Friday: If Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, then this is your unlucky year. There are three Fridays that fall on the 13th this year! And they occur 13 weeks apart! And the government is charging an extra $13 tax those Fridays! Okay, I made up that last one. But I’m not making up that Boötes the herdsman is the 13th largest constellation by area. Boötes is a kite-shaped constellation. Arcturus, at the bottom of the Boötes kite and the second brightest star visible from Washington, is six fists above the south horizon at 6:30 a.m.

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

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