Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 2/11/12

Saturday: According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came the great warrior Perseus, fresh off his defeat of the evil Gorgon, Medusa. The only similarity between Andromeda and Medusa was that Andromeda caused people to stand still and stare at her beauty while Medusa turned people to stone because of her ugliness. (And, you thought you looked bad in the morning.) Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monsters neck and killed it. In a little known addendum to the story, Perseus carved “Percy (heart symbol) Andi” in the rock, thus originating the use of the heart symbol as a substitute for the word “love”.
You can find these lovers in the sky this Valentine’s Day. Just remember it is rude to stare – and you never know when you might turn to stone. First, find the Great Square of Pegasus at 7 p.m. between one and a half and three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon. The lowest star in Andromeda is the top star in the square. This represents Andromeda’s head. Perseus is at her feet, nearly straight overhead. Mirphak, the brightest star in Perseus, is about eight fists above the west horizon. Perseus’ body is represented by the line of stars to the left and right of Mirphak.

Sunday: Spica is less than a half a fist to the upper right and Saturn is one fist to the upper left of the Moon in the southwest sky this morning.

Monday: How many stars can you see in the constellation Orion? This week, you can help answer that question. The organization called GLOBE at Night is looking for people all over the world to count how many stars they can see in the constellation Orion. Participants use star charts found at to observe Orion and compare what they see to the charts. After making the observations, participants can go to the website and add their findings to those of thousands of other observers. The main goal of GLOBE at Night is to research the pattern of light pollution across the globe. A secondary goal is to increase interest in observing and awareness of the night sky. You can find Orion four fists above the south horizon at 8 p.m. If you are too busy this week, GLOBE at Night will collect data in mid-March and mid-April too.

Tuesday: Are you looking for a little romance in your life? If so, make a date with your sweetie to go to the CWU Astronomy Club planetarium show tonight at 7:30 or 8:30 p.m. Here you will learn important tips for making your relationship stronger such as identifying constellations in the sky or determining which direction is north. The shows are in the SURC Ballroom, up on the second floor. Located on the CWU campus at the intersection of N Chestnut Street and E 11th Avenue, the SURC has ample free parking available after 4:30 p.m.

Wednesday: February is named for the Roman word februum, which means purification. Februa, the Roman festival of ritual purification, was held on February 15 according to the Roman lunar calendar. Feb-hand-sanitizer-rua is the soccer mom ritual of pre snack purification. It is held every Saturday during the summer before the orange slices are handed out. Speaking of orange, the orange-red star Antares is a half a fist below the Moon at 6 a.m.

Thursday: Last month, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) took pictures of definite evidence of intelligent life on Mars. Shocking news, right? It makes you wonder if “War of the Worlds” could be true. It could be… but in reverse. The MRO spacecraft took pictures of the lander that the NASA probe called Spirit arrived on in 2004. That’s right, the invaders came from Earth to Mars. See the evidence at Mars, itself, is two and a half fists above the east-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Friday: Venus is two fists above the west-southwest horizon and Jupiter is three and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

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

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