Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 2/4/12

Saturday: “E.T. phone Kepler 20… if you are feeling cold”. This may be the new iconic line of dialog if there is a sequel the hit movie “E.T.”. In December, scientists working on the Kepler planet-finding mission announced the discovery of two Earth-size planets orbiting a star other than the Sun. This star, dubbed Kepler-20, is a little smaller and cooler than the Sun. The planets are much closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun. Kepler 20e is around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt glass. The planets orbiting Kepler 20 were discovered using the transit method where a planet passes between the Earth and its host star such that the host star’s light is dimmed a little bit. Kepler-20 is located about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the northwest horizon at 7 p.m. It is much too dim to be seen with the naked eye but it is midway between the bright stars Deneb and Vega in the sky. To learn more about the Kepler mission, go to

Sunday: Winter is a good time to see the thick band of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches high in the high in the early evening starting in the southeast by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Climbing from Sirius through the "horns" of Taurus high overhead, it drops down toward M-shaped Cassiopeia in the north and the tail of Cygnus, the swan, in the northwest.

Monday: Jupiter is four and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Tuesday: Some Native Americans call tonight’s full moon the Full Snow Moon because the heaviest snow often falls during this month. The Moon is in the constellation Cancer the Crab tonight.

Wednesday: Uranus gets a guide in the sky for the next few nights. The planet is too dim to be seen with the naked eye unless the sky is extremely dark, cloudless, and still. For the next three nights, it will be near the super bright planet Venus in the night sky. First find Venus with your binoculars. Tonight, Uranus will be to the upper left of the Moon. Tomorrow night, they’ll be close enough together in the sky to be visible together in a small to medium-sized telescope. Each night, Venus is two fists above the west horizon at 7 p.m.

Thursday: Mars and Saturn are both up by midnight. Mars is a fist to the upper left of the Moon and four fists above the southeast horizon at midnight. Saturn is a little more than a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon.

Friday: 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 on Valentine’s Day at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. Here you will learn important tips for making your relationship stronger such as helping them determine their latitude if they are lost or refuting the validity of horoscopes. 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.

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

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