Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 3/3/12

Saturday: “The crow rises in the southeast,” said spy number one. “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize that code,” replied spy number two. Spy one exclaimed, “That’s because it’s not a code, you idiot. I’m talking about the constellation Corvus the crow.” This very bad spy movie dialogue is to remind you that Corvus had a very bad life. According to one myth, Corvus brought the god Apollo the news that his girlfriend was seeing someone else. In a classic case of punishing the messenger, Apollo turned the formerly beautifully colored crow black. The box-shaped Corvus is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Sunday: Mercury is a half a fist above the west horizon at 7 p.m.

Monday: Have you been to outer space lately? Neither have I. But the iron meteorite slice recently acquired by the Central Washington University Astronomy club has. It made the trip from the inner Solar System asteroid belt long ago, landed on a farm near Uruaçu, Brazil in 1992 and now resides in a display case near the middle of the first floor in Lind Hall on the CWU campus. Thanks to NASA and the Night Sky Network for providing this slice of a coarse octahedrite meteorite, composed primarily of nickel-iron alloys.

Tuesday: Mars, the Moon, and the bright star Regulus make a right triangle in the southeast sky at 9 p.m. Mars is at the bottom of the triangle and Regulus is at the right angle.

Wednesday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Leo the lion. While we may refer to the moon tonight by the boring title, “a full moon in March”, Native Americans in the eastern United States called this moon the Full Worm Moon. By March, the temperature has increased enough so the ground starts to thaw and earthworms make their first appearance. Earthworms attract birds. Northern tribes thought of the bird connection when they referred to the March full moon as the Full Crow Moon. Tribes in parts of the country with maple trees call this full moon the Full Sap Moon. For more full moon names, go to

Thursday: If you ask an astrobiologist for the three most likely places to find evidence of life in the Solar System, other than Earth, they’d probably say Mars, Europa (“Didn’t they sing “The Final Countdown”?”), and Enceladus. Mars makes sense to you because scientists have sent a lot of probes there. Astronomers discovered strong evidence of a large water ocean on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, in 1989. However, Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, piqued astrobiologists’ interested a few years ago then NASA’s Cassini probe discovered jets of water containing organic materials shooting out. Last month, the German space agency started a project called Enceladus Explorer, EnEx for short, to collect sample from deep within Enceladus. For more information on the Enceladus mission, go to Jupiter and Europa are two fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m., a half a fist to the upper left of the bright planet Venus. Saturn and Enceladus are one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. By the way, the Swedish group Europe sang “The Final Countdown”. And they were “heading for Venus” in the song, not to the worlds of the outer Solar System.

Friday: In this busy world, it is important to know what time it is. We have many devises that give us the time. Our phone, a computer, a watch. But who has time to build a phone, computer or even a watch. Not you. But everyone has enough time to build a simple Sun Clock. All you need is a pencil, a compass and a print out of the clock template. Go to for more information.

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

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