Friday, March 23, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 3/24/12

Saturday: Just as clouds can ruin an observing opportunity on Earth, they can get in the way on Mars, as well. Astronomers wanted to measure seasonal changes in the icy sand dunes by taking new photos with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But clouds obscured the view Hopefully clouds will not keep you from seeing Mars four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 9 p.m. If they do, get up early and catch Mars one fist above the west horizon at 5 a.m.

Sunday: Someone told the Moon that he is shy, that he needs to get out and meet people. So, tonight he meets Jupiter, the king of the planets, named after the king of the Roman gods. Jupiter is a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon at 8 p.m.

Monday: Wow. Just one night of practicing his new social skills and the Moon is ready to date. But whom does he choose? Does the Moon want to hang out with the Goddess of Love or seven sisters? Why decide? Tonight he has both… or all eight… or all 1000. Venus, as we learned from Frankie Avalon, is the Goddess of Love and, as we learned from ancient astronomers, the second planet from the Sun. The Pleiades is an open star cluster consisting of seven easily visible stars, hence the name Seven Sisters. Astronomers have discovered more than 1000 stars overall in the Pleiades. At 9 p.m., the Moon, Venus, and the Pleiades make an isosceles triangle with the Moon at the apex angle, Venus a half a fist to the lower right of the Moon and the Pleiades a half a fist above the Moon.

Tuesday: At the beginning of the week, the Moon was a follower. Now it is a leader and Aldebaran is the follower. Aldebaran, is the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the bull. Its name is Arabic for “follower” because if follows the Pleiades in the night sky. Tonight it follows a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon at 9 p.m. While Aldebaran appears to be part of a star cluster, it is actually between Earth and the Hyades open star cluster.

Wednesday: Let’s take a break from the Moon and look at a different part of the sky. For the past few weeks, Saturn and Spica have been moving through the night sky together. At 11 p.m., they are two fists above the southeast horizon. Saturn is slightly brighter and positioned to the left of Spica. Even though planets such as Saturn move with respect to the background stars, Saturn is far from the earth and will remain close to this position with respect to Spica for a few months.

Thursday: April is Global Astronomy Month (GAM). While many astronomy experiences come from looking up, you can also experience astronomy looking down… at pen and paper. GAM has launched an Astropoetry blog and is looking for contributors. Even if you’ve never written a poem before, this is your opportunity to express your love for astronomy in a unique way and possibly share it with others. Go to for more information.

Friday: Tonight’s first quarter moon is in the constellation Gemini. Don’t stay up too late watching it. You need to get up early to cheer on your favorite runners at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon tomorrow at 8 a.m. on Canyon Road just south of Berry Road.

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

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