Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 3/31/12

Saturday: Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may be looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20+ mile long run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: After a long journey through space, there is nothing will quench your thirst better than a few drops of refreshing Mars water. Wait! Is this an April Fool’s Day joke? No. In 2010, after analyzing photos taken by the Mars Phoenix Lander, a group of astronomers discovered what they interpreted as drops of very salty liquid water on one of the Lander’s legs. But we are not going to travel 18 months to Mars just to lick a few drops of water off a metal leg. We want waterfront property if we are going all that way. The high-resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken images of dark rivulets form, grow, and fade in the Martian southern hemisphere. Even though Mars is very cold, this liquid could contain enough salt to lower its freezing point by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mars and its refreshing water is five fists above the southeast horizon at 9 p.m. For more information about liquid water on Mars, go to http://goo.gl/HEGxe.

Monday: The Moon must be thirsty tonight because it moves close to Mars in the night sky. At 9 p.m., the Mars is less than one fist to the left of the Moon. Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, is right in between the two.

Tuesday: Jupiter is two fists and Venus is nearly four fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Orion is getting lower and lower in the nighttime sky. Its second brightest star Betelgeuse is only one and a half fists above the west-southwest horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: The bright star Vega is a little more than one fist above the northeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Friday: Tonight’s full Moon gets an escort through the night sky: the planet Saturn and the star Spica. Why? Because it is perfect. In fact, they’ll spend the night serenading the Moon with the song by the artist P!nk: “Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel, like your less than, less than perfect”. (The Moon would not want to hear the version of the song with the “F” word.) Some Native American tribes call the April Full Moon the Full pink Moon, or maybe the Full P!nk Moon, because its arrival coincides with the blooming of wild ground phlox, a pink wild flower. At 9 p.m., Saturn is a half a fist and Spica is a thumb-width to the left of the Moon.

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

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