Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Ellensburg Sky for the week of 5/12/12

What's up in the sky 5/12/12

Today: Fortune, fame, mirror vain, Venus wanes, but the memory remains. Metallica recorded something similar to this in their 1997 single, “The Memory Remains”. But their words of wisdom apply to the planet Venus this month. On May 1st Venus’ disk was 27% illuminated. By May 31, its disk will be 1% illuminated (meaning of the half of Venus facing us, only 1% is lit by the Sun). Yes, Venus goes through phases just like the Moon does. You can observe the crescent shape of Venus with binoculars if you keep your binoculars steady. By June 5th and 6th, Venus disk will be 0% illuminated because the Sun will be directly behind Venus resulting to the last Venus transit for 105 years. For more information about the Venus transit, go to The CWU Astronomy club will have a public viewing and presentation about this event on the afternoon and evening of June 5. Venus is two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: So you think your mother has problems on Mother’s Day because she has you as you as a child? Her mother issues can’t be as bad as Cassiopeia’s issues. First, she was chained to a chair for boasting about her beauty. Second, she has to revolve around the North Star night after night. Third, her daughter Andromeda was nearly sacrificed to a sea monster. Look for poor Cassiopeia about one and a half fists above the north horizon at 10 p.m. Cassiopeia looks like a stretched out “W”.

Monday: Give me an “M”. Give me a “3”. What does that spell? “M3.” “Big deal,” you say. It was a big deal to French comet hunter Charles Messier (pronounced Messy A). M3 was the 3rd comet look-alike that Messier catalogued in the late 1700s. M3 is a globular cluster, a cluster of over 100,000 stars that is 32,000 light years away. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye but is fairly easy find with binoculars. First find Arcturus five and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. Move your binoculars up a little so two stars of nearly identical brightness are in your field of view. When the top star is in the lower left part of your field of view, there should be a fuzzy patch near the center of your field of view. This is M3.

Tuesday: Mars is four and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: The bright star Antares is one fist above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: This is a good time of the year to find the Big Dipper. It is nearly straight overhead at 10 p.m. The cup is to the west and the handle is to the east. You can always use the Big Dipper to find some other bright stars. First, follow the curve, or arc, of the Big Dipper down three fists into the southern sky. This is the bright star, Arcturus, the second brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. Next, continue on a straight line, or spike, another three fists down toward the south horizon to the star Spica. Spica is the tenth brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. It is known as the Horn Mansion, one of 28 mansions, or constellations, in the Chinese sky. You now know how to use the Big Dipper handle to “arc” to Arcturus and “spike” to Spica.

Friday: Saturn is three and a half fists above due south at 11 p.m.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. This column is also available online at

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