Friday, July 20, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/21/12

Saturday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks for the next few nights and early mornings with the greatest concentration of meteors being visible next weekend. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. This point is about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 am tomorrow morning. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain a fist above Fomalhaut, the brightest star in that section of the sky. The best time to view the shower is after midnight between moonset and dawn. As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Sunday: Altair, at one corner of the Summer Triangle, is four fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Altair is one of the closest bright stars, so close that fictional astronauts visited a planet orbiting Altair in the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet”.

Monday: Hot enough for you? If not, astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope think they have discovered a molten planet orbiting a star almost right next door on an astronomical scale – only 33 light years away. This planet is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth and is VERY close to its parent star – about 2% of the Earth-Sun distance. The star, GJ 436, is a dim red dwarf star. For more information about this discovery, read the NASA press release at

Tuesday: How is tonight’s west-southwest sky similar to a Johns Hopkins University classroom? Both are crowded with bright objects. Tonight at 10 p.m., the moon sits below a right triangle featuring the bluish star Spica, the orangish Saturn a half a fist above Spica, and the reddish Mars a fist to the right of Spica. Six weeks from today, one of Ellensburg’s “bright stars” will be lighting up a Johns Hopkins classroom.

Wednesday: Do you want an easy way to find due north? A compass points to magnetic north, which is a few degrees off of true geographic north. Well, tonight’s your night. Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer, is due north at exactly 10:09 p.m. It looks like a bright light on a pole on the north ridge because is only about one degree above the horizon.

Thursday: If you want to show your loved ones a celestial sign that they should hang up their clothes, show them Brocchi's Cluster, commonly known as the Coat Hanger cluster because of its resemblance to an upside down coat hanger. The cluster is six fists above the southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m., midway between Altair and Vega, the two brightest stars in the Summer Triangle. You'll need binoculars to make out the shape. First find Altair four fists above the southeast horizon. Slowly move your binoculars up toward Vega. You will run into the coat hanger along the way. And while you are at it, put away your shoes.

Friday: Hercules stands almost directly overhead at 10:30 this evening. Four moderately bright stars form a lopsided square that represents his body, while his head points southward.

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

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