Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/28/12

Saturday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and early tomorrow morning. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. “Hi de hi de hi de hi”, these meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. Ho de ho de ho de ho, 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. (The singer Cab Calloway must have had an interest in this star.) 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.

Sunday: School has been out for over a month so it is time to start reviewing your geometric shapes. Let’s start with the right triangle that is a fist above the west-southwest horizon at 10 p.m. The bluish star Spica is at the right angle, in the lower left corner of the triangle. Saturn is a half a fist above Spica and Mars a fist to the right of Spica.

Monday: Jupiter, the bright star Aldebaran, the Hyades open star cluster, Venus, and a small special guest are low in the eastern morning sky this week. At 5 am, Venus, the brightest point of light in the sky, is two fists above the east horizon. Jupiter is about a fist and a half to the upper right of Venus. The Hyades open star cluster makes a small rightward-facing V to the lower right of Jupiter. The bright star Aldebaran is at the lowest point of the V although it is not actually a part of the Hyades cluster.

Tuesday: Most stars are so far away that they look like points of light, even through a telescope. But in 2006, Altair, one of our nearest neighbor stars, became the first main sequence to have a picture taken of its surface features. You can’t see those features with the naked eye. But you can see Altair nearly five fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: In Scotland, August 1 was known as Lammas, the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year. You can remember this by looking at Spica, named after the Latin word for “ear of wheat”, one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-southwest horizon at 9:30 p.m. August 1 is known as a cross-quarter day, a day approximately half way between an equinox and a solstice.

Thursday: Have you ever built a house? You probably had some material left over. If scientists studied that material, they could learn a lot about how your house was constructed, the origin of your house. In fact, studying the building scraps would probably teach them more about the origin of your house than if they studied your house in its current state. After all, your house has been repainted and remodeled. Asteroids are the leftover material from the origin of our Solar System. Scientists study them to learn more about how the Solar System was formed. For the past year, the NASA probe called Dawn has been gathering data from Vesta, one of the largest asteroids in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. For more information about Dawn, go to For visual confirmation of Vesta, go outside at 4:30 am and look at the Hyades cluster through your binoculars. Vesta will be one of the dimmest points of light in the middle of the V, just above Theta 1 and Theta 2 Tauri, two stars of similar brightness lined up nearly one on top of the other in the bottom leg of the V.

Friday: Since you got up early yesterday to look for Vesta, you might as well get up early today to see one of the most recognizable constellations rise. Orion, with its 3-star belt and bright red shoulder star Betelgeuse, peeks up above the eastern horizon at 5 am. In fact, Betelgeuse is exactly one fist above due east at 5 a.m.

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

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