Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/13/12

Saturday: The Ellensburg weather is cooling down. But the space weather is remaining hot. More specifically, the Sun is moving toward a sunspot maximum which means an increase in solar storms. Keep your eye on the space weather by going to

Sunday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8:30 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.

Monday: The Milky Way makes a faint white trail from due northeast through straight overhead to due southwest at 9 p.m. Starting in the northeast, the Milky Way “passes through” the prominent constellations Auriga the charioteer, Cassiopeia the queen, and Cygnus the swan with its brightest star, Deneb, nearly straight overhead. After Cygnus, you’ll see Aquila the eagle with its brightest star Altair about four and a half fists above the southwest horizon. As you started your visual journey, you may have noticed Jupiter rising above the east-northeast horizon.

Tuesday: The elusive Mercury is less than a half a fist above the west-southwest horizon at 6:15, right after sunset. Normally that orientation would present a big challenge. But this evening, Mercury is less than a pinky width to the left of the moon.

Wednesday: Mars is a half a fist above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m. Its “rival”, the bright star Antares, is less than a half a fist to the lower left of Mars. Both are about a fist to the left of the thin crescent moon. It was big news in August when the newest Mars rover landed on the red planet to look for signs of water. But sometimes Mars sends clues are way free of charge. A meteorite that fell in Morocco last year may contain evidence that the Martian surface was once altered by water, acidic water that is unlike most water on Earth. Go to for more information.

Thursday: What time is tea time? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea.

Friday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks for the next two nights and early mornings. This is not a meteor shower that results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night. The first quarter moon sets at about midnight so it will not be out during most of the prime late night and early morning viewing hours. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November.

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

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