Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/27/12

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the big name, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to say up. This shower reaches a maximum over the next few nights with a peak on the early mornings of November 5th and 12th. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.

Sunday: At 6 p.m., Mercury is less than a half a fist above the southwest horizon and Mars is one fist above and a little bit south of the southwest horizon.

Monday: The harvest is over. Animals that have filled themselves up with the excess bounty are wondering around through forests that have lost their leaves. It is a hunter’s paradise. The only thing missing is nighttime lighting. Enter the hunter’s moon. Tonight’s full moon, called the hunter’s moon, is in the constellation Aries the ram.

Tuesday: Late October to-do list. Buy costume. Check. Watch Orion rise in the east-southeast sky just before midnight. Check. Take kids to Boo Central. Double check. Once again, CWU clubs and organizations will turn the SURC Ballroom into a monstrously fun, safe, and educational place to trick or treat. In fact, it will be “science or treat” for kids who visit the CWU astronomy and physics club booths. Boo Central runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom on the CWU campus. Contact Campus Activities at 963-1691 for more information.

Wednesday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite astronomers Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Tarters and Shostaks come to your door tomorrow night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Venus, a half a fist above the southwest horizon.

Thursday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that this day, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

Friday: Venus is two fists above the east-southeast horizon and Jupiter is three and a half fists above the west horizon at 7 a.m.

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

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