Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/6/12

Saturday: Tire track forensic analysis comes to Mars? It’s not needed yet but the possibility now exists. Mars Curiosity rover took a photo of its own wheel track in a small sandy ridge. Go to for a photo of the rover’s wheel track and Buzz Aldrin’s boot print. Mars is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Sunday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks tonight. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is about five fists above the northwest horizon at 10 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Typically, this is a minor shower. However, Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere near where we see the constellation Draco. Tonight and tomorrow night’s nearly last quarter moon will rise after the late evening peak of the shower so viewing should be favorable. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.

Monday: While you are looking for Draconid meteors for a second night, start thinking about the Orionid meteor shower. The Orionid meteor shower, which consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail, peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. 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.

Tuesday: The bright star Arcturus is a fist and a half above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Since Halloween is coming up, the stores are filled with bags of candy clusters. Instead, take time to look at a star cluster. The Hyades cluster is an open star cluster that represents the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull. It is one of the biggest and nearest star clusters with about 200 stars 150 light years away. The Hyades cluster was the first cluster to be the subject of detailed motion studies. These studies allowed astronomers to pinpoint the distance to the Hyades and provide important information about the scale of the universe. Aldebaran, nearly two fists above due east horizon at 11 p.m., is a foreground star and not a part of the Hyades cluster. This cluster should be easy to find for the next few weeks because it will be less than a fist to the right of the bright planet Jupiter.

Thursday: Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is nearly two and a half fists above the south horizon at 6 a.m.

Friday: Venus is about a half a fist to the upper left of a thin waxing crescent moon at 6 a.m.

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

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