Friday, November 2, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 11/3/12

Saturday: Don’t forget to “fall back” tonight. Before you fall back on to your bed, set your clock back one hour to the real time. Daylight savings ends early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. This means one more hour of sky watching at night because the Sun will set one hour earlier. Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “saving daylight” by adjusting our clocks way back in 1784. Daylight savings time was first utilized during World War I as a way to save electricity. After the war, it was abandoned. It was reintroduced during World War II on a year-round basis. From 1945 to 1966, some areas implemented daylight savings and some did not. But, it was not implemented with any uniformity as to when it should start and stop. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 codified the daylight savings rules.

Sunday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 9 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta. Chinese know this group of stars as a flying serpent or dragon.

Monday: The South Taurid meteor shower is past its peak and the North Taurid meteor shower has not quite reached its peak. However, together, these two showers will produce a few meteors per hour. It is not worth your while to stay up all night for this. But if you are outside anyway, look up. Oops, not while you are crossing the street. You can follow these showers throughout the night, as they will remain near the bright planet Jupiter. Jupiter is four fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m. and six and a half fists above the south horizon at 2 a.m.

Tuesday: Did you look up Jill Tarter and Seth Shostak based on last week’s Halloween costume suggestion? Jill Tarter is an American astronomer and the director of the Center for SETI Research. The character played by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact was based on Dr. Tarter. Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute. SETI is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. One of the stars they may have studied is Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation Gemini. Pollux is the brightest star visible at night that is known to have a planet orbiting it. It is two fists above the east-northeast horizon at 11 p.m., a half a fist below its “twin star” Castor.

Wednesday: While Stonehenge is an ancient burial ground visited by religious people for thousands of years, MIThenge is an 825-foot long hallway on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited by the Sun’s rays twice a year.  Every year in November and January, the setting Sun lines up with a narrow window at the end of the long hall and the light shines down to the opposite end. This season’s alignment is from November 10-13. For more information, visit of visit MIT.

Thursday: Venus is two fists above the southeast horizon at 6 a.m.

Friday: When Napoleon Dynamite danced to the Alphaville song, “Forever Young” at his prom, he didn’t know he might have been learning about the giant asteroid Vesta. According to the latest pictures from the Dawn spacecraft, Vesta is continually stirring up its outermost layer bringing fresh material to the surface. This makes Vesta look “forever young, Vesta wants to be forever young. Vesta wants to live forever, forever, and ever.” Go to for more information. Vesta is visible with binoculars, about midway between Jupiter and Betelgeuse, three fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

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

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