Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 12/1/12

Saturday: “Hey baby! What’s your sign?”
“Ophiuchus, of course”
The Sun is in the same part of the sky as the stars of Ophiuchus from about November 29 to December 17. This is what astrologers mean when they say the Sun is “in” a constellation. Thus, if you were born between these dates, you should be an Ophiuchus. The fact that the horoscopes never list Ophiuchus is a major flaw of astrology. Astrology says that some of our characteristics are based on the location of the Sun at our birth. How can astrologers leave out three weeks from their system? That is like a scientist saying she can explain the results of her experiment every month of the year except early December. Ophiuchus was a mythical healer who was a forerunner to Hippocrates. According to myth, he could raise people from the dead. Maybe that is why he is ignored by astrology. Raising people from the dead is much less impressive than giving spot-on advice such as “Today is a good day to watch your finances.”
The bright stars of Ophiuchus rise just before the Sun. Rasalhague (pronounced Ras’-al-hay’-gwee), the brightest star, is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Sunday: Jupiter is about five fists above the east-southeast horizon at 9 p.m. tonight. The Hyades open star cluster is the arrowhead-shaped object just to the lower right of Jupiter.

Monday: Has the Mars Curiosity Rover found something exciting on the surface of Mars? At a conference in Europe last week, Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi hinted that the rover might have found organic compounds on Mars. Scientists working on the Curiosity mission will present their latest finding at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco today. Go to for the latest news on the mission. By the way, this is how real science works: drop a hint to create a buzz in the community, share the results with peers at a conference, refine the theory based on peer feedback, get the work accepted in a science journal and then say “we think we found something major”. It’s not as exciting as a TV news conference. But it is much more likely to lead to solid scientific findings.

Tuesday: The southern claw is close to gripping Venus this morning. The star Zubenelgenubi, based on the Arabic words for “southern claw”, is only one degree, less than a pinky thickness, to the lower right of Venus. This star’s name is a good example of how the constellation shapes have changed over time. Zubenelgenubi is now part of Libra. But Libra and Scorpius the scorpion used to be one constellation with Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali (northern claw) making up the scorpion’s large appendages. Venus is a little more than a fist above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m. Mercury is about a half a fist to the lower left of Venus.

Wednesday: Is that favorite astronomy-loving relative of yours asking for a telescope this Christmas? Well, she’s your favorite so get her what she wants with cost being no object. But if that so-so relative of yours would like a telescope, look no further than this Sky and Telescope article about low cost telescopes The authors review and recommend three telescopes for under $100 at the time of publication. If your hated acquaintance wants an astronomy gift, show them a copy this column. After such a dud “gift”, you’ll never hear from them again. And that may be the best gift of all.

Thursday: Saturn actually starts the line-up of planets in the morning sky. It is nearly two fists above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m. The much brighter Venus is to Saturn’s lower left.

Friday: The earliest sunset of the year occurs today and throughout the next week, 4:13 p.m. This seems odd because the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, isn’t for about two more weeks. The Sun is at its southernmost point with respect to the background stars on the day of the winter solstice. This means the Sun spends the least amount of time above the horizon on that day. But, the Sun rise and set time depends on more than its apparent vertical motion. It also depends on where the Sun is on the analemma, that skinny figure-8 you see on globes and world maps. During the second week in December, the Sun is not quite to the bottom of the analemma. But, it is on the leading edge of the analemma, the first section to go below the horizon.

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

No comments: