Friday, January 18, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 1/19/13

Saturday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above due north at 9 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at one corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Sunday: Saturn is three fists above the south horizon at 7 a.m.

Monday: Jupiter is about a finger thickness from the moon throughout the night. At 7 p.m., Jupiter is just above the moon, six fists above the southeast horizon. In parts of the South Pacific, the moon will occult Jupiter. In musical language, that can be describes as “Some enchanted evening, you may see a planet, you may see a moon, across a crowded sky.”

Tuesday: You think wintertime weather is bad in Ellensburg. Astronomers have discovered storms and earth-sized clouds on a brown dwarf. These are cool, small stars that are not massive enough to fuse hydrogen atoms and fuse hydrogen. In fact, they are more similar to gas giant planets such as Jupiter that to the Sun. In this context, the discovery of storms similar to the giant Red Spot on Jupiter makes sense. For more information, go to

Wednesday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is nearly four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.

Thursday: Are you looking for a vacation spot close by? One that is not to warm and not too cold. One that is “just right”. Last month, astronomers discovered that the star Tau Ceti, one of our closest neighbor at 12 light years away, may have five planets. One of those planets orbiting the Sun-like star is in the so-called Goldilocks Zone where the temperature is just right for having liquid water. You’ll want to do some research before you travel there. Tau Ceti is four and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m. For more information about the discovery, go to

Friday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And, surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making educated judgments of images. So, go to and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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

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