Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/2/13

Saturday: Today is Groundhog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow this morning, he is telling us that he follows the Chinese calendar and that spring starts early. On the Chinese calendar, equinoxes and solstices occur in the middle of their respective seasons. In order for the vernal equinox to occur in the middle of spring, spring must start on February 3 or 4, depending on the year. Thus, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, legend is that spring will start on February 3 or 4 as on the Chinese calendar. If Phil sees his shadow, he is telling us he agrees with the western calendar and that there will be six more weeks of winter meaning spring will start near March 20.

Sunday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the upper right of the last quarter moon at 6 a.m. They are about three fists above due south.

Monday: “E.T. phone Kepler 20… if you are feeling cold”. This may be the new iconic line of dialog if there is a sequel the hit movie “E.T.”. About a year ago, scientists working on the Kepler planet-finding mission announced the discovery of two Earth-size planets orbiting a star other than our Sun. This star, dubbed Kepler-20, is a little smaller and cooler than the Sun. The planets are much closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun. Kepler 20e is around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to melt glass. The planets orbiting Kepler 20 were discovered using the transit method where a planet passes between the Earth and its host star such that the host star’s light is dimmed a little bit. If this planet seems too inhospitable, just wait. Astronomers studying the Kepler missin data think that at least one star out of every six has Earth-size planets. Many of these planets will be at a more temperate location. Kepler-20 and numerous other stars being studied by Kepler is located about one fist above the northwest horizon at 7 p.m. It is much too dim to be seen with the naked eye but it is midway between the bright stars Deneb and Vega in the sky. To learn more about the Kepler mission, go to

Tuesday: Antares is about a half a fist to the lower right of the moon at 6 a.m.

Wednesday: Winter is a good time to see the thick band of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches high in the high in the early evening starting in the southeast by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Climbing from Sirius through the "horns" of Taurus high overhead, it drops down toward M-shaped Cassiopeia in the north and the tail of Cygnus, the swan, in the northwest.

Thursday: Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, is two and a half fists above due south at 9:30 p.m.

Friday: Where is Bruce Willis when you need him? On February 15, an asteroid about half the size of a football field will pass about 17,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. This is above low earth orbiting objects such as the International Space Station but below the higher belt of weather and communication satellites. Luckily, there are no satellites orbiting 17,000 miles above the earth. For more information, go to

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

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