Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/9/13

Saturday: The two smallest planets team up in the sky tonight. Elusive Mercury and perennial favorite Mars will be close together, a half a fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-southwest horizon at 6 p.m. They have a lot in common. They both start with the letter “M”. They both have frozen water on their surface, and they have both sent debris to the Earth. Over 100 meteorites are known to have come from Mars, most famously ALH 84001 which was discovered in Antarctica in 1984. ALH84001 was though to contain evidence of nanobacteria fossils that originated on Mars. Since Mercury is so close to the Sun, very few rocks escape the gravitational pull of the Sun and Mercury to make it to Earth. (The Ford Motor Company tried to make up for this deficiency when it sold the Mercury Meteor from 1961-1963.) Astronomers think they may have found the first Mercury meteorite in Morocco. It bright green color due to a silicate material called diopside helps it stand out from other meteorites. Astronomers need to study it a lot more before that can confirm the Mercury origin. For more information, go to

Sunday: At 8 p.m., Jupiter is six fists above the south horizon.

Monday: Naked eye comets are rare occurrences. But in mid- to late March, the comet Pan-STARRS may be as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper. This is a new comet from the Oort Cloud, making its first appearance in the inner Solar System. So astronomers aren’t sure if it will break up and not be seen or be very active and have a large tail. For more information, go to

Tuesday: At 6 a.m., Saturn is nearly three fists above the south horizon.

Wednesday: Do you have a date for Valentine’s Day? Of course you do. You’ve been planning for weeks. But have you been planning for the equally important Valentine’s Day Eve? I didn’t think so. Well, the Central Washington University Astronomy Club has got you covered. They are giving planetarium shows in the SURC ballroom on the CWU campus tonight starting at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page at

Thursday: According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came the great warrior Perseus, fresh off his defeat of the evil Gorgon, Medusa. The only similarity between Andromeda and Medusa was that Andromeda caused people to stand still and stare at her beauty while Medusa turned people to stone because of her ugliness. (And, you thought you looked bad in the morning.) Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monsters neck and killed it. In a little known addendum to the story, Perseus carved “Percy (heart symbol) Andi” in the rock, thus originating the use of the heart symbol as a substitute for the word “love”.
You can find these lovers in the sky this Valentine’s Day. Just remember it is rude to stare – and you never know when you might turn to stone. First, find the Great Square of Pegasus at 7 p.m. between one and a half and three and a half fists above the west horizon. The lowest star in Andromeda is the top star in the square. This represents Andromeda’s head. Perseus is at her feet, nearly straight overhead. Mirphak, the brightest star in Perseus, is about eight fists above the west horizon. Perseus’ body is represented by the line of stars to the left and right of Mirphak.

Friday: Tonight, 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. It will be very difficult to find in backyard telescopes. But the Clay Center Observatory will have a real-time high-definition video feed from 3 p.m. PST to 1 a.m. tomorrow. Find it here

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

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