Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/30/13

Saturday: Jupiter is three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: Next Saturday, about 500 people will be in town to run a marathon. If you have not trained, you’re not ready. Instead, satisfy that marathon craving by attending a virtual Messier Marathon. Charles Messier (pronounced messy a) was an 18th century French astronomer best known for his catalog of 110 nebulae and star clusters. Amateur astronomers love to find as many of these as they can in one night. During the online Messier Marathon, you’ll see the images broadcast on the Internet. The fun starts at 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time when astronomers on the nighttime side of Earth point their telescopes towards interesting celestial objects. For more information, go to

Monday: After a long journey through space, there is nothing will quench your thirst better than a few drops of refreshing Mars water. Wait! Is this an April Fool’s Day joke? No. In 2010, after analyzing photos taken by the Mars Phoenix Lander, a group of astronomers discovered what they interpreted as drops of very salty liquid water on one of the Lander’s legs. But we are not going to travel 18 months to Mars just to lick a few drops of water off a metal leg.  We want waterfront property if we are going all that way.  The high-resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken images of dark rivulets form, grow, and fade in the Martian southern hemisphere.  Even though Mars is very cold, this liquid could contain enough salt to lower its freezing point by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mars is too close to the Sun in the evening sky to be visible. So you’ll have to be content reading about it at

Tuesday: Orion is getting lower and lower in the nighttime sky. Its second brightest star Betelgeuse is only one and a half fists above the west-southwest horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: Typically there are no cheers when spacecraft crash. Except for the Death Star. But when the twin lunar satellites from the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) ended their mission on December 17, 2012, astronomers hailed it as a job well done. The twin spacecraft spent a year orbiting the moon and mapping subtle differences in its gravitational pull to help astronomers better determine the structure and history of the moon. The best summary of the GRAIL data is this Astronomy Picture of the day, which would fit right in on a t-shirt at a Grateful Dead concert ( If you didn’t stay up late “Driving that train, high on… life”, look for the moon in the southern sky this morning.

Thursday: The bright star Arcturus is three fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

Friday: Saturn is about one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m. You shouldn’t stay up too late watching it. You need to get up early to cheer on your favorite runners at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon tomorrow at 8 a.m. on Canyon Road just south of Berry Road.

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

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