Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 4/6/13

Saturday: Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may be looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20+ mile long run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: If you ran far yesterday, you don’t want to stay up late looking at the stars. So do something during the day that will help you and other night sky enthusiasts: make sure your outdoor light fixtures are shielded or at least facing down. This will cut down on light pollution, stray light that obscures the stars, and it will help you celebrate the start of International Dark Sky week. Go to for more information on how to do an outdoor lighting audit and get more information about International Dark Sky week.

Monday: Jupiter is three fists above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Tuesday: The Virtual Messier Marathon I described in last week’s column has been moved to today at 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. See astronomers find, show, and talk about interesting celestial objects. For more information, go to I noticed that none of my readers went to this link last week so now is your chance. (See, I’m checking up on you.)

Wednesday: Tonight’s moon is new. Don’t bother looking for it. The new moon is the phase where the moon is directly between the Earth and the Sun. Hence the side of the moon facing Earth is not receiving any sunlight and cannot be seen. The new moon is not a big deal this month. But, May 10, the new moon will be covering most of the Sun leading to an annular solar eclipse in some parts of the world such as Australia and the Solomon Islands. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon, as seen from Earth, is relatively far from Earth in its orbit and not large enough to cover the Sun even though they are nearly perfectly lined up. Instead, there is bright ring or annulus around the Moon. The resulting eclipse is called an annular solar eclipse because of this ring.

Thursday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin my Round (Like a Record) were thought to be: “ You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought them to be.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Friday: Saturn is a little more than a fist above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

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

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