Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 5/11/13

Saturday: The moon is midway between Jupiter and Aldebaran low in the western sky right after sunset. At 9 p.m., the moon is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-northwest horizon. Jupiter should be relatively easy to find about a half a fist above it. For a real challenge, look a half a fist below the moon to try find Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the bull.

Sunday: So you think your mother has problems on Mother’s Day because she has you as you as a child? Her mother issues can’t be as bad as Cassiopeia’s issues. First, she was chained to a chair for boasting about her beauty. Second, she has to revolve around the North Star night after night. Third, her daughter Andromeda was nearly sacrificed to a sea monster. Look for poor Cassiopeia about one and a half fists above the north horizon at 10 p.m. Cassiopeia looks like a stretched out “W”.

Monday: Give me an “M”. Give me a “3”. What does that spell? “M3.” “Big deal,” you say. It was a big deal to French comet hunter Charles Messier (pronounced Messy A). M3 was the 3rd comet look-alike that Messier catalogued in the late 1700s. M3 is a globular cluster, a cluster of over 100,000 stars that is 32,000 light years away. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye but is fairly easy find with binoculars. First find Arcturus five and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m. Move your binoculars up a little so two stars of nearly identical brightness are in your field of view. When the top star is in the lower left part of your field of view, there should be a fuzzy patch near the center of your field of view. This is M3.

Tuesday: In an old Saturday Night Live spoof advertisement for a turkey you can pump (http://vimeo.com/12389925), Chris Rock sang, “The first turkey dinner was 1620. The pilgrims had it in the land of plenty.” But he could have just as easily say, “The light left Rasalgethi in 1620. The light now reaches us in the land of plenty.” Rasalgethi is a double star in the constellation Hercules. Its name is based on the Arabic words meaning “Head of the kneeler” because some views of Hercules depict him as a warrior kneeling down, perhaps resting after his twelve labors. You’ll find Rasalgethi exactly two fists above due east at 9:40 p.m.

Wednesday: The bright star Antares is one fist above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: This is a good time of the year to find the Big Dipper. It is nearly straight overhead at 10 p.m. The cup is to the west and the handle is to the east. You can always use the Big Dipper to find some other bright stars. First, follow the curve, or arc, of the Big Dipper down three fists into the southern sky. This is the bright star, Arcturus, the second brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. Next, continue on a straight line, or spike, another three fists down toward the south horizon to the star Spica. Spica is the tenth brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg. It is known as the Horn Mansion, one of 28 mansions, or constellations, in the Chinese sky. You now know how to use the Big Dipper handle to “arc” to Arcturus and “spike” to Spica.

Friday: Saturn is about two and a half fists above south-southeast at 10 p.m.

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

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