Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/13/13

Saturday: Being in a coma is a bad thing. Looking at the Coma Star Cluster is a good thing. The Coma Star Cluster is an open cluster of about 50 stars that takes up more space in the sky than 10 full Moons. It looks like a fuzzy patch with the naked eye. Binoculars reveal dozens of sparkling stars. A telescope actually diminishes from the spectacle because the cluster is so big and the telescope’s field of view is so small. The Coma Star Cluster is in the faint constellation Coma Berenices (ba-ron-ice’-ez) or Queen Berenice’s hair. Queen Berenice of Egypt cut off her beautiful hair as a sacrifice to the gods for the safe return of her husband Ptolemy III from battle. The Coma Star Cluster is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 11:00 p.m.

Sunday: The long summer days remind us to take some time to safely observe the Sun. The best way to do that is to go to http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/ and watch the great images and videos that come from the Solar Dynamics Observer, or SDO for short. We are approaching a sunspot maximum scheduled to peak at the end of the year. So what, you say? Sunspots and associated phenomena greatly influence the strength of solar flares. The strongest flares can affect satellites orbiting the Earth and even electronics on the Earth’s surface.

Monday: Would you like to take the small finger test? First, find the first quarter moon, one and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 10 p.m. Just to the upper right of the moon is the bright star Spica. If you can fit your finger between Spica and the moon, you pass the test.

Tuesday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the upper right of the moon at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: Say "Cheese". 163 years ago today, Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, became the first star ever photographed. The photograph was done at the Harvard Observatory using the daguerreotype process. Vega is the third brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg, behind Sirius and Arcturus. Vega is nearly straight overhead at 11:00 tonight.

Thursday: Now that Pluto’s two newest moons have been named Kerberos and Styx, the dwarf planet system is probably going to release a Styx tribute album featuring these songs. Blue Color Plan(et): “I’ll take those long nights, impossible cold, keeping my eye for the spacecraft. If it takes nine years to show me in the cam. Well, I’m gonna be a blue color plan(et)”. Too much time on my hands: “Is it any wonder I take two-fifty years? Is it any wonder I’m made of hail. Is it any wonder I’ve got too much time on my hands”. The New Horizons spacecraft, on a nine year journey to reach Pluto in 2015, even has a contribution to the album: “Babe, I’m leaving, I must be on my way. Pluto is drawing near.” You can’t see Pluto with binoculars or even a small telescope. But you can see a picture of the dwarf planet system at http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130708.html.

Friday: Jupiter is one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 5 a.m.

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

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