Friday, July 19, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/20/13

Saturday: Take a two and a half hour walk. Too long, you say? Forty-four years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first ever walk by humans on another world. They spend two and a half hours setting up scientific instruments and collecting rocks for study back on Earth. Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the spacecraft the astronauts would use to return to Earth.

Sunday: It’s another bird. No, it’s another plane. No, it’s another super moon. The moon has been very close to perigee for the past two full moons and is again this full moon. At perigee, the moon is at its closest to the earth. (After all, that’s what perigee means.) And when items are closer to us, they appear larger. So a super moon is really a close moon. Maybe the close talker on the show “Seinfeld” should have been called the super talker.

Monday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks for the next few nights and early mornings with the greatest concentration of meteors being visible next weekend. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. This point is about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 am tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain a fist above Fomalhaut, the brightest star in that section of the sky. The best time to view the shower is after midnight between moonset and dawn. You’ll have to look closely because the moonlight will obscure the dimmer meteors. As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Tuesday: Saturn is two fists above due southwest at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: Altair, at one corner of the Summer Triangle, is four fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Altair is one of the closest bright stars, so close that fictional astronauts visited a planet orbiting Altair in the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet”.

Thursday: Do you want an easy way to find due north? A compass points to magnetic north, which is a few degrees off of true geographic north. Well, tonight’s your night. Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer, is due north at exactly 10:03 p.m. It looks like a bright light on a pole on the north ridge because is only about one degree above the horizon.

Friday: Hot enough for you? If not, astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope think they have discovered a molten planet orbiting a star almost right next door on an astronomical scale – only 33 light years away. This planet is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth and is VERY close to its parent star – about 2% of the Earth-Sun distance. The star, GJ 436, is a dim red dwarf star. For more information about this discovery, read the NASA press release at

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

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