Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/27/13

Saturday: Venus is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 9 p.m. Saturn is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon at this time.

Sunday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and early tomorrow morning. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. “Hi de hi de hi de hi”, these meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. “Ho de ho de ho de ho”, this point is about one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 1 am tomorrow morning. (The well-known scat singer Cab Calloway must have had an interest in this star.) 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. Unfortunately, the waning gibbous moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors.

Monday: If you want to show your loved ones a celestial sign that they should hang up their clothes, show them Brocchi's Cluster, commonly known as the Coat Hanger cluster because of its resemblance to an upside down coat hanger. The cluster is six fists above the southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m., midway between Altair and Vega, the two brightest stars in the Summer Triangle. You'll need binoculars to make out the shape. First find Altair four fists above the southeast horizon. Slowly move your binoculars up toward Vega. You will run into the coat hanger along the way. And while you are at it, put away your shoes.

Tuesday: This morning, Mercury will be as far away from the Sun in the sky as it will get this orbital cycle. This "farthest away" point is known as the planet's greatest elongation. This morning and tomorrow morning will be the best mornings to observe Mercury for the next few weeks. Mercury is less than a fist above the east-northeast horizon at 5 a.m. Over the next few weeks, Mercury will move toward the Sun in the sky. By late September, it will be visible in the evening sky. While Mercury will be less favorable for viewing, Mars and Jupiter will be getting higher in the sky over the next few months. Jupiter is the brightest point of light, a fist and a half above the east-northeast horizon and mars is less than a half a fist to the lower left of Jupiter. All three of these planets are in the constellation Gemini.

Wednesday: The bright star Arcturus is three fists above the west horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: In Scotland, August 1 was known as Lammas, the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year. You can remember this by looking at Spica, named after the Latin word for “ear of wheat”, one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-southwest horizon at 9:30 p.m. August 1 is known as a cross-quarter day, a day approximately half way between an equinox and a solstice.

Friday: Had the script been written a little differently for a well-known Robin Williams movie, we might have heard Mr. Williams shout, “Goooood Morning Orion the hunter”. Orion is typically thought of as a winter constellation. But, it makes its first appearance in the summer sky. The lowest corner of Orion’s body, represented by the star Saiph (pronounced “safe”), rises at 4:30 a.m., well before the Sun. By 5 a.m., Orion’s belt is about one fist above the east-southeast horizon.

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

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