Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 8/17/13

Saturday: Sometimes you find a quarter on the ground. Maybe you find a dollar in the lining of your jacket. But how often do you find a galaxy in a well-known part of the sky? The Hubble Space Telescope discovered a face-on spiral galaxy in the Coma Cluster of galaxies about 320 million light years away. This galaxy, called NGC 4911, contains regions of gas and dust as well as glowing newborn star clusters. The Coma Star cluster is in the constellation Coma Berenices, found two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 9 p.m. For more information about this newly discovered galaxy, plus a zoomable image, go to

Sunday: You may have gone to the link about the galaxy and said, “That was discovered 3 years ago. What’s actually NEW in the sky?” Is less than a week ago new enough for you? A Japanese astronomer noticed a star on his August 14 image that was not on his August 13 image in the constellation Delphinus that was not there the day before. Of course, this star was there the day before. It just was not bright enough. For more information about this “new star” or nova, go to The nova can be easily seen using binoculars. At 10 p.m., find the constellation Delphinus five fists above due southeast. It is shaped like a dolphin. The nova is three fingers, or a typical binocular field of view, above the dolphin. It won’t stand out in binoculars but rest assured that one of those stars in the field of view is not on any star chart.

Monday: Need a caffeine pick-me-up? Make it a double. Need an astronomy pick-me-up? Make it a double-double. Find Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, nearly straight overhead at 11:00 tonight. Less than half a fist to the east (or left if you are facing south) of the bright bluish star Vega is the “star” Epsilon Lyra. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through binoculars, it looks like two stars. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through a large enough telescope, you will notice that each star in the pair is itself a pair of stars.  Each star in the double is double. Hence, Epsilon Lyra is known as the double-double. The stars in each pair orbit a point approximately in the center of each respective pair. The pairs themselves orbit a point between the two pairs.

Tuesday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Aquarius the water bearer.

Wednesday: Venus is about a half a fist above the west horizon and Saturn is about one and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 8:30 p.m.

Thursday: Mars is two fists and Jupiter is three and a half fists above the east horizon at 5:30 a.m.

Friday: Have you ever gone to a family reunion, looked around and asked, “How in the world are we related to each other?”. Astronomers look around the Solar System and wonder if there is life anywhere else that we are related to. The Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars last summer to investigate whether it ever had conditions favorable for life. The Cassini Mission continues to study the plume of complex organic chemicals streaming from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. NASA and the European Space Agency are planning a trip to study Europa, the Jovian moon with an ice-covered ocean. And many astronomers consider the methane haze in the atmosphere in Saturn’s moon Titan similar to that of the early Earth. To learn more about the search for life in the Solar System and beyond, go to

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

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