Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/26/13

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the big name event, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to stay up. These two showers overlap from about October 19 to November 19. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.

Sunday: The Stargate movies and TV shows have access to a portal to other planets. Harry Potter has access to a portal to the Chamber of Secrets. You have access to a Portal to the Universe. This portal is not in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom but on the web at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/. It is a repository of up-to-date astronomy news, blogs, and podcasts. A recent story highlights the discovery of a planetary system in which the planets do not orbit around the equator of the star. Astronomers are surprised by this misalignment because it goes against their current theories of solar system formation. Read more about the discovery at http://goo.gl/oI6qeq.

Monday: Jupiter is six fists above the south horizon at 7 a.m.

Tuesday: At 7 a.m., the moon, Mars, and Regulus make a small, nearly equilateral triangle about four fists above due southeast. The bright star Regulus is at the top of the triangle.

Wednesday: Late October to-do list. Buy costume. Check. Watch Orion rise in the east-southeast sky just before midnight. Check. Take kids to Boo Central. Double check. Once again, CWU clubs and organizations will turn the SURC Ballroom into a monstrously fun, safe, and educational place to trick or treat. In fact, it will be “science or treat” for the 4 to 9-year-old kids who visit the CWU astronomy and physics club booths. Boo Central runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the SURC Ballroom on the CWU campus tomorrow night. Contact Campus Activities at 509-963-1450 for more information.

Thursday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite astronomers Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Burnells and Hewishs come to your door tomorrow night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Venus, one fist above the south-southwest horizon at 6 p.m.

Friday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that this day, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

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

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