Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/5/13

Saturday: Since Halloween is later this month, the stores are filled with bags of candy clusters. Instead, take time to look at a star cluster. The Hyades cluster is an open star cluster that represents the V-shaped face of Taurus the bull. It is one of the biggest and nearest star clusters with about 200 stars 150 light years away. The Hyades cluster was the first cluster to be the subject of detailed motion studies. These studies allowed astronomers to pinpoint the distance to the Hyades and provide important information about the scale of the universe. Aldebaran, nearly two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 11 p.m., is a foreground star and not a part of the Hyades cluster.

Sunday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks for the next three nights. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is about five fists held upright and at arm’s above the northwest horizon at 10 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Typically, this is a minor shower. However, Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere near where we see the constellation Draco. The moon will set long before the nightly peak so there will be little natural light obscuring the dim meteors. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. For everything you need to know about the Draconid meteor shower, go to

Monday: Can you see a planet during the day? Sure you can. Look around you at the Earth. But can you see a planet in the sky during the day? Yes, with the help of the moon. At 6 p.m., find the crescent moon one and a half fists above the southwest horizon. Then make a fist and hold it horizontal to the left of the moon. The planet Venus will be on the left side of your fist. If you wait less than an hour, the Sun will have set and you’ll definitely see Venus to the left of the moon and Saturn a little farther to the lower right.

Tuesday: The bright star Arcturus is a fist and a half above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: The constellation Vulpecula, the fox, stands high in the south at nightfall. It is in the middle of the Summer Triangle, which is defined by the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The fox is so faint that you need dark skies to see it.

Thursday: While you are resting after looking for Draconid meteors for two nights, start thinking about the Orionid meteor shower. This shower, which consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail, peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about three fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second.

Friday: Tonight’s first quarter moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer.

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

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