Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 12/14/13

Saturday: The moon is spending a fun-filled Saturday night with seven sisters. (Don’t tell Mrs. Moon.) At 7 p.m., the open star cluster called the Pleiades, or the seven sisters, is less than one fist to the upper left of the moon. They stay close together the whole night, finally snuggling under the covers, I mean setting, at about 6 a.m. tomorrow. Expect the moon to sleep on the couch tomorrow night.

Sunday: Tonight, the moon is hiding out in the Hyades star cluster, near the bright star Aldebaran. After spending last night with seven sisters, the moon is spending time with someone less vibrant. In Inuit astronomy, Aldebaran is known as the spirit of the polar bear. At 6 p.m., they are about two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due east with Aldebaran about a thumb width to the lower right of the moon.

Monday: The full moon occurs late tonight at about 1:30 a.m. When the Moon is full, it is difficult to see dim objects in the sky because of the sky glow. But why struggle to find dim objects when there is so much to see on the big, bright object in front of you? The lunar crater called Tycho is best seen during a full Moon. Tycho was formed about 109 million years ago when an asteroid struck the Moon, leaving a crater over 50 miles in diameter and ejected dust trails that radiate out hundreds of miles in all directions. For more lunar highlights, go to, a resource of the Night Sky Network.

Tuesday: Today is Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of their god Saturn, the god of agriculture and time. The holiday featured a break from work and school, a public banquet, and private gift giving. Some of these customs influenced the secular aspects of Christmas celebrations. Celebrate Saturnalia at 6:30 a.m. by viewing the planet Saturn, one and a half fists above due southeast. Seeing the real Saturn on the morning of December 17? As Leonard said on The Big Bang Theory, “It’s a Saturnalia miracle.”

Wednesday: This is a moon-intensive week. Tonight we’ll follow the moon as it moves near the planet Jupiter and the bright stars Procyon, Pollux, and Castor. At 9 p.m., Jupiter is a half a fist to the upper left of the moon and Procyon is about a fist below it. Pollux and Castor are on the opposite of Jupiter from the moon.

Thursday: On these cold mornings, it is difficult to get going. You just want to plop into a chair and sit still. But, are you really sitting still? You’re moving at about 700 miles per hour due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis and 66,000 miles per hour due to the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. If that’s not enough, the entire solar system is orbiting the center of the galaxy at a whopping 480,000 miles per hour! So while you may be sitting still with respect to your living room (and all of the over achievers in your house), you are NOT sitting still with respect to the center of the galaxy. For more information about this concept, go to Before you barf from all of that motion, go outside at 6:30 a.m. and observe Saturn, less than a fist above the moon in the southeast sky. Because of Saturn’s rapid rotation, only 10.5 hours, it appears visible flattened.

Friday: Venus is a fist above the southwest horizon at 5 p.m.

The positional information in this column about stars and planets is typically accurate for the entire week. For up to date information about the night sky, go to

No comments: