Friday, February 21, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 2/22/14

Saturday: Oh la la, the Ellensburg High School production of “Annie Get Your Gun” opens tonight at 7 pm at McConnell Auditorium. Hear classic show tunes such as There’s No Business Like Show Business, Anything You Can Do, and I got the Sun in the morning and the zodiacal light at night. Well, that last song might only be in the extended, astronomical version of the play. In that version, Annie explains that the zodiacal light comes from sunlight reflecting off dust grains in our solar system. The effect is the most visible when the band of constellations called the zodiac makes a steep angle with the horizon. You need a clear dark sky in the evening with no haze or light pollution to see the zodiacal light. At its brightest, the zodiacal light rivals the light of the central Milky Way. Look for the ghostly patch in the west after twilight for the next few weeks. They Say It’s Wonderful. The musical will be wonderful too. For more information about the musical, go to

Sunday: If the National Enquirer was around in Galileo’s day, it may have featured the headline: “Saturn has love handles; Opis leaves him for a much thinner Mars”. When Galileo first observed Saturn through a telescope, he reported objects that looked like bulges on either side of Saturn’s midsection. He was actually seeing Saturn’s rings through less than ideal optics. Saturn is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 6 a.m. Mars is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon at this time.

Monday: Jupiter is six fists above due southeast at 7 p.m.

Tuesday: For the next two mornings, Venus does a little dance with the moon. At 6 a.m., Venus is about a fist to the lower left of the moon in the southeast sky. Tomorrow, Venus will be about a half a fist to the upper right of the moon.

Wednesday: Avast ye matey. Swab the poop deck. Pirates love astronomy. In fact, the term “poop” in poop deck comes from the French word for stern (poupe) which comes for the Latin word Puppis. Puppis is a constellation that represents the raised stern deck of Argo Navis, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology. Argo Nevis was an ancient constellation that is now divided between the constellations Puppis, Vela and Carina. The top of Puppis is about a fist and a half to the left of the bright star Sirius in the south-southwest sky at 10 p.m. Zeta Puppis, the hottest, and thus the bluest, naked eye star in the sky at 40,000 degrees Celsius is near the uppermost point in Puppis.

Thursday: I hope you got your sweetie something red for Valentine’s Day two weeks ago. If not, I suggest a nice picture of the Red Valley on Mars. This January, the Mars Express probe took the first high-resolution stereo color image of Tinto Vallis, or Red Valley, the mouth of an ancient water flow on Mars. For more information and many photos of Tinto Vallis, go to Mars is one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Friday: Arcturus is two and a half fists above the east horizon at 11 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: