Thursday, February 27, 2014
The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/1/14
Saturday: “The crow rises in the southeast,” said spy number one. “I’m sorry. I don’t recognize that code,” replied spy number two. Spy one exclaimed, “That’s because it’s not a code, you idiot. I’m talking about the constellation Corvus the crow.” This very bad spy movie dialogue is to remind you that Corvus had a very bad life. According to one myth, Corvus brought the god Apollo the news that his girlfriend was seeing someone else. In a classic case of punishing the messenger, Apollo turned the formerly beautifully colored crow black. The box-shaped Corvus is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 10 p.m.
Sunday: Tonight is a great night to look for the Big Dipper. Tomorrow will be a great night to look for the Big Dipper. In fact, every night for many centuries will be great nights to look for the Big Dipper. But the Big Dipper’s shape slowly changes over many, many, many, many centuries. (Have I reached my word count yet?) Tens of thousands of years ago, it didn’t look like a dipper and tens of thousands of years from now, it will no longer look like a dipper. For a short video simulation of the changing Big Dipper, go to http://goo.gl/df1yV. For a look at the current Dipper, face northeast at 8 p.m. The lowest star, Alkaid, is two and a half fists above the horizon.
Monday: Vega is about a fist above the northeast horizon just before midnight.
Tuesday: Mars is one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.
Wednesday: If you ask an astrobiologist for the three most likely places to find evidence of life in the Solar System, other than Earth, they’d probably say Mars, Europa (“Didn’t they sing “The Final Countdown”?”), and Enceladus. Mars makes sense because you know scientists have sent a lot of probes there. Astronomers first discovered strong evidence of a large water ocean on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, in 1989. However, Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, first piqued astrobiologists’ interest a few years ago then NASA’s Cassini probe discovered jets of water containing organic materials shooting out. Last year, the German space agency started a project called Enceladus Explorer, EnEx for short, to collect sample from deep within Enceladus. For more information on the Enceladus mission, go to http://goo.gl/VPxzs. Jupiter and Europa are six and a half fists above the south horizon at 8 p.m. Saturn and Enceladus are two fists above the south-southwest horizon at 6 a.m. By the way, the Swedish group Europe sang “The Final Countdown”. And they were “heading for Venus” in the song, not to the worlds of the outer Solar System.
Thursday: You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Venus is a fist above the southeast horizon at 6 a.m. It probably jumps out at you as the brightest point of light in the morning sky.
Friday: In this busy world, it is important to know what time it is. We have many devises that give us the time. A phone. A computer. A watch. But who has time to build a phone, computer or even a watch. Not you. But everyone has enough time to build a simple Sun Clock. All you need is a pencil, a compass and a print out of the clock template. Go to https://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/sunclock.html for more information.
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 https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.