Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 3/22/14

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Great successor to Sagan
Watch the new Cosmos

Saturday: You’ve seen all of the top 100 lists: top 100 ways to please your mate, top 100 restaurants in the local region, etc. Now get excited for the lunar 100 at This list describes 100 interesting landmarks on the moon that are visible from Earth. They are listed from easiest to see, starting with the entire moon itself at number 1, to most difficult (Mare Marginis swirls, anyone?). Either stay up late or go out early tomorrow morning to observe the third quarter moon and check a couple of items off of the Lunar 100

Sunday: Hit the road Venus. And don’t you come back no more, no more. For the past few months, Venus has been hitting the road and moving away from the Sun in the sky. This morning, Venus is as far away from the Sun as it will get this cycle. This is known as its greatest western elongation. Venus is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 6:30 this morning. Over the next few months, Venus will move toward the Sun in the sky. After it passes behind the Sun, it will appear in the evening sky by the summer.
Venus isn’t the only planet visible in the morning sky. But the other two will be very challenging to find. Are you up for a challenge? Are you? If you are, go to an open window and yell, “oooh yeah baby!” Then go find your binoculars. At 6:40 a.m., Mercury is just above the horizon midway between east and southeast. Neptune is right above it, invisible to the naked eye and barely visible with binoculars.

Monday: Jupiter is six and a half fists above the south horizon at 8 p.m.

Tuesday: Mars about one fist above the east-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: So far this week, I have written about Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune. Do you like these planets or does another planet really catch your fancy? If you’d like to know what most people’s favorite planet is, go to and click on “Launch Interactive”. The public TV special called “The Pluto Files” has set up a website in which astronomers give a 30-second pitch for why a certain planet is their favorite. After listening to the pitch, you may vote for your favorite planet. Of course, you may also do what most people do for political elections: vote for the candidate with the best name or the one with the most interesting campaign slogan. So whether you carefully consider each planet or simply “Swoon for Neptune”, “Jump for Jupiter”, or “Pick Uranus”, go to “The Pluto Files” and vote. Saturn will be holding a campaign rally tonight at midnight, about a half a fist above the southeast horizon.

Thursday: Two weeks ago, I asked you to watch the bright star Deneb to observe how its time at due north changes from night to night. It reached due north at 10:18 p.m. two Thursdays ago. Tonight, it reaches due north at 9:23 p.m., 55 minutes earlier. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, it also rotates on its axis. (Wow Bruce, really? We learn so much from you!) Because it does both motions counterclockwise as viewed from above the Earth’s North Pole, any given spot on Earth faces the distant stars a little bit earlier each day than that spot faces the Sun. Based on the specific rotational and revolutional speed, it amounts to three minutes and 56 seconds earlier each day. That’s 27.5 minutes earlier each week and… wait for it… wait for it… 55 minutes earlier every two weeks. Depending on where you live, those due north times may be off by a few minutes. But the two-week difference will be the same no matter where you live. (I apologize for my smart aleck statement earlier. You DO teach us a lot.)

Friday: April is Global Astronomy Month (GAM). While many astronomy experiences come from looking up, you can also experience astronomy looking down… at pen and paper. GAM has launched an Astropoetry blog and is looking for contributors, hopefully ones that are better than mine above. Even if you’ve never written a poem before, this is your opportunity to express your love for astronomy in a unique way and possibly share it with others. Go to for more poetry.

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

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