Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 4/5/14

Saturday: Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may be looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20+ mile long run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: If you ran far yesterday, you don’t want to stay up late looking at the stars. So do something during the day that will help you and other night sky enthusiasts: make sure your outdoor light fixtures are shielded or at least facing down. This will cut down on light pollution, stray light that obscures the stars, and give you a head start in celebrating International Dark Sky week, which occurs later in the month. Go to for more information on how to do an outdoor lighting audit and get more information about International Dark Sky week.

Monday: NASA is inviting you to take the plunge with a laddie. Not ready for that level of commitment? Against your religion? You should, at least, “Take the Plunge” with LADEE, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite. Within the next two weeks, it will run out of fuel and crash into the moon. NASA is sponsoring a contest for people to predict the exact date and time it will happen. Winners will receive a personalized certificate from the LADEE team. The deadline to enter the contest is 3 p.m., PDT on Friday April 11.

Tuesday: Mars is at opposition tonight. No, that doesn’t mean that Mars refuses to eat his vegetables. (Please eat your vegetables, children.) Opposition means that Mars is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun. An object is in opposition when it is due south 12 hours after the Sun. When an object is in opposition, it is at its highest point in the sky during the darkest time of the night. A planet in opposition shines brighter and appears larger in a telescope than any other night. And since Mars is also relatively close, it is exceptionally bright tonight. Mars is three and a half fists above due south at 1 a.m.

Wednesday: If you are more of a morning person, you’ll find Mars about one fist above the west-southwest horizon at 6 a.m. At this same time, Venus is one fist above the east-southeast horizon.

Thursday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin my Round (Like a Record) were thought to be: “ You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought them to be.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, five and a half fists above the northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Friday: Saturn is one fist above the southeast horizon at 11:30 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

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