Thursday, May 1, 2014
The Ellensburg sky for the week of 5/3/14
Saturday: As the rock group Journey once thought of singing, “Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’. Know where the Dipper’ll be tomorrow.” Every night, the Big Dipper and Casseopeia make a wheel in the sky that turns around the North Star in a counter clockwise direction. Every year on May 3 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on May 4 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on May 5 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on May 6 at 10 p.m., well, you get the idea. Of course, there are subtle charges in the position from night to night. Each northern constellation moves about one degree counter clockwise from one night to the next. But this is not going to change their position in the sky drastically over a few days. So if you know where the Big Dipper is tonight, you’ll also know where it will be tomorrow. If you are really struggling to understand this concept, Don’t Stop Believin’ in yourself.
Sunday: Mother’s Day is a week away. What are you going to get her? Get her a Gem(ma). The star Gemma, also known as Alphekka, is the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Gemma, Latin for jewel is the central gemstone for the crown. It is four fists held upright and at arm’s length above due east at 10 p.m.
Monday: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow morning. But since this meteor shower has a fairly broad peak range, there will be many more meteors than in the typical pre-dawn sky throughout the month of May. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius near the star Eta. This point is about one fist above the east horizon at 4 a.m. The moon sets in the middle of the night for the next few days so early morning viewing will be best. You could be rewarded with some bright, fast meteors. The Eta Aquarid meteors slam into the Earth at about 40 miles per second. They often leave a long trail. The Eta Aquarid meteors are small rocks that have broken off Halley’s Comet. For more information about the Eta Aquarids, go to http://meteorshowersonline.com/eta_aquarids.html.
Tuesday: Very few people celebrate a satellite crashing. The Ewoks celebrated the Death Star crashing but they’re not people. Ground controllers at NASA were a little sad when the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) that they had built crashed on the moon on April 17. Even though this was a planned crash because it was running out of fuel, the project manager noted that the ending was “bittersweet” after years of building, testing, and flying the space craft in a close orbit of the moon. Now even the Ewoks danced. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/zc4v2F.
Wednesday: Venus is less than a fist above the east horizon at 5 a.m.
Wednesday: This weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day with the big mom of the sky, Virgo. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated this portion of the sky with their own goddess of the harvest, either Demeter (Greeks) or Ceres (Roman). Demeter was the mother of Persephone and Ceres was the mother of Proserpina. According to myth, each of these daughters was abducted causing their mothers great grief. The first star in Virgo rises in the afternoon. Spica, the bright bluish star in the constellation rises at 6:30 and is three fists above the south-southeast horizon at 10 p.m. Mars is about five times as bright and reddish. It is about a fist and a half to the upper right of Spica.
Thursday: Jupiter is three fists above due west at 9:30 p.m.
Friday: Tomorrow will be one of the best nights of the year to observe Saturn because it will be at opposition. That doesn’t mean that Saturn is now a teenager. Opposition means that Saturn is on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun. In this case, Saturn is also at its biggest and brightest of the year. When an object is in opposition, it is at its highest point in the sky during the darkest time of the day. Saturn is about two fists southeast horizon at 11 p.m. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/cphjLl.
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.