Friday, June 6, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 6/7/14

Saturday: Many bands have summer tours, including a full summer schedule at the Gorge Amphitheatre. This week, the moon is having a sky tour of its own. Just like Bruno Mars is coming to the Gorge on August 9, “Moon Near Mars” is coming to your sky tonight. Mars is less than a half a fist held at arm’s length to the upper right of the moon at 10 p.m. tonight.

Sunday: Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo, is one of the hottest stars in the sky at 47,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (The Sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.) These are much higher temperatures than a campfire, which is about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. But none of these are culturally as hot as indie rock band Arcade Fire which plays at the Gorge August 8. While you are waiting to see Arcade Fire, see hotter-than-fire Spica less than a half a fist to the right of the moon at 10 p.m.

Monday: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are coming to the Gorge on August 15. If you are expecting a ring from someone and don’t get one, that can be a real heartbreaker of its own. So find your own ring in the sky: one of Saturn’s rings. Saturn is less than a fist to the left of the moon at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: When it is sitting low in the western sky, many people mistake the star Capella for a planet. It is bright. It has a slight yellow color. But, Capella is compelling on its own. It is the fourth brightest star we can see in Ellensburg. It is the most northerly bright star. It is a binary star consisting of two yellow giant stars that orbit each other every 100 days. At 10 p.m., Capella is two fists above the northwest horizon. If you miss it tonight, don’t worry. Capella is the brightest circumpolar star meaning it is the brightest star that never goes below the horizon from our point of view in Ellensburg.

Wednesday: Jupiter is one fist above the west-northwest horizon at 10 p.m.

Thursday: Tonight’s full moon is in the constellation Ophiuchus the serpent bearer. This month, Ophiuchus may be thinking of bearing some strawberries instead. Some Native American tribes call the June full moon the strawberry moon to honor (or remember) the short strawberry harvesting season. A more descriptive name is the Short Moon because the full moon is above the horizon for the least amount of time in June – only eight hours. Summer full moons are always above the horizon less than winter full moons. Since the full moon is on the complete opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, the full moon is going to be in the sky whenever the Sun is not in the sky, namely the entire night. During the summer, the nights are shorter so the full moons time above the horizon will also be shorter.

Friday: Summer is nearly here. How do I know? Because kids are getting out of school. Because I read the fine astronomy column in the Daily Record. (How’s that for an odd self reference.) Also, because the Summer Triangle is fairly high in the eastern sky at 10:30 p.m. Vega, the third brightest star visible from Ellensburg, is about five fists above the east horizon. Deneb, at the tail of Cygnus the swan is about three and a half fists above the northeast horizon. The third star in the triangle, Altair, in Aquila the eagle is two fists above the east horizon.
If you want to put somebody off, tell her or him to wait until Deneb sets. At Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees, Deneb is a circumpolar star meaning it never goes below the horizon.

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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