Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/19/14

Saturday: Do you ever wonder who comes up with the official names for objects in the Solar System? Names such as Sedna, Haumea, and Makemake? The International Astronomical Union (IAU) does. What about all of those planets that have been discovered orbiting other stars? The IAU will name those as well… but with your help. They are starting a contest at in which individuals and clubs can propose names for a limited number of objects. The number of objects on the list depends on how many individuals and clubs are interested. So go to, look at the big list of planets, and start to feel at inspiration.

Sunday: Take a two and a half hour walk. Too long, you say? Forty-five years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first ever walk by humans on another world. They spend two and a half hours setting up scientific instruments and collecting rocks for study back on Earth. Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the spacecraft the astronauts would use to return to Earth.

Monday: Mars is the reddish object exactly two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon and Saturn is the orangeish object two fists to the left of it. Speaking of –ish, the star Spica is the bluish less than a half a fist to the lower right of Mars.

Tuesday: Hot enough for you? If not, astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope think they have discovered a molten planet orbiting a star almost right next door on an astronomical scale – only 33 light years away. This planet is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth and is VERY close to its parent star – about 2% of the Earth-Sun distance. The star, GJ 436, is a dim red dwarf star. For more information about this discovery, read the NASA press release at

Wednesday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks for the next few weeks with the greatest concentration of meteors being visible next week. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. This point is about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 am tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain a fist above Fomalhaut, the brightest star in that section of the sky. The best time to view the shower is after midnight between moonset and dawn. The next two weeks will bring excellent meteor watching conditions because the moon will be below the horizon during the prime viewing times after midnight. For more information about this year’s shower, go to As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Thursday: Venus, Mercury, and the waning crescent moon are crowded low in the northeastern sky this morning. At 4:30 a.m., the moon is a half a fist above the east-northeast horizon and Venus is a half a fist to the upper left of the moon. Mercury will be a challenge to find, one fist to the lower left of Venus.

Friday: Now that Pluto’s two newest moons have been named Kerberos and Styx, the dwarf planet system is probably going to release a Styx tribute album featuring these songs. Blue Color Plan(et): “I’ll take those long nights, impossible cold, keeping my eye for the spacecraft. If it takes nine years to show me in the cam. Well, I’m gonna be a blue color plan(et)”. Too Much Time on my Hands: “Is it any wonder I take two-fifty years? Is it any wonder I’m made of hail? Is it any wonder I’ve got too much time on my hands”. The New Horizons spacecraft, on a nine year journey to reach Pluto in 2015, even has a contribution to the album: “Babe, I’m leaving, I must be on my way. Pluto is drawing near.” You can’t see Pluto with binoculars or even a small telescope. But you can read about the New Horizons spacecraft, which is less than a year out from Pluto. Go to 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

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