Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/26/14

Saturday: If you want to show your loved ones a celestial sign that they should hang up their clothes, show them Brocchi's Cluster, commonly known as the Coat Hanger cluster because of its resemblance to an upside down coat hanger. The cluster is six fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 10:30 p.m., midway between Altair and Vega, the two brightest stars in the Summer Triangle. You'll need binoculars to make out the shape. First find Altair four fists above the southeast horizon. Slowly move your binoculars up toward Vega. You will run into the coat hanger along the way. And while you are at it, put away your shoes.

Sunday: Altair, at one corner of the Summer Triangle, is four fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Altair is one of the closest bright stars, so close that fictional astronauts visited a planet orbiting Altair in the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet”.

Monday: At 9:30 p.m., Mars is one and a half fists above due southwest. Saturn is a fist and a half to the upper left of Mars and more than two fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Tuesday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and early tomorrow morning with a higher than normal concentration of meteors being visible throughout the next week. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. “Hi de hi de hi de hi”, these meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. “Ho de ho de ho de ho”, this point is about one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 1 am tomorrow morning. (The well-known scat singer Cab Calloway must have had an interest in this star.) 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 http://goo.gl/Uoxvda. 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.

Wednesday: Do you want an easy way to find due north? A compass points to magnetic north, which is a few degrees off of true geographic north. Well, tonight’s your night. Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga the Charioteer, is due north at exactly 10:03 p.m. It looks like a bright light on a pole on the north ridge because is only about one degree above the horizon.

Thursday: Venus is one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 5 a.m.

Friday: In Scotland, August 1 was known as Lammas, the festival of the first wheat harvest of the year. You can remember this by looking at Spica, named after the Latin word for “ear of wheat”, one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-southwest horizon at 9:30 p.m. August 1 is known as a cross-quarter day, a day approximately half way between an equinox and a solstice.

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.

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