Friday, July 4, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/5/14

Saturday: At 10 p.m., the bright star Regulus is a little less than one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon. But, who is this Regulus? He has many potential identities. The most interesting from a pop culture standpoint is Regulus Black, the brother of Sirius Black who is Harry Potter’s godfather. Regulus Black was a former follower of Voldemort, the bad guy of the Harry Potter series. However, Regulus tried to dissociate himself from Voldemort and was killed. He would be in the pile of forgotten Harry Potter characters except that he is so interesting. Also, in the sixth book, Harry found an important note written by someone known only by the initials R.A.B. Hmmm. R.A.B. Regulus A. Black perhaps? Summer is a great time to read the books. Just seeing the movies is not good enough.

Sunday: But what does the “A” stand for? Anthony? Abercrombie? Alfonzo? Not astronomical enough. It stands for Arcturus, the second brightest star visible in the nighttime sky in Washington and at Hogwarts. Arcturus is five fists above the southwest horizon at 10 p.m. The bright star Spica and Mars are halfway between Arcturus and the southwest horizon and about a fist from each other. Mars is the brighter object on the upper right within the pair. Saturn is in the neighborhood, about the same distance to the left of the moon as Spica and Mars are to the right.

Monday: Bellatrix Lestrange is Sirius Black’s cousin. But, far from being kissing cousins. They are killing cousins. Bellatrix kills Sirius in a fight at the Ministry of Magic. Bellatrix the star is the third brightest star in the constellation Orion the hunter. She’s hiding in the glow of the Sun right now. We’ll look for her next month.

Tuesday: Of course, Bellatrix is in cahoots with “he who must not be named”. Now, that’s a poor sentence, using an obscure synonym for “conspiring” and a non-specific reference. I must be under the curse “writicus dreadfulium”. Clearly this is the work of Tom Riddle, whose mother is named Merope Gaunt. Merope is a star in the Pleiades, an open star cluster about two fists above the east-northeast horizon at 4 a.m.

Wednesday: Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s young nemesis, is related to Sirius Black. Draco’s mother, Narcissa Black (Sirius’ cousin), helped develop a plan to trap Harry at the Ministry of Magic in the fifth book. Draco’s namesake, the constellation Draco the dragon is one of the largest constellations in the sky, winding around the North Star. Draco’s head is a four-sided figure nearly straight overhead at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Fred and George Weasley are the best-known twins in the Harry Potter universe. Venus is sometimes called Earth’s twin. After all, both have a surface temperature of about 860 degrees Fahrenheit, both have thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, both have a chest crushing atmospheric pressure, both have…. Wait. Earth doesn’t have any of those. How can they be “twins”? Venus is called Earth’s twin because they have about the same mass, radius, gravitational pull, and are similar distances to the Sun. Venus is a fist above the east-northeast horizon at 4:30 a.m. If you have the observational skills of a wizard (or a pair of binoculars), you may be able to spot Mercury a half a fist to the lower left of Venus. If Venus is in the upper right hand portion of your binocular field of view, Mercury will be in the lower left portion.

Friday: Not every woman in the Black family is evil. Let’s focus on the good. Andromeda Black, Bellatrix’s sister, is a good witch and the mother of Tonks, a young witch from the last few Harry Potter books. (If these Harry Potter references are confusing, talk to an adolescent about them.) Andromeda the constellation is an interesting one. It contains the Andromeda galaxy, the most distant object visible with the naked eye from a dark site. To locate the Andromeda Galaxy, first find the Great Square of Pegasus. At 11:00 p.m., the left hand corner of the square is about one and a half fists above the east-northeast horizon. Less than two fists to the left and down a little bit is another star the same brightness as the star at the corner of the square. From that star, hop about a half a fist up to a star that is about one fourth as bright. Less than another half fist in the same direction is a fuzzy oval patch of light known as the Andromeda Galaxy. The galaxy is impressive to see in binoculars. It consists of about 400 billion stars and is 2.2 million light years away.

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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