Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 8/16/14

Saturday: Sometimes you find a quarter on the ground. Maybe you find a dollar in the lining of your jacket. But how often do you find a galaxy in a well-known part of the sky? The Hubble Space Telescope discovered a face-on spiral galaxy in the Coma Cluster of galaxies about 320 million light years away. This galaxy, called NGC 4911, contains regions of gas and dust as well as glowing newborn star clusters. The Coma Star cluster is in the constellation Coma Berenices, found two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon at 9 p.m. For more information about this newly discovered galaxy, plus a zoomable image, go to

Sunday: Venus and Jupiter are one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 5:30 a.m. Venus is the brighter of the two, less than a pinky thickness above Jupiter. By tomorrow morning, they will have flip flipped and be even closer together in the sky. As the days go by, Venus will move toward the horizon.

Monday: At 9 p.m., Mars is one and a half fists above due southwest. Saturn is a half a fist to the upper left of Mars. Midway between the two is the star with the name of the day: Zubenelgenubi, also knows as the southern claw. This star’s name is a good example of how the constellation shapes have changed over time. Zubenelgenubi is now part of Libra. But Libra and Scorpius the scorpion used to be one constellation with Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali (northern claw) making up the scorpion’s large appendages.

Tuesday: Need a caffeine pick-me-up? Make it a double. Need an astronomy pick-me-up? Make it a double-double. Find Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, nearly straight overhead at 11:00 tonight. Less than half a fist to the east (or left if you are facing south) of the bright bluish star Vega is the “star” Epsilon Lyra. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through binoculars, it looks like two stars. If you look at Epsilon Lyra through a large enough telescope, you will notice that each star in the pair is itself a pair of stars.  Each star in the double is double. Hence, Epsilon Lyra is known as the double-double. The stars in each pair orbit a point approximately in the center of each respective pair. The pairs themselves orbit a point between the two pairs.

Wednesday: The Pleiades is about one fist above the east-northeast horizon at midnight.

Thursday: Have you ever gone to a family reunion, looked around and asked, “How in the world are we related to each other?”. Astronomers look around the Solar System and wonder if there is life anywhere else that we are related to. The Mars Science Laboratory landed on Mars last summer to investigate whether it ever had conditions favorable for life. The Cassini Mission continues to study the plume of complex organic chemicals streaming from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. NASA and the European Space Agency are planning a trip to study Europa, the Jovian moon with an ice-covered ocean. And many astronomers consider the methane haze in the atmosphere in Saturn’s moon Titan similar to that of the early Earth. To learn more about the search for life in the Solar System and beyond, go to

Friday: Deneb is about seven fists above the east horizon at 10 p.m. When you look at Deneb, you are seeing light that left Deneb about 1,800 years ago.

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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