Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 8/23/14

Saturday: School starts next week so it is time for a little geometry review. A square is a four-sided figure with four equal sides and four right angles. Go outside at 10 p.m. tonight with notebook in hand to sketch one. The Great Square of Pegasus is balancing on its corner two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due east. The top corner of the square is two fists above the bottom corner. The other two corners are to the left and right of the line segment connecting the top and bottom corners.

Sunday: Geometry review, part 2. Go outside at 10 p.m. tonight with notebook in hand. (Good teaching involves a little repetition.) A triangle is a polygon with three corners and three line segments as sides. A good example is the Summer Triangle made up of the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair. Vega, the brightest star in the triangle is a little bit west of straight overhead. Deneb is a little bit east of straight overhead and Altair is five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon.

Monday: Tonight’s moon is new. That means you won’t be able to see it. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Contrary to the belief of toddlers and immature politicians, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Note a double negative statement followed by a triple negative statement. I’m not unsorry about that.) Now, back to the science. What would happen to the earth if the moon really didn’t exist? In last summer’s blockbuster Oblivion, aliens destroy the moon and Tom Cruise survives. But the long-term effects on the earth would be devastating to life as we know it. The moon stabilizes the spin axis of the earth keeping the seasons fairly uniform over time. For more information on what would happen to the earth if the moon were destroyed, go to For more information on Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, go to

Tuesday: Saturn and Mars are brightness twins, fraternal twins, of course. The red planet Mars is one fist above the southwest horizon at 9 p.m. The yellowish Saturn is less than a half a fist to the upper right of Mars.

Wednesday: The Ellensburg Rodeo is a “Top-25” rodeo. What does it take to be a “Top-25” star? There are many ways to rank stars. The most obvious way for a casual observer to rank stars is by apparent brightness. The apparent brightness is the brightness of a star as seen from Earth, regardless of its distance from the Earth. Shaula (pronounced Show’-la) is the 25th brightest star in the nighttime sky as seen from Earth. It represents the stinger of Scorpius the scorpion. In fact, Shaula means stinger in Arabic. Shaula has a visual brightness rating of 1.62. Sirius, the brightest star has a visual brightness rating of -1.46. (Smaller numbers mean brighter objects.) The dimmest objects that can be seen with the naked eye have a visual brightness rating of about 6. There are approximately 6,000 stars with a lower numbered visual brightness rating than 6 meaning there are 6,000 stars visible to the naked eye. Shaula is a blue sub-giant star that radiates 35,000 times more energy than the Sun. It is 700 light years away making it one of the most distant bright stars. Shaula is a challenge to find because it never gets more than a half a fist above the horizon. Look for it tonight about a half a fist above the south horizon, a little bit west of due south, at 8:30.

Thursday: The brightest planet Venus is a half a fist above the east-northeast horizon at 5:30 a.m. Jupiter, the second brightest planet, is about a fist to the upper right of Venus.

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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