Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 8/9/14

Saturday: The Perseid meteor shower hits its peak late for the next few nights with Tuesday being the peak of the peak. The meteors appear to come from a point just below the W of the constellation Cassiopeia. This point is about two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeast horizon at 11 p.m. By dawn, this point is about seven fists above the northeast horizon. If you fall asleep or forget to set your alarm, you will be able to observe this shower from about 11 p.m. to dawn for the next three nights in about the same location in the sky. The Perseid shower is one of the longest lasting showers. With dark skies, you can see up to 100 meteors per hour in the late night and early morning hours all week. For tips about optimizing your viewing this year, go to As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. These meteors are sand to pea-sized bits of rock that fell off of Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are traveling about 40 miles per second as they collide with the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Sunday: It’s another bird. No, it’s another plane. No, it’s another super moon, the largest super moon of the year. The moon has been very close to perigee for the past two full moons and is again this full moon. At perigee, the moon is at its closest to the earth. (After all, that’s what perigee means.) And when items are closer to us, they appear larger. So a super moon is really a close moon. Maybe the close talker on the show “Seinfeld” should have been called the super talker.

Monday: Mars is one and a half fists above due southwest at 9 p.m. Saturn is a fist to the upper left of it.

Tuesday: Venus and Jupiter move towards each other in the morning sky for the next week. This morning, Venus is a little more than a half a fist above the east-northeast horizon and Jupiter is just barely above the horizon. As the days go by, Jupiter moves upward and Venus moves down toward the horizon.

Wednesday: Many big city dwellers never see the milky white, nearly continuous band of stars known as the Milky Way. As cities grow and add more lights, it has become harder to see the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy, our home in the universe. But, there are two easy ways to see the Milky Way. The first way is to look in the mirror. You are part of the Milky Way. The second way is to look from due north through the point straight overhead (called the zenith) to due south from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the next two weeks. This is the time of year when the Milky Way is highest in the sky and away from the city lights on the horizon.

Thursday: Arcturus is two and a half fists above due west at 10:30 p.m. This star, whose name means bear watcher, is the brightest in the sky’s northern hemisphere. It follows Ursa Major, the Great Bear, around the North Star. Arcturus is the closest giant star to Earth and is one of the few stars whose diameter can be measured directly.

Friday: Hercules stands almost directly overhead at 9:00 this evening. Four moderately bright stars form a lopsided square that represents his body, while his head points southward.

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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