Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 10/18/14

Saturday: The Milky Way makes a faint white trail from due northeast through straight overhead to due southwest at 9 p.m. Starting in the northeast, the Milky Way “passes through” the prominent constellations Auriga the charioteer, Cassiopeia the queen, and Cygnus the swan with its brightest star, Deneb, nearly straight overhead. After Cygnus, you’ll see Aquila the eagle with its brightest star Altair about four and a half fists above the southwest horizon.

Sunday: Halloween is next week so make sure you load up on peanut clusters, almond clusters, and open star clusters. That last one will be easy (and cheap… actually free) because two of the most prominent open star clusters in the sky are easily visible in the autumn sky. The sideways V-shaped Hyades Cluster is two fists above due east at 10 p.m. Containing over 300 stars; the Hyades cluster is about 150 light years away and 625 million years old. The Pleiades Cluster, a little more than three fists above due east, is larger at over 1000 stars and younger. Compared to our 5 billion year old Sun, the 100 million year age of the Pleiades is infant-like. The moon will help you find these clusters. This morning at 6:30 a.m., the Pleiades cluster is less than one fist to the upper right of the moon and the Hyades cluster is about one fist to the upper left of the moon. Tomorrow morning, the moon sits in the “V” of the Hyades cluster.

Monday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks for the next three mornings. This is not a meteor shower that typically results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night but not the storm that some showers bring. Luckily, the moon is new so it won’t be obscuring many meteors. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about six fists above due south at 5 a.m. this morning. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews) which rises in the east-northeast sky at about 11 p.m. The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/35wHaN.

Tuesday: At 6:30 p.m., Saturn is a half a fist above the southwest horizon and Mars is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Wednesday: Jupiter is five fists above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Thursday: “Turn around, every now and then I think eclipses aren’t real and they’re never coming around” starts the lesser-known Bonnie Tyler song “Partial Eclipse of the Sun”. Of course, solar eclipses are real and they come about twice a year. Fresh off of a late night total lunar eclipse two weeks ago, there will be a partial solar eclipse visible in the western and central United States and Canada. In Washington State, the eclipse starts at about 1:30 p.m. The peak eclipse occurs at 3 p.m. when more than 50% of the Sun is blocked by the moon. The partial eclipse ends at 4:20 p.m. For more information about the eclipse, including a simulated picture of what the properly filtered Sun will look like during the peak eclipse in your city, go to http://goo.gl/19f07P.

Friday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life. For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major. Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists above due south at 10 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.

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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