Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/24/15

Saturday: One Family Affair explored the trials of well-to-do civil engineer and bachelor Bill Davis as he attempted to raise his brother's orphaned children in his luxury New York City apartment (as described on Wikipedia). Another family affair explores how a well-to-do Solar System raises its constituents from birth, through growth, change, and death. Just like Buffy and Jody started off full of energy, planets start out hot and molten. Cissy got wrinkles as she approached middle age; planets become cratered as they age. We watched the TV show “Family Affair” to learn about a nontraditional Manhattan family grew and changed. Astronomers study other planets to learn how the Solar System will change. For more information about this Solar System Family Affair, go to Jupiter, the dad of the Solar System family, is about two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the eastern horizon at 8 p.m.

Sunday: There are three planets low in the western sky at 6 p.m. The brightest is Venus, a half a fist above the west-southwest horizon. About one and a half fists to the upper left of Venus is Mars. Neptune is on a line between the two, about a half a fist below Mars. You’ll definitely need a pair of binoculars to see it. For most binoculars, when Mars is in the upper left hand portion of your field of view, Neptune is in the lower right.

Monday: A half mile wide asteroid will come “speeding” by the Earth tonight. The word speeding is in quotes because the asteroid will be moving through the sky at two degrees (four full moon diameters) per hour. This is much faster than any other celestial object, but still slow enough to easy to find with binoculars or a small telescope. The best way to positively identify the asteroid, called 2004BL86, is to view the same part of the sky multiple times. The object that moves over an hour will be the asteroid. At 7 p.m., look about one fist to the upper right of Jupiter, which is the bright object one fist above the east horizon. 2004BL86 will be near the brightest star in the constellation. As the hours go by, the asteroid will move toward the middle of the constellation. At 11 p.m., it will be just below the open star cluster called the Beehive Cluster. At midnight, it will be just above the Beehive Cluster. For more information on the asteroid, including a map to help you find it, go to

Tuesday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 9:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at the lower left-hand corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Wednesday: Have you ever mooned a bull? It sounds like something a rodeo clown might do. You can see it done tonight… sort of. The moon is less than a half a fist to the right of the constellation Taurus the Bull, six fists above due south at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is nearly four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.

Friday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making nuanced judgments of images. So, go to and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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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