Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/7/15

Saturday: Don't forget to set you clocks ahead one hour tonight for the annual ritual called daylight savings. Daylight savings originated in the United States during World War I to save energy for the war effort. But a recent study by two economists shows that switching to daylight savings time may actually lead to higher utility bills. When the economists compared the previous few years of energy bills in the section of Indiana that just started observing daylight savings, they discovered that switching to daylight savings cost Indiana utility customers $8.6 million in electricity. In an even more important consequence of daylight savings, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia discovered a 7% jump in traffic accidents on the Monday after we "spring ahead". Blame it on the lost hour of sleep. And, sky watchers will lose even more sleep because the sky stays light for an additional hour.

Sunday: It’s getting dark. The last remnant of twilight has disappeared. Suddenly, you notice a large softly radiant pyramid of light in the western sky. The base of this ghostly triangle is along the west horizon and the peak stretches two or three fists above the horizon. It is not really a ghost. It is an effect called the zodiacal light. This light comes from sunlight reflecting off dust grains in our solar system. The effect is the most visible when the band of constellations called the zodiac makes a steep angle with the horizon. You need a clear dark sky with no haze or light pollution to see the zodiacal light. At its brightest, the zodiacal light rivals the light of the central Milky Way. Look for the ghostly patch after twilight for the next few weeks.

Monday: Jupiter is five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 9 p.m.

Tuesday: It is often said that Earth is a water world because about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. What would it look like if all that water on the surface were gathered up into a ball? That “ball” would be about 700 km in diameter, less than half the diameter of the Moon. The Astronomy Picture of the day shows us right here

Wednesday: The group AC/DC sings that “Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution, rock ‘n’ roll ain’t gonna die.” Unfortunately, because of excess and improper outdoor lighting in cities, even those as small as Ellensburg, our view of the night sky is gonna die. Lights that are aimed upward illuminate the atmosphere and obscure dim objects. To watch an informative and entertaining video about the effects of light pollution, go to To watch ACV/DC sing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution, go to To watch a night sky object that is not affected by light pollution, look at Venus, two fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m. Mars is a slightly more challenging find, one fist above the west horizon. If you have binoculars, you can easily spot Uranus. First find Mars. Uranus is just below Mars.

Thursday: Saturn is a half a fist to the lower right of the moon at 6 a.m.

Friday: Did you know that a statistical analysis can tell us that Friday the 13th is not a lucky day? “Beating the odds” is one definition of luck. Because of the pattern of the Gregorian calendar, Friday is the most common day of the week to be the 13th day of the month. Thus, when you encounter a Friday the 13th, you are not beating the odds because Friday is the most likely 13th day of the month. The least likely day? A tie between Thursday and Saturday.

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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