Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/28/15
Saturday: Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may be looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20+ mile long run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 10 p.m.
Sunday: If you ran far yesterday, you don’t want to stay up late looking at the stars. So do something during the day that will help you and other night sky enthusiasts: make sure your outdoor light fixtures are shielded or at least facing down. This will cut down on light pollution, stray light that obscures the stars, and give you a head start in celebrating International Dark Sky week, which occurs in mid-April. Go to http://goo.gl/w6Hi7 for more information on how to do an outdoor lighting audit and get more information about International Dark Sky week. You won’t need to have dark skies to see Jupiter less than a fist to the upper left of the moon at 9 p.m.
Monday: Mars is one fist and Venus is two and a half fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m.
Tuesday: The Space Shuttles have been retired. But NASA is still making plans about the future of space flight. Here is a small NASA poster summarizing the future of American Human spaceflight: http://goo.gl/D8KWj. It is interesting to compare the sizes of these real spaceships to the dozens of fictional spacecraft summarized on a poster found at http://goo.gl/F95aEL.
Wednesday: After a long journey through space, there is nothing will quench your thirst better than a few drops of refreshing Mars water. Wait! Is this an April Fool’s Day joke? No. In 2010, after analyzing photos taken by the Mars Phoenix Lander, a group of astronomers discovered what they interpreted as drops of very salty liquid water on one of the Lander’s legs. But we are not going to travel 18 months to Mars just to lick a few drops of water off a metal leg. We want waterfront property if we are going all that way. The high-resolution camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken images of dark rivulets that form, grow, and fade in the Martian southern hemisphere. Even though Mars is very cold, this liquid could contain enough salt to lower its freezing point by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, enough to remain liquid.
Newsflash! Earlier this year, Astronomers found evidence that Mars may have had an ocean of water that has since been lost. Maybe it’s too late for that waterfront property after all. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_on_Mars for an overview of the history of, you guessed it, water on Mars. Mars is one fist above the west horizon at 8 p.m.
Thursday: Saturn is two fists above the south-southwest horizon at 6 a.m.
Friday: You’ve seen all of the top 100 lists: top 100 ways to please your mate, top 100 restaurants in the local region, etc. Now get excited for the lunar 100 at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/the-lunar-100/. This list describes 100 interesting landmarks on the moon that are visible from Earth. They are listed from easiest to see, starting with the entire moon itself at number 1, to most difficult (Mare Marginis swirls, anyone?). Stay up all night to binge watch the moon or just make a few observations a month. It’s your decision. It’s our moon.
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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.