Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ellensburg sky for the week of 7/18/15

Saturday: Now that New Horizons has passed Pluto and completed the busiest part of its mission, it has time to get back to its real passion: music. That should come as no surprise once you realize that one of Pluto’s moons is called Styx, just like the band that gave us “Mr. Roboto”. Most of the striking images show how red Pluto is. As New Horizons rhythmically passed by Pluto, it wrote, “The planet in red is dancing with me” for noted songwriter and space junkie Chris de Burgh. It honored UB40 and the object formerly known as the ninth planet with the lyrics “Red red nine you make me feel so fine, you keep me ice and rocking all of the time”. You won’t find these lyrics. But you will find great pictures and new information about the Pluto system at Domo Arigato New Horizons.

Sunday: Hot enough for you? If not, astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope think they have discovered a molten planet orbiting a star almost right next door on an astronomical scale – only 33 light years away. This planet is about two-thirds the diameter of Earth and is VERY close to its parent star – about 2% of the Earth-Sun distance. The star, GJ 436, is a dim red dwarf star. For more information about this discovery, read the NASA press release at

Monday: Take a two and a half hour walk. Too long, you say? Forty-six years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first ever walk by humans on another world. They spend two and a half hours setting up scientific instruments and collecting rocks for study back on Earth. Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the spacecraft the astronauts would use to return to Earth.

Tuesday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks for the next few weeks with the best viewing being the next few nights and the second full week in August. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. This point is about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 am tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain a fist above Fomalhaut, the brightest star in that section of the sky. The best time to view the shower is about 3 a.m. From the end of July through the first week in August, the moon will be out, obscuring the dimmer meteors. For more information about this year’s shower, go to As you Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Wednesday: Venus is just above the west-northwest horizon at 9:15.  Jupiter should come into view to the upper right of Venus within the next few minutes.

Thursday: If you are interested in observing the dark skies of Kittitas County, please come to a public forum this evening at 6:00 pm at the Copper Kettle on Water Street and West University Way in Ellensburg. We’ll be discussing the formation of a community astronomy club, learning a little astronomy, and observing the Sun with a proper filter.

Friday: Saturn is two fists above the south-southwest horizon at 10 p.m.

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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