Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/10/15

Saturday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8:30 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.

Sunday: Catch two rare sights this morning. First, your no-good roommate finally washed the dishes and second…. Wait, this the astronomy column and not “Dear Abby”. These need to be rare sights in the sky. At 6:30 am, the elusive planet Mercury is about two finger widths above the extremely thin crescent moon, a half a fist above the east horizon. The side of the moon facing Earth is only 1.7% illuminated. Tomorrow the moon will be in the new phase.

Monday: While you are resting after looking for Draconid meteors last week, start thinking about the Orionid meteor shower. This shower, which consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail, peaks on the morning of October 21 but produces meteors from now until early November. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about two fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain near the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second.

Tuesday: Venus is three fists above the east-southeast horizon at 6:30 this morning. It is the brightest point of light in the sky. But the more interesting sight is a fist to the lower left of Venus. Mars and its “god-awful disco music” is about a finger width above the much brighter Jupiter. They will move closer together in the sky over the next few days.

Wednesday: What time is teatime? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea.

Thursday: The constellation Vulpecula, the fox, stands high in the south at nightfall. It is in the middle of the Summer Triangle, which is defined by the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The fox is so faint that you need dark skies to see it.

Friday: The constellation Orion is four fists above the south-southwest horizon at 6:30 a.m. The Orion is a cloud of gas and dust visible with binoculars about a half a fist below the “belt” of three stars. Are you are feeling especially attracted to the nebula? If so, that might be because astronomers found evidence of a black hole in the middle. They have not directly observed the back hole, which would be the closest known one to Earth at a distance of 1,300 light years. But the motion of stars in the region is consistent with them being near a black hole 100 times the mass of the Sun. For more information, go to

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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