Friday, October 30, 2015

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/31/15

Saturday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite astronomers Hypatia and Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Hypatias and al-Khwarizmis come to your door tonight night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Saturn, a half fist above the southwest horizon at 6:30 p.m.
When you are done eating your candy, don’t forget to “fall back”. Before you fall back on to your bed, set your clock back one hour to the real time. Daylight savings ends early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. This means one more hour of sky watching at night because the Sun will set one hour earlier. Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “saving daylight” by adjusting our clocks way back in 1784. Daylight savings time was first utilized during World War I as a way to save electricity. After the war, it was abandoned. It was reintroduced during World War II on a year-round basis. From 1945 to 1966, some areas implemented daylight savings and some did not. Also, it was not implemented with any uniformity as to when it should start and stop. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 codified the daylight savings rules.

Sunday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that November 1, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

Monday: After spending time in the sky in close proximity to Jupiter, Mars is spending some quality time with Venus. At 6 a.m., Mars and Venus are about three fists above the southeast horizon with Mars being about a pinky width to the left of Venus. Jupiter is about a half a fist above the pair.

Tuesday: Looking for an early Christmas gift for that special someone? Get them a calendar. No, not a beach volleyball calendar. Everyone wants that and I said this was for someone special. I’m talking about the Spitzer calendar. This calendar features the twelve most notable discoveries and memorable images of NASA’s infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. Images include the Orion Nebula, the Sombrero Galaxy, and the Zeta Ophiuchi Bow Shock. Go to to read more about the calendar and download your free copy.

Wednesday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 8 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta. Chinese know this group of stars as a flying serpent or dragon.

Thursday: What do Justin Bieber and Betelgeuse have in common? Both are superstars. One will shine brightly for about a few hundred thousand more years. The other will only seem to be around for that long. Baby, baby, baby, ohh, you need to learn more about Betelgeuse, the real super giant star that is big enough to hold about one million Suns. For more information about Betelgeuse, go to You’ll find it one fist above due east at 11 p.m.

Friday: The open star cluster called the Pleiades is three fists above due east at 8 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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