Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/16/16

Saturday: Who can forget that memorable song by Three Dog Constellations Night, “The sky is black. The stars are white. Together we learn to find the light.” Well, maybe it didn’t go like that. Which is good. Because not all stars are white. Most stars are too dim to notice a color. But, two of the stars in the constellation Orion provide a noticeable contrast with each other. Betelgeuse, five fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 10:30 p.m. is a red giant. Rigel, the bright star about two fists to the lower right of Betelgeuse, is a blue giant.
By the way, the three dog constellations are Canis Major, the greater dog, found one and a half fists to the lower left of Orion; Canis Minor, the lesser dog, found two and a half fists to the left of Betelgeuse; and Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs, found low in the northeast sky. Canis Major contains Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next month. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This morning at 7:15, Jupiter is three fists above the southwest horizon. Mars is three fists above the south horizon. Venus, the brightest planet, is more than one fist above the southeast horizon. Saturn is a fist to the upper right of Venus. Mercury is just above the east-southeast horizon. Over the next few days, Mercury will move more out of the glare of the Sun and be easier to find in the morning sky.

Monday: The moon is spending a fun-filled Monday night under seven sisters. I hope it doesn’t get crushed. At 8 p.m., the moon is one fist below the open star cluster called the Pleiades, or the seven sisters. They stay close together the whole night, finally setting at about 3 a.m. tomorrow.

Tuesday: If you don’t want to get up early in the morning, you can still look for Jupiter one and a half fists above the east horizon at 11 p.m.

Wednesday: Have you ever planned a vacation to a place because it was supposedly the up-and-coming locale? Then, when the vacation time finally arrives, you find out the place doesn’t live up to its billing? A little over three years ago, astronomers discovered that the star Tau Ceti, one of our closest neighbors at 12 light years away, has five planets. They claimed two of the planets are in the so-called habitable zone where the temperature is just right for having liquid water. Time for a va-ca-tion! Well, not so fast. A new model indicates that one of the planets is in the habitable zone only is you make very generous assumptions. And the other probably moved into the habitable zone fairly recently. In any case, you’ll want to do some research before you travel there. Tau Ceti is two and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m. For more information about the discovery, go to

Thursday: You never see a giraffe on the ground in Ellensburg. But you can look for one every night in the sky. The constellation Camelopardalis the giraffe is circumpolar from Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees north meaning it is always above the horizon. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the stars in Camelopardalis. The brightest star in the constellation appears only about half as bright as the dimmest star in the Big Dipper. However, the actual luminosities of the three brightest stars in Camelopardalis are very high, each at least 3,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alpha Camelopardalis, a mind boggling 600,000 times more luminous than the Sun, is seven fists above the northern horizon at 9 p.m.

Friday: Listen; do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Whoa oh, oh. The Beatles certainly didn’t write this song about the Barringer meteorite crater in Arizona. Astronomers are studying this 50,000-year-old impact to learn more about our planet’s violent history as well as the physics of impacts throughout the solar system. If you’d like to be let in on some of these secrets, 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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