Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/23/16

Saturday: Do you hear the wolves howling in the wintertime? Native Americans in the northeast United States did because they called the January full Moon the Full Wolf Moon. At 7 p.m. tonight, the open star cluster called the Beehive Cluster is a half a fist to the left of the Moon.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next three weeks. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This week, the Moon joins them, as well. This morning at 7:15, Jupiter is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon. Mars is three fists above the south horizon. Saturn it two fists above the south-southeast horizon. The bright and reddish star called Antares is one fist to the lower right of Saturn. Venus, the brightest planet, is more than one fist above the southeast horizon. Mercury is a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Venus. 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: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 9:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at the lower left-hand corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Tuesday: About a century ago, the search for “Planet X” was motivated by irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. It turned out the “irregularities” were simply errors but the search for Planet X led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Last week, Caltech astronomers published their hypothesis that irregularities in the orbits of some small, icy bodies in the outer Solar System can be explained by the presence of a planet about ten times the mass of Earth. This planet, nicknamed Planet Nine, orbits the Sun about 20 times farther out than Planet Eight, better known as Neptune. Planet Seven, also known as Uranus, is four fists above due southwest at 7 p.m. You’ll need binoculars to see it. It is on the right side of a side of a set of six stars that looks like a wedge. Read or listen to to learn more about Planet Nine.

Wednesday: Jupiter is a half a fist above the Moon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Currently, the brightest star in the night sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. It’s two and a half fists above the south horizon at 10:30 p.m. One fist below Sirius is the blue giant star Adhara. Currently it is less than one tenth the brightness of Sirius as seen from Earth. But 4.7 million years ago, Adhara was a lot closer to Earth and shined ten times brighter than Sirius.

Friday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is nearly four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.

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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