Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/30/16

Saturday: Winter is the best season for finding bright stars. And if you only want to set aside a few minutes, 10 p.m. tonight just might be the best time because the winter hexagon is due south. Starting at the bottom, find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, two and a half fists above the south horizon. Going clockwise, Procyon (6th brightest star visible from Washington state) is about two and a half fists to the upper left of Sirius. Pollux (12th brightest) is about two and a half fists above Procyon. Capella (4th brightest) is about two and a half fists to the upper right of Procyon and close to straight overhead. Going back to Sirius at the bottom, Rigel (5th brightest) about two and a half fists to the upper right of Sirius. Aldebaran (9th brightest) is about three fists above Rigel. Betelgeuse (7th brightest) is in the center of the hexagon. Adhara (16th brightest) is a little more than a fist below Sirius and Castor (17th brightest) is right above Pollux. That’s nine of the 17 brightest stars visible in the northern United States in one part of the sky.

Sunday: Are you a morning person? Good, because you’ll see quite a show in the morning sky for the next two weeks. All five naked eye planes will be visible before sunrise. This week, the Moon moves among them, as well. This morning at 6:45, Jupiter is two and a half fists above the west-southwest horizon. Mars is joined by the moon, three fists above the south horizon. Saturn is 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 a little less than one fist above the southeast horizon. Mercury is a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Venus.

Monday: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow this morning, he is telling us that he follows the Chinese calendar and that spring starts early. On the Chinese calendar, equinoxes and solstices occur in the middle of their respective seasons. In order for the vernal equinox to occur in the middle of spring, spring must start on February 3 or 4, depending on the year. Thus, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, legend is that spring will start on February 3 or 4 as on the Chinese calendar. If Phil sees his shadow, he is telling us he agrees with the western calendar and that there will be six more weeks of winter meaning spring will start near March 20.

Tuesday: “Oooo, they’re little runaways. Orion’s stars moved fast. Tried to make a getaway. Ooo-oo, they’re little runaways,” sang Bon Jovi in his astronomical hit “Runaway.  At least that’s what I hear when I listen to the song. After all, it fits the recently calculated trajectory of AE Aurigae, Mu Columbae, and 53 Arietis. Extrapolating the actual motion of these three stars back in time, they were all in the location of the star-forming region called the Orion Nebula a few million years ago. What kicked these stars out? Not paying rent? Excessive partying? No, it was simply gravitation interactions with near-by stars. Find out more about the eviction at

Wednesday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making nuanced judgments of images. So, go to and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Friday: The good news is the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. The better news is the farther north you go in the United States, the longer the days get. Here in Ellensburg, there is one and a half more hours of daylight than on the first day of winter. In the southern part of the US, there is only 35 more minutes of sunlight. On the North Pole, the day length has gone from zero hours to zero hours in the past month and a half. If you’d like to have your own fun with day lengths and other time questions, 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

No comments: