Sunday, March 20, 2016
The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/26/16
Saturday: Has there ever been life on Mars? Astronomers don’t know. But the Mars Curiosity Rover has been digging up some strong evidence that Mars was hospitable to life in the past. At the end of 2012, the first drilling assignment for Curiosity found clay-like minerals that form in the presence of water. In December 2013, scientists announced the strongest evidence yet for an ancient fresh-water lake in Gale Crater. Planetary geologist John Grotzinger said that Earth microbes could have thrived in this lake if they were placed there. Last year, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile found evidence that Mars was once had an ocean that held more water than the Arctic Ocean and covered a greater percentage of Mars’ surface than the Atlantic Ocean does on Earth. In brief, they came to this conclusion after analyzing the chemical signature of light that passes through the Martian atmosphere. For more information about this ancient ocean and the method of discovery, go to http://goo.gl/bOqD4U. Mars is two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. By the way, the name of the observatory in Chile really is Very Large Telescope. See for yourself at http://www.eso.org/paranal.
Sunday: The Space Shuttles have been retired. But NASA is still making plans about the future of space flight. Here is a small NASA poster summarizing the future of American Human spaceflight: http://goo.gl/D8KWj. It is interesting to compare the sizes of these real spaceships to the dozens of fictional spacecraft summarized on a poster found at http://goo.gl/F95aEL.
Monday: The moon passes by Mars and Saturn in the early morning sky for the next two mornings. This morning at 6 a.m., Mars is about a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon. Saturn is about a fist to the left of Mars. Tomorrow morning, the Saturn is almost directly below the Moon.
Tuesday: The bright star Arcturus is two and a half fists above due east at 10 p.m.
Wednesday: Jupiter is three fists above the east-southeast horizon at 8 p.m.
Thursday: April is Global Astronomy Month (GAM). While many astronomy experiences come from looking up, you can also experience astronomy looking down… at pen and paper. GAM has numerous arts initiatives and is looking for contributors, hopefully ones that are better than mine above. Even if you’ve never written a poem before, this is your opportunity to express your love for astronomy in a unique way and possibly share it with others. Go to http://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2016-programs/astroarts.html for more information about the AstroPoetry contest and a children’s AstroArt contest. The moon is expressing its love for Venus by moving upward in the early evening sky. At 8 p.m., Venus is about two finger widths to the right of the moon.
Friday: You need to get up early tomorrow to cheer on your favorite runners at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon starting at 8 a.m. on Canyon Road just south of Berry Road. So why not get a little viewing in? To symbolize the long trail of a marathon, follow the long trail of our own Milky Way Galaxy. It seems to rise up from the ground due south. It its highest, it is five fists above due east. It sinks back to the ground due north. The thickest part of the Milky Way is in the southern sky because that is the direction of the center of the galaxy.
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 http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.