Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/9/16

Saturday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin my Round (Like a Record) were thought to be: “ You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought them to be.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, six fists above the north-northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Sunday: This afternoon, you can gather evidence that the Moon moves through the sky with respect to the background stars and you can prove to yourself that some stars, other than the Sun, are visible during the day. And you can also observe a stellar occultation. “What? The occult on a Sunday? That’s sacrilege!” No, that’s one celestial object blocking another. To occult is to block something. At about 3 p.m., the Moon will pass between the Earth and the bright star Aldebaran. First, go out at about 2 p.m. and look at the Moon through a small telescope or even high quality binoculars. You may be able to see a point of light to the left of the Moon. That’s Aldebaran; the brightest star in the constellation Taurus the Bull. At about 2:40, the unlit portion of the Moon will block Aldebaran. Since that part of the Moon is not lit and can’t be easily seen from Earth, it will look like Aldebaran just disappears. At about 3:35 p.m., Aldebaran will reappear from behind the upper half of the crescent Moon.

Monday: Poor Jupiter. Objects from space just keep bombarding it. On March 17, two amateur astronomers, unbeknownst to each other, had their cameras aimed at Jupiter when a brief flash of light appeared on the limb. This is the fifth time such an impact has been observed in the past ten years. For more information, go to To make you own Jupiter observations, look four and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 9 p.m.

Tuesday: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks next week. But there will be increased meteor activity for the next two weeks in the vicinity of the constellation Lyre. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists above the east-northeast horizon at midnight and close to straight overhead near dawn.

Wednesday: Mercury is one fist above the west horizon at 8:30 p.m.

Thursday: Mars finally makes its way into the evening (sort of) sky. It is less than a half a fist above the southeast horizon at midnight. Saturn is visible in the same spot about 30 minutes later.

Friday: Do you want to inspire people to celebrate the beauty of the night sky? To raise awareness of the negative effects of light pollution? Then continue to celebrate International Dark Sky Week by going to and taking action. I suggest clicking on “Lighting” and then “Residential/Business Lighting” to see examples of more effective outdoor lighting. The best lighting for observing the night sky is also the best light for safety because effective yard lights focus their energy on the ground, where it is needed, and not up into the sky.

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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