Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/28/16

Saturday: In 1979, the group Foreigner recorded the song “Head Games”. They could have been singing about the constellations Hercules and Ophiuchus when they said “head games, it’s just you and me baby, head games, I can’t take it anymore” because the heads of these two constellations have been right next to each other in the nighttime sky for all of human history. And just to make it easy for you, a star that bears an Arabic name that means “the head” represents each head. In Hercules, it's Ras Algethi (head of the kneeler); in Ophiuchus, Ras Alhague (head of the serpent charmer). At 11 p.m., Ras Alhague, the brighter of the two, is a little more than four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon. Ras Algethi is about a half a fist to the upper right of Ras Alhague.

Sunday: About one month ago, astronomers announced the discovery of three Earth-sized planets orbiting a small, ultra cool dwarf star. Until recently, astronomers didn’t think these stars, which are only about 10% the mass of the Sun, would be good candidates as hosts for habitable planets. But this type of star is so abundant; there are numerous examples close by. The recent discovery is only 40 light years away, nearly our neighbor down the block. For more information about this discovery, go to

Monday: Cygnus the swan flies tonight. Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation, whose name means “tail” in Arabic, is two fists above the northeast horizon at 10 p.m. Cygnus’ wings make a vertical line one half a fist to the right of Deneb. Its head, marked by the star Albireo, is two fists to the right of Deneb. While Deneb is at the tail of Cygnus, it is at the head of the line of bright stars. It is 160,000 times more luminous than the Sun making it one of the brightest stars in the galaxy. It does not dominate our night sky because it is 2,600 light years away, one of the farthest naked eye stars. If Deneb were 25 light years away, it would shine as bright as a crescent moon. Compare that to Vega, which is 25 light years away. Vega is three and a half fists above the east-northeast horizon at this time.

Tuesday: Jupiter is nearly four fists above the southwest horizon at 10 p.m.

Wednesday: The month of June is named after Juno, the queen of the Roman gods and the mythological protector of the Roman state. In ancient Rome, the month began when the crescent moon was first seen in the evening sky from Capitoline Hill in Rome. If we still started months this way, June wouldn’t start for a few days, right after the moon was last new. Celebrate the first sunset in June by actually watching it… and then turning your head to the southeast horizon until it is dark enough to see Mars, Saturn, and the star Antares making a little triangle. At 9:30 p.m., Mars is a little more than a fist above the southwest horizon, Antares is a half a fist above due southeast, and Saturn is a fist and a half to the lower left of Mars.

Thursday: Last year, astronomers using a radio telescope in Australia discovered the source of fleeting radio signal bursts that had been a mystery for 17 years. And they didn’t have to probe the depths of deep space. They only had to probe the depths of… the observatory kitchen. It turns out the signal came from opening the microwave door prematurely. Read more about The Microwave Emission here: Sheldon Cooper used similar methods of science when he discovered a can opener instead of magnetic monopoles in the season three premiere of The Big Bang Theory

Friday: Get up early to try spot Mercury low on the east-northeast horizon, just above the thin waning crescent moon.

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: