Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 7/16/16

--> Saturday: Conjunction junction, what’s your function? Look to the west-northwest sky right after sunset to see a close conjunction of Mercury and Venus. Mercury is about a half a degree above the much brighter Venus. They are so close together in the sky, you could not even fit the full moon in between them. By about 9:30 p.m., they will have both set.

Sunday: The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks for the next few weeks into mid-August. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Aquarius near the star Delta Aquarii, also known as Skat. This point is about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 1 am tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain a fist above Fomalhaut, the brightest star in that section of the sky. The best time to view the shower is just before morning twilight. For more information about this year’s shower, go to As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Monday: Last week marked the one-year anniversary of NASA’s New Horizons probe passing by Pluto. If the band Nirvana was still together, they’d probably rewrite one of their hit songs to be called Heart-Shaped Spot, after one of Pluto’s most distinctive features. “She eyes me like a dwarf planet when I am weak. I’ve been imaging your heart-shaped spot for weeks.” Astronomers think this heart-shaped spot is a large plain of nitrogen ice that consists of convective cells 10-30 miles across. Solid nitrogen is warmed in the interior of Pluto, becomes buoyant, and bubbles up to the surface like a lava lamp. You will find great pictures and information about what New Horizons found this past year at Hey, wait, I’ve got a new complaint. People should be more interested in astronomy.

Tuesday: Jupiter is one and a half fists above the western horizon at 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Take a two and a half hour walk. Too long, you say? Forty-seven years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first ever walk by humans on another world. They spend two and a half hours setting up scientific instruments and collecting rocks for study back on Earth. Michael Collins orbited the Moon in the spacecraft the astronauts would use to return to Earth.

Thursday: At 9:30 p.m., Saturn is a little more than two fists above due south and Mars is a little less than two fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Friday: Hot enough for you? If not, astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space telescope think they have discovered a planet with lava pools. This planet, called 55 Cancri e, is about twice the diameter of Earth and is tidally locked with its star, called 55 Cancri a (notice a pattern?). For more information about this discovery, 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

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