Friday, July 8, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 7/9/16

Saturday: These next few weeks will be a great time to try see all five naked eye planets in the evening sky. Venus and Mercury are very low in the west-northwest sky right after sunset so they are the most challenging. But both are moving away from the Sun in the sky. By the end of the week, they will be right next to each other in the sky. Let’s start with an easy one tonight because it is a laid back Saturday. Jupiter is a fist held out at arm’s length to the lower right of the Moon at 10 p.m.

Sunday: Being in a coma is a bad thing. Looking at the Coma Star Cluster is a good thing. The Coma Star Cluster is an open cluster of about 50 stars that takes up more space in the sky than 10 full Moons. It looks like a fuzzy patch with the naked eye. Binoculars reveal dozens of sparkling stars. A telescope actually diminishes from the spectacle because the cluster is so big and the telescope’s field of view is so small. The Coma Star Cluster is in the faint constellation Coma Berenices (ba-ron-ice’-ez) or Queen Berenice’s hair. Queen Berenice of Egypt cut off her beautiful hair as a sacrifice to the gods for the safe return of her husband Ptolemy III from battle. The Coma Star Cluster is about three fists above the west horizon at 11:00 p.m. 

Monday: Tonight’s first quarter Moon is in the constellation Virgo. The bright star Spica is about a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon.

Tuesday: What you see with the naked eye isn’t all that can be seen. While astronomers can learn a lot from observing the sky in the visible wavelengths, many celestial objects radiate more light, and more information, in wavelengths such as radio, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma ray. In 2012, NASA launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) to study objects that radiate in the infrared range such as asteroids, cool dim stars, and luminous galaxies. For an interesting comparison of how different wavelengths show different aspects of celestial objects, go to For example, if it weren’t for infrared telescopes such as WISE, astronomers would not know about the significant amount of dust in galaxies. 

Wednesday: The long summer days remind us to take some time to safely observe the Sun. The best way to do that is to go to and watch the great images and videos that come from the Solar Dynamics Observer, or SDO for short. We are moving toward a sunspot minimum so the Sun has not been very active lately. So what, you say? Sunspots and associated phenomena greatly influence the strength of solar flares. The strongest flares can affect satellites orbiting the Earth and even electronics on the Earth’s surface. So, an inactive Sun means our satellites are safer. That means you will be able to call your friends on your cell phone when you see the elusive Mercury and the much brighter Venus low in the west-northwest sky a few minutes after sunset.

Thursday: The Moon joins a crowded part of the sky tonight. At 10 p.m., Saturn is a little over two fists and the bright star Antares is one and a half fists above due south. Mars, the brightest point of light in the region, is one fist below the Moon.

Friday: Say "Cheese". 166 years ago Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, became the first star ever photographed. The photograph was done at the Harvard Observatory using the daguerreotype process. Vega is the third brightest nighttime star we can see in Ellensburg, behind Sirius and Arcturus. Vega is nearly straight overhead at 11:00 tonight. 

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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