Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 8/6/16

Saturday: The Perseid meteor shower hits its peak late for the next few nights with Thursday and Friday being the peak of the peak. The meteors appear to come from a point just below the W of the constellation Cassiopeia. This point is about two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeast horizon at 11 p.m. By dawn, this point is about seven fists above the northeast horizon. If you fall asleep or forget to set your alarm, you will be able to observe this shower from about 11 p.m. to dawn for the next few nights in about the same location in the sky. The Perseid shower is one of the longest lasting showers. With dark skies owing to the moon being below the horizon during peak viewing times, you may see over 100 meteors per hour in the late night and early morning hours all week. For tips about optimizing your viewing this year, go to http://goo.gl/Ylk9jA. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. These meteors are sand to pea-sized bits of rock that fell off of Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are traveling about 40 miles per second as they collide with the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

Sunday: At 8:45 tonight, Jupiter, Mercury, and Venus make a two fist wide line, low on the horizon, angling down toward the west horizon. Venus, the brightest of the three, is on the bottom right of the line and Jupiter is on the upper left.

Monday: Sometimes you get to your car and realize that you are missing your keys or your sunglasses. The asteroid, dwarf planet, and fifth Beatle (not really) Ceres is missing craters. Astronomers thought there would be many large, old craters marking the surface of Ceres. Instead, close-up images from NASA’s Dawn mission shows that Ceres is covered with numerous small, young craters. Possible explanations include the relatively soft icy surface smoothing out over time or that eruptions from ice volcanoes, called cryovolcanoes, buried the older craters. Read more about this “whodunit” at http://goo.gl/uoU9kc. Ceres is visible in small telescopes or even 10x50 binoculars, three and a half fists above due southeast at 4 a.m. First find Menkar, the second brightest star in Cetus the sea monster. It is a reddish star a little east of due southeast and a little more than three fists above the horizon. Then move your binoculars to the upper right until a star about half as bright as Menkar is in the lower left portion of your field of view. Ceres will be a point of light in the upper right portion of your field of view, looking like part of an arc of stars.

Tuesday: Altair, at one corner of the Summer Triangle, is four fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Altair is one of the closest bright stars, so close that fictional astronauts visited a planet orbiting Altair in the 1956 movie “Forbidden Planet”.

Wednesday: Saturn, Mars, and Antares make an equilateral triangle about two fists above the south horizon at 9 p.m. Mars, the brightest of the three objects, is on the right hand side and Saturn is on the top.

Thursday: Many big city dwellers never see the milky white, nearly continuous band of stars known as the Milky Way. As cities grow and add more lights, it has become harder to see the bulk of the Milky Way galaxy, our home in the universe. But, there are two easy ways to see the Milky Way. The first way is to look in the mirror. You are part of the Milky Way. The second way is to look from due north through the point straight overhead (called the zenith) to due south from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. for the next two weeks. This is the time of year when the Milky Way is highest in the sky and away from the city lights on the horizon.

Friday: Friday night is date night and there is no better date than going to the Wild Horse Renewable Energy Center to view the Perseid meteor shower. The event starts with kids activities at 8 p.m. and a twilight turbine tour at 8:30 p.m. The viewing starts at 10 p.m. The CWU Astronomy Club and other people will be there with telescopes. This will be a great opportunity to see meteors, distant celestial objects, and the Milky Way. For more information, go to https://goo.gl/tlPPSD.

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.

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