Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 9/17/16

Saturday: “You know Aries and Cancer and Draco and Libra. Leo and Pisces and Virgo and Hydra. But, do you recall, the pointiest asterism of all? Triangulum, the three sided asterism, had a very pointy edge….” Sorry. Some stores have started sending out their Christmas catalogues and that has put me in the mood to modify some Christmas songs. Anyway, Triangulum is a small constellation between the more prominent Andromeda and Aries. Its main feature is a skinny triangle oriented parallel to and nearly four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 10 p.m.

Sunday: Venus is about a half a fist above the west-southwest horizon at 7:30 p.m. If you use binoculars, you may be able to spot the bright star Spica right below it.

Monday: There is a rumor (started by my dog and me) that The Beach Boys are working on a new solar system-themed record. I bet the first single will be “Surfin’ Titan” with lyrics such as “If everybody had an ocean, across Saturn’s moon. Then everybody’d be surfin’ and hanging out on the dunes. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, doesn’t have an ocean. But it has Kraken Mare, a large liquid hydrocarbon sea as shown in the video that you can find at And it has dunes in a region called Shangri-La shown here: Who is up for a “Surfin' Safari”? Saturn is one and a half fists above the southwest horizon at 8 p.m.

Tuesday: To celebrate the start of school at Central Washington University tomorrow, you could take a quick trip to Mars. How about America’s desert Southwest? Not enough time? Then just look at some photos from… from…. Hmmm. The photos at look like they could be from either place. The Murray Buttes region of Mars, where the Curiosity rover has been exploring, look a lot like the landscape of Utah. So much so that the Mars-based movie John Carter was filmed there. Look for John Carter at your local video store. (“What’s that?” said the child.) Look for Mars one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Do you see something small and twinkling about one fist above the east-northeast horizon at 10:30 p.m.? Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. That’s the open star cluster called The Pleiades making its way to the evening sky. It looks like a tiny measuring cup on its side.

Thursday: At precisely 7:21 a.m. PDT, the center of the Sun crosses the celestial equator and passes into the southern sky. The celestial equator is an imaginary line that divides the sky into a northern and southern half. When the Sun is in the southern half of the sky, it appears to take a shorter path from rising to setting. It also does not get as high in the sky at noon. This leads to shorter days and longer nights. Since the Sun crosses the celestial equator today, there is an instant when it is equally in the northern and southern sky, called the north and south celestial hemispheres. This so-called “equal night” is given by the Latin word equinox. Thus, today is known as the Autumnal Equinox. However, the day and night are not of equal duration today. The sun rises at 6:49 a.m. and sets at 6:58 p.m. Day and night are closest to equal duration on Sunday.

Friday: According to “One world, group hug, love everyone” philosophy, political borders are human-made and can’t be seen from space so why can’t we all just get along. According to real world, pragmatic discoveries, some human-made political borders CAN be seen from space. Since 2003, India has illuminated its border with Pakistan to prevent illegal crossings. In 2011, astronaut Ron Garan took a picture of that border from the International Space Station. For more information, including the photo, 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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