Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/22/16

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the big name event, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to stay up late for a while. These two showers overlap from about October 19 to November 19. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is about four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke.

Sunday: Venus, Saturn, and the star Antares form a small triangle less than one fist above the southwest horizon at 6:45 p.m. Venus is the brightest point of light in the triangle. Antares is to the lower left of Venus. Saturn is less than one fist to the upper left of Venus.

Monday: Rho Cassiopeiae is the most distant star that can be seen with the naked eye by most people. It is about 8,200 light years away. That means that the light that reaches your eyes from that star left over 8,000 years ago, before the beginning of time according to the Byzantine calendar. Rho Cassiopeiae is six fists above the northeast horizon at 8 p.m., just above the zigzag line that marks the constellation Cassiopeia.

Tuesday: Vega, the bright bluish star in the constellation Lyra, is six fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Mars is a little less than two fists above the southern horizon at 7 p.m. Recent images from the MAVEN mission (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) show cloud formation on Mars. Clouds of water-ice crystals form when sunlight warms the surface, causing the atmosphere just above the surface to rise up, cool and condense. If this sounds familiar, it should. Clouds form the same way on Earth. If you’d like to see a recording of Martian cloud formation in action, go to

Thursday: If the Dawn spacecraft didn’t know any better, it may have played “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: “It’s like a jungle sometimes. It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under”. That’s because most movies show an asteroid belt as millions of large rocks close together, moving through space and difficult to navigate. A “jungle” of asteroids. In reality, the objects in the asteroid belt are far apart from each other and easy for Dawn to move through without danger. Follow the trail of the Dawn spacecraft using images found at

Friday: Jupiter is less than a half a fist above the very thin crescent moon at 7 a.m. They are low in the east-southeastern sky, just ahead of the rising Sun.

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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