Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/19/16

Saturday: Do you want to learn more about what goes on at night in the natural world? You can at a free event called Nature of Night on the CWU campus, today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Go to the two largest science buildings on campus, J-9 and H-10 on the map found at http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map. The Center for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education gets help from various community organizations to put on this event.

Sunday: Are you disappointed because you are not going anywhere for Thanksgiving? Why not take a (virtual) trip to outer space using Google’s new visualization tool called 100,000 Stars. It shows the stars in our neighborhood in a very good 3-D simulation. The Sun is initially at the center. If you zoom in, you can click on neighboring stars and learn more about them. Go to http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/ for the simulation. It works best on a Chrome browser.

Monday: If you are a fan of science fiction, you may have heard of Tau Ceti. It’s a real Sun-like star with many fake civilizations. In 2012, astronomers discovered strong evidence of five real planets orbiting Tau Ceti. But before you go looking for Barbarella, read the latest research reports. Astronomers think these planets are made from different materials than Earth and would be regularly bombarded with comets and asteroids, destroying any life and space babes that arise. Tau Ceti is two and a half fists above due south at 10 p.m., one and a half fists to the left of Diphda.

Tuesday: Saturn is just above the southwest horizon at 5 p.m. Venus is easier to spot, more than one fist above the south-southwest horizon.

Wednesday: Are you thankful that you live in a solar system with multiple planets? You should be. A giant planet like Jupiter cleans up planetary debris that could have collided with Earth and hindered the formation of complex life. Any inhabitants of the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae are thankful for this, as well. Upsilon Andromedae, a star in the constellation Andromeda, was the first Sun-like star discovered to have multiple planets orbiting it. So far, all of its planets are giant planets like Jupiter. But, the system is likely to also contain smaller planets. The dim star, but certainly not its planets, is barely visible straight overhead at 9 p.m. Jupiter is much easier to see, but you have to wait until tomorrow morning to see it. It is three fists above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m.

Thursday: Some of us have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. But, probably not as much as Andromeda had to be thankful for. According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. Her mother Queen Cassiopeia and her father King Cepheus didn’t know what to do. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came Andromeda’s boyfriend, the great warrior Perseus. Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monster’s neck and killed it. This was the first time in recorded history that a set of parents actually welcomed an uninvited Thanksgiving visit from the boyfriend. Perseus is about five fists above the east-northeast horizon and Andromeda is about seven fists above the east horizon at 7 p.m.
You should also be thankful that today you will able to find a planet during the day. Jupiter is often bright enough to be seen during the day. But it is difficult to find in the middle of the bright blue sky with no markers around. At 1 p.m., Jupiter is about two to three finger widths to the left of the Moon, low in the west-southwest sky. It helps to first locate it with binoculars. Just get the Moon to the right side of your field of view. Jupiter will be in the middle of the field. Then remove the binoculars and aim your naked eyes to that same region of the sky.

Friday: The brightest star in the nighttime sky is making its way into the evening sky. Sirius is a little more than a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

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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