Friday, December 23, 2016

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 12/24/16

Saturday: I know you’re staying up late to train yourself to wait up for Santa. So look out a south-facing window at 12:30 a.m. and see Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, as high as it ever gets in the sky. It is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south.

Sunday: Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw Jupiter being eclipsed by the Moon in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, Bruce Palmquist version, informed by Michael Molnar). There are many theories as to the physical explanation of the Star of Bethlehem, the celestial object that guided the wise men to the location of Jesus. Some people think it was a recurring nova, a star that explodes. Some think it was a close alignment of bright planets. Some think it was a miracle that requires no physical explanation. In 1991, astronomer Michael Molnar bought an ancient Roman Empire coin that depicted a ram looking back at a star. Aries the ram was a symbol for Judea, the birthplace of Jesus. The Magi, or “wise men”, who visited the baby Jesus practiced astrology and would have been looking in that region of the sky for the king prophesied in the Old Testament. Molnar, a modern day wise person, used sky simulation software to model the positions of planets and the Moon in the region of Aries. According to his model, Jupiter was eclipsed, or blocked, by the Moon on the morning of April 17, 6 BC. A book written by the astrologer of Constantine the Great in 334 AD supports Molnar’s theory. The book describes an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries and notes a man of divine nature born during this time. See for more information.
The moon, Aries, and Jupiter make an appearance in the Christmas sky. At 6 a.m., Jupiter is three and a half fists above due south and the moon is two fists above the southeast horizon. At 8 p.m., the dim constellation Aries is six and a half fists above due south.

Monday: Is your favorite someone lamenting that she didn’t get that space-related calendar that she wanted? Are you sad that you ran out of money and can’t fulfill her last-minute wish? Worry not. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a free calendar summarizing much of the work that it has done. Download the calendar at

Tuesday: Venus is prominent in the southwest sky, right after sunset. It is about two fists above the southwest horizon at 5 p.m. Mars is a fist and a half to the upper left of Venus.

Wednesday: You’ve heard the term “a pinch to grow an inch.” Come on. Now I know you have. While there is no pinching involved, the distance between the Earth and moon increases by about an inch a year. Does it look farther tonight than when you looked at it on Sunday? It’s 3/365ths of an inch farther from the Earth.

Thursday: This week’s article has pointed out some planets visible to the naked eye and enhanced with binoculars. It turns out that this is a good time to view the largest asteroid, Ceres, with binoculars. Ceres, also classified as a dwarf planet, is four and a half fists above due south at 7 p.m. First find Alrischa, the third brightest star in Pisces. It is a little east of due south at 7 p.m. Move your binoculars so this star is on the far left of your binocular field of view. Ceres should be on the far right of your field of view. It will look like a star. However, if you go to this region of the sky over multiple nights, you’ll notice that one “star” changes position from night to night. This is Ceres. Read more about everyone’s second favorite dwarf planet at

Friday: Did you get a new telescope for Christmas? has a good article on how to get started using it. Go to Any observing tip about the night sky should include Saturn. Saturn is a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 7 a.m. Even this close to the horizon and the rising Sun, a small telescope (or even a good pair of binoculars) will reveal the rings and its largest moon, Titan. NASA’s Cassini mission has revealed Titan as a world with methane lakes, hydrocarbon-rich dunes, and a large sub-surface ocean. Read more at

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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