Friday, January 20, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/21/17

--> Saturday: Winter is the best season for finding bright stars. And if you only want to set aside a few minutes, 10 p.m. tonight just might be the best time because the winter hexagon is due south. Starting at the bottom, find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, two and a half fists above the south horizon. Going clockwise, Procyon (6th brightest star visible from Washington state) is about two and a half fists to the upper left of Sirius. Pollux (12th brightest) is about two and a half fists above Procyon. Capella (4th brightest) is about two and a half fists to the upper right of Procyon and close to straight overhead. Going back to Sirius at the bottom, Rigel (5th brightest) about two and a half fists to the upper right of Sirius. Aldebaran (9th brightest) is about three fists above Rigel. Betelgeuse (7th brightest) is in the center of the hexagon. Adhara (16th brightest) is a little more than a fist below Sirius and Castor (17th brightest) is right above Pollux. That’s nine of the 17 brightest stars visible in the northern United States in one part of the sky.

Sunday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 9:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at the lower left-hand corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.

Monday: Venus is three fists above the southwest horizon at 6 p.m. Mars is less than a fist to the upper left of Venus.

Tuesday: About a century ago, the search for “Planet X” was motivated by irregularities in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. It turned out the “irregularities” were simply errors but the search for Planet X led to the discovery of Pluto in 1930. One year ago, Caltech astronomers published their hypothesis that irregularities in the orbits of some small, icy bodies in the outer Solar System can be explained by the presence of a planet about ten times the mass of Earth. This planet, nicknamed Planet Nine, orbits the Sun about 20 times farther out than Planet Eight, better known as Neptune. Astronomers at New Mexico State University just announced that Planet Nine might be a captured “rogue” planet, one that used to travel through space but not orbiting a star. For more information about this rogue planet, go to

Wednesday: Speaking of Rogues, the CWU Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies is sponsoring a presentation and discussion about the cultural significance of Star Wars, with a focus on the two most recent movies including Rogue One. The panelists will discuss religious, ethical, cultural, and scientific themes. The event is in Black Hall 151 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm on the CWU campus. Parking is free after 4:30 p.m. in the lots on Chestnut Street, just north of University Way. Use the campus map for reference

Thursday: At 6 a.m., Saturn is one fist above the southeast horizon and Jupiter is more than three fists above the south horizon.

Friday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is nearly four fists above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.

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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