Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 2/25/17

Saturday: Under ideal sky conditions, the planet Uranus is just on the edge of being a naked eye planet. For the next few nights, its proximity to Mars in the night sky makes it an inviting binocular target. At 7 p.m., Mars is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west horizon. Get Mars in the center of your binocular field of view. Uranus is the brightest object to the upper left of Mars. Over the next few nights, look for Mars to pass by Uranus in the sky. This is evidence that Mars is much closer to Earth than Uranus is. Venus is the bright point of light to the lower right of Mars.

Sunday: Tonight is a great night to look for the Big Dipper. Tomorrow will be a great night to look for the Big Dipper. In fact, every night for many centuries will be great nights to look for the Big Dipper. But the Big Dipper’s shape slowly changes over many, many, many, many centuries. (Have I reached my word count yet?) Tens of thousands of years ago, it didn’t look like a dipper and tens of thousands of years from now, it will no longer look like a dipper. For a short video simulation of the changing Big Dipper, go to For a look at the current Dipper, face northeast at 8 p.m. The lowest star, Alkaid, is two and a half fists above the horizon.

Monday: Avast ye matey. Swab the poop deck. Pirates love astronomy. In fact, the term “poop” in poop deck comes from the French word for stern (poupe) which comes for the Latin word Puppis. Puppis is a constellation that represents the raised stern deck of Argo Navis, the ship used by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology. Argo Nevis was an ancient constellation that is now divided between the constellations Puppis, Vela and Carina. The top of Puppis is about a fist and a half to the left of the bright star Sirius low in the southern sky at 9 p.m. Zeta Puppis, the hottest, and thus the bluest, naked eye star in the sky at 40,000 degrees Celsius is near the uppermost point in Puppis.

Tuesday: On Saturday you found Mars in the sky. Tonight go learn about Mars. The CWU Astronomy Club will be giving a presentation about Mars  at 8:00 p.m. in the new planetarium. The planetarium is in Science Phase II, room 101, found at H-10 on the campus map:

Wednesday: In this busy world, it is important to know what time it is. We have many devises that give us the time. A phone. A computer. A watch. But who has time to build a phone, computer or even a watch. Not you. But everyone has enough time to build a simple Sun Clock. All you need is a pencil, a compass and a print out of the clock template. Go to for more information.

Thursday: Jupiter is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m.

Friday: Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon at 6 a.m. If you are not a night owl and missed Jupiter in the late night sky, you can now find it at two fists above the southwest horizon.

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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