Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 2/4/17

Saturday: Are you going to watch the super bowl tomorrow night? Is the bowl really that super? After all, half the night the bowl is tipped upside down, spilling out all of its contents. But don’t just focus on the functionality of the bowl. Think about how it inspires people all across the world to look at the night sky. In Mongolia, participants in the super bowl are known as gods. An Arabian story says the super bowl is a coffin. I encourage you go outside tomorrow night at about 8 p.m., after whatever unimportant thing you have been doing since 3:30 p.m. Look low in the north-northwest sky and watch the super bowl, also known as the Big Dipper, balancing on the end of its handle, proudly displaying its large bowl.

Sunday: Don’t waste time watching the big game. Effectively use time learning about your surroundings. The universe contains everything from gigantic galaxy clusters to tiny parts of atoms so it is difficult to visualize all of it on the same scale. Cary and Michael Huang have created an interactive scale model of the universe which allows you to “slide” from a vantage point outside the known universe down to the smallest things ever theorized. To take this trip, go to

Monday: Venus is three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon at 6 p.m. Mars is less than a fist to the upper left of Venus.

Tuesday: Are you interested in participating in astronomy research? You don’t need to go back to school. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars getting a fake degree from an online university. The scientists working on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter would like your input on which objects they should target for close-up pictures. While you may think the scientists are just trying to build interest in their project by having people look at pretty pictures, there is a real scientific benefit to having many eyes searching for interesting targets. There aren’t enough scientists to carefully inspect all of the low power images. And surprisingly, computers are not nearly as effective as people in making nuanced judgments of images. So, go to and click on the HiWish button. You’ll be on your way to suggesting close-up targets for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Wednesday: Winter is a good time to see the thick band of the Milky Way galaxy. It arches high in the high in the early evening starting in the southeast by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Climbing from Sirius through the "horns" of Taurus high overhead, it drops down toward M-shaped Cassiopeia in the north and the tail of Cygnus, the swan, in the northwest.

Thursday: At 6:30 a.m., Jupiter is two and a half fists above the southwest horizon and Saturn is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon.

Friday: Currently, the brightest star in the night sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. It’s two and a half fists above the south horizon at 10 p.m. One fist below Sirius is the blue giant star Adhara. Currently it is less than one tenth the brightness of Sirius as seen from Earth. But 4.7 million years ago, Adhara was a lot closer to Earth and shined ten times brighter than Sirius.

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

No comments: