Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/22/17

Saturday: If you don’t want to stay up late looking at the stars, do something during the day that will help you and other night sky enthusiasts: make sure your outdoor light fixtures are shielded or at least facing down. This will cut down on light pollution, stray light that obscures the stars, and give you a head start in celebrating International Dark Sky week, which starts today. Go to http://goo.gl/w6Hi7 for more information on how to do an outdoor lighting audit and get more information about International Dark Sky week. You won’t need to have dark skies to see Mars about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the west-northwest horizon at 9 p.m.

Sunday: The bright planet Venus is less than a fist to the upper left of the waning crescent Moon, low in the eastern sky at 5:30 a.m. And I do mean bright. Venus is at the brightest part of its orbit this week.

Monday: The nighttime stars take little more than an instant to rise. The Moon takers about two minutes to rise. That’s absolutely speedy compared to the constellation Virgo, which takes four hours to rise. The first star in Virgo rises at 4:30 in the afternoon. Spica, the brightest star in the constellation, rises at 7:30. By 9 p.m., Spica is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon. The much brighter planet Jupiter is one fist above Spica.

Tuesday: Ah, the signs of spring. Trees budding. Flowers blooming. Young lovers frolicking. The Spring Triangle rising. In order of brightness, Arcturus, Spica, and Regulus form a triangle that rises as the Sun is setting. By 9 a.m., Regulus is five fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south, Spica is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon, and Arcturus is three fists above the east horizon. For the next few months, Jupiter joins the triangle, five fists above the south-southeast sky.

Wednesday: Do people think you have a magnetic personality? The star Cor Caroli understands how you feel. Cor Caroli has one of the strongest magnetic fields among main sequence stars similar to our Sun. This strong magnetic field is thought to produce large sunspots that cause the brightness of Cor Caroli to vary. Cor Caroli is nearly straight overhead at midnight.

Thursday: Winter must be over because the winter constellations are becoming less visible. Orion is setting in the west starting at about 9 p.m. At this time, Orion’s belt is one fist above the west-southwest horizon and Betelgeuse is nearly two fists above the west horizon. By mid-May, Orion will be lost in the glare of the Sun.

Friday: Global Astronomy Month concludes at noon Pacific Daylight Time with the Cosmic Concert performed by Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Renzo. For more information, including information on audience participation, go to https://goo.gl/rC0qbz.


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 https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/15/17

Saturday: The first day of spring was March 20. The most recent full moon was April 11. That means tomorrow is Easter. The standard way to determine the date of Easter for Western Christian churches is that it is the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the vernal equinox, also known as the first day of spring. Of course, the other standard way is to look for the date of church services celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. There is no Bible story of an “Easter star”. If there were, Spica would be a pretty good choice. The name Spica comes from the Latin “spica virginis” which means “Virgo’s ear of grain”. Spica represents life-giving sustenance rising after a long winter just like the risen Jesus represents life-giving redemption to Christians. Spica is a half a fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon at 9 p.m., just to the lower right of the Moon. For more information on how to determine the exact date of Easter for any year, go to https://www.assa.org.au/edm.

Sunday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon at 5:30 a.m. Its showpiece spacecraft, Cassini, is running out of battery power. So NASA scientists plan to start a sweeping orbital pattern next week that will send it through Saturn’s rings and eventually crash it into Saturn in September. “Why crash a working spacecraft?” you ask. NASA does not want to risk infecting Saturn’s moons Titan or Enceladus with Earth microbes because there is a chance these worlds might have their own microbes. For more information about the last days of Cassini, go to https://goo.gl/AeOcsB.

Monday: If you got up at 5:30 yesterday, you’ll probably be up at that time today, as well. Look for the bright planet Venus a half a fist above the east horizon.

Tuesday: At 9 p.m., Mars is one and a half fists above the west horizon. Jupiter is on the other side of the sky, two fists above the southeast horizon.

Wednesday: This evening, asteroid 2014 J025 will pass by the Earth at a distance that is only about four times greater than the Earth-Moon distance. That’s known as a close call. It won’t be bright enough to see with the naked eye. But it will be bright enough to see with a 4-inch telescope. At 10 p.m., it will be in the constellation Coma Berenices, about six fists above the east-southeast horizon. For more information about this asteroid, including detailed finder charts, go to https://goo.gl/0RLj8N.

Thursday: Are you thirsty when you get up in the morning? If so, that’s okay because the Big Dipper is positioned to hold water in the morning sky. Look three fists above the northwest horizon at 5 a.m. You’ll see three stars that make a bent handle and four stars that make a cup.

Friday: Remember the old saying: April showers bring… meteors. The Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight through tomorrow morning. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight and close to straight overhead near dawn. The best time to look is just before dawn since that is when the radiant, or point from which the meteors appear to come, is high in the sky. This year, the Moon is in the waning crescent phase to it will not be providing much light to obscure the meteors. Typically, this is one of the least interesting major meteor showers of the year. However, it is also one of the most unpredictable. As recently as 1982, there were 90 meteors visible during a single hour. In addition, the Lyrid meteor shower has historical interest because it was one of the first ones observed. Chinese records say “stars fell like rain” in the shower of 687 B.C. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/j87bVB. http://earthsky.org/?p=158735

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 https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/8/17

Saturday: Mercury is a half a fist held upright and at arms length above the west-northwest horizon at 8:30 tonight. Mars is a little bit higher, two fists above the west horizon.

Sunday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin me Round (Like a Record) were actually: “ You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought they were.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0506a/ for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, six fists above the north-northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Monday: Poor Jupiter. Objects from space just keep bombarding it. On March 17 last year, two amateur astronomers, unbeknownst to each other, had their cameras aimed at Jupiter when a brief flash of light appeared on the limb. This is the fifth time such an impact has been observed in the past ten years. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/6eV7ql.  Tonight, nothing large is probably hitting Jupiter in the Solar System. But the Full Moon seems to come close to hitting Jupiter in the night sky. At 9 p.m., Jupiter is a half a fist to the upper right of the Moon.

Tuesday: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks next week. But there will be increased meteor activity for the next two weeks in the vicinity of the constellation Lyre. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists above the east-northeast horizon at midnight and close to straight overhead near dawn.

Wednesday: It you didn’t run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon nearly two weeks ago, satisfy that marathon craving by attending a virtual Messier Marathon. Charles Messier (pronounced messy a) was an 18th century French astronomer best known for his catalog of 110 nebulae and star clusters. Amateur astronomers love to find as many of these as they can in one night. During the online Messier Marathon, you’ll see the images broadcast on the Internet. The fun starts this morning at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (when astronomers on the nighttime side of Earth point their telescopes towards interesting celestial objects). For more information, go to https://goo.gl/FNm3NZ.

Thursday: Saturn is two fists above the south horizon at 6 a.m.

Friday: Antares is one fist below the Moon tomorrow morning at 6 a.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 https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.