Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/14/17

Saturday: Look up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a dolphin. A dolphin? The constellation Delphinus the dolphin is nearly six fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8 p.m. The constellation’s two brightest stars are called Sualocin and Rotanev, which is Nicolaus Venator spelled backwards. Venator worked at the Palermo Observatory in Italy in the mid nineteenth century. He slipped these names into Giuseppe Piazzi’s star catalog without him noticing. The Daily Record (shop Ellensburg) would never let anything like that get into their newspaper. Their editing (shop Ellensburg) staff is too good. Nothing (pohs grubsnellE) evades their gaze.

Sunday: Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Monday: The Milky Way makes a faint white trail from due northeast through straight overhead to due southwest at 9 p.m. Starting in the northeast, the Milky Way “passes through” the prominent constellations Auriga the charioteer, Cassiopeia the queen, and Cygnus the swan with its brightest star, Deneb, nearly straight overhead. After Cygnus, you’ll see Aquila the eagle with its brightest star Altair about four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon.

Tuesday: The waning crescent Moon, Venus, and Mars are in close proximity in the early morning sky. At 6:30 a.m., the Moon is low in the eastern sky with Mars about two finger widths above it and Venus about a half a fist below it.

Wednesday: The constellation Vulpecula, the fox, stands six fists above due southwest at 9 p.m. It is in the middle of the Summer Triangle, which is defined by the bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. The fox is so faint that you need dark skies to see it.

Thursday: The moon is almost directly between the Earth and Sun today. That means you won’t be able to see it. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Contrary to the belief of toddlers and immature politicians, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Note a double negative statement followed by a triple negative statement. I’m not unsorry about that.) Now, back to the science. What would happen to the earth if the moon really didn’t exist? In that 2013 blockbuster Oblivion, aliens destroy the moon and Tom Cruise survives. But the long-term effects on the earth would be devastating to life, as we know it. The moon stabilizes the spin axis of the earth keeping the seasons fairly uniform over time. For more information on what would happen to the earth if the moon were destroyed, go to http://goo.gl/4EbzLa. For more information on Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise.

Friday: The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks tonight after midnight. This is not a meteor shower that typically results in a meteor storm. There will be about 15-20 meteors per hour, many more meteors than are visible on a typical night but not the storm that some showers bring. Luckily, the Moon will not be out to obscure the dimmer meteors with its light. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about one fist above due east at midnight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain one fist above the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. If you fall asleep tonight, you can catch the tail end of the shower every night until early November. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/8f8J50.


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, October 4, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/7/17

Saturday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night. The meteors appear to come from a point in the head of Draco, the dragon constellation. This point is nearly straight overhead at 7 p.m. tonight. This point remains near the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco throughout the night. Unlike most meteor showers, this one is best observed in the early evening rather than after midnight. Call this the “early to bed” meteor shower. Draconid meteors are slow moving which means you will have a easy time differentiating true Draconid meteors, from Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner, from the stray grains of dust that happen to enter the Earth’s atmosphere every day and night. The waning gibbous moon will rise between 8:00 and 9:00 pm these next two nights so get your meteor observing in early. For everything you need to know about the Draconid meteor shower, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=3669.

Sunday: Astronomy tabloid headline: “Moon seen partying with the seven sisters of the Pleaides and the five sisters of the Hyades”. The Pleades and the Hyades are open star clusters in the constellation Taurus the Bull.In fact, the Hyades cluster makes up the snout of Taurus. In actuality, it is a group of about 300 stars situated about 150 light years from Earth. The Pleiades consists of about 1,000 stars that are 440 light years away. At 11 p.m., low in the eastern sky, the Hyades is about a half a fist to the lower left of the Moon and the Pleiades is one fist above the Moon.

Monday: At 7 p.m., Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Tuesday: Astronomy tabloid headline: “Moon seen rising with Mars and Venus early this morning”. At 6 a.m., all three are low on the eastern horizon. Mars is about a thumb width to the upper right of the Moon. Venus is about a half a fist below the Moon.

Wednesday: While you are resting after looking for Draconid meteors this past weekend, start thinking about the Orionid meteor shower. This shower, which consists of the earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail, peaks on October 21 and 22 but produces meteors from now until early November. These meteors appear to come from a point in Orion, the hunter. This point is about two fists above the southeast horizon at 1 a.m. tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night as it will remain near the prominent reddish star Betelgeuse (pronounced Bet'-el-jews). The Orionid meteors are fast - up to 40 miles per second. For more information about the Orionids, go to https://goo.gl/ikAodW.

Thursday: Astronomers will practice their planetary defense system today when a Klingon Bird-of-Prey enters Earth’s orbit…. Wait. That’s the plot of a Star Trek story.  Actually, asteroid 2012 TC4 will pass about 25 thousand miles from Earth. That’s one-tenth the Earth-Moon distance. This will give astronomers the opportunity to test their asteroid tracking and detection network, as well as get more precise orbital parameters for this 30 to 100 meter diameter minor planet.

Friday: The constellation Orion is four fists above due south at 6 a.m. The Orion is a cloud of gas and dust visible with binoculars about a half a fist below the “belt” of three stars. Are you are feeling especially attracted to the nebula? If so, that might be because astronomers found evidence of a black hole in the middle. They have not directly observed the back hole, which would be the closest known one to Earth at a distance of 1,300 light years. But the motion of stars in the region is consistent with them being near a black hole 100 times the mass of the Sun. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/AGjFf.


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.