Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/28/17

Saturday: Lacerta, the faint lizard constellation, is straight overhead at 9 p.m. It was named by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1687 to fill the space between the much brighter and well-defined constellations Pegasus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus going clockwise from the constellation just south of Lacerta.

Sunday: What do Justin Bieber and Betelgeuse have in common? Both are superstars. One will shine brightly for about a few hundred thousand more years. The other will only seem to be around for that long. “Sorry” Beliebers. “If you Love Yourself”, you and your “Boyfriend” need to learn more about Betelgeuse, the real super giant star that is big enough to hold about one million Suns. “What Do You Mean” you don’t know where to look? For more information about Betelgeuse, go to You’ll find it one fist above due east at 11 p.m.

Monday: What time is tea time? Certainly not during an autumn evening. The constellation Sagittarius the archer, with its signature teapot shape, is sinking into the south-southwest horizon by 8 p.m. The handle is on top and the spout is touching the horizon ready to pour that last cup of tea. Mars is riding the teapot, about one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon.

Tuesday: Halloween. The pumpkins. The candy. The children going door-to-door dressed up as their favorite radio astronomers: Ruby Payne-Scott and Grote Reber. At least they should because Halloween is, in part, an astronomical holiday. Halloween is a “cross-quarter date”, a day approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. Historically, the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter dates as the beginnings of seasons. For the Celts, winter began with Halloween. So when all those little Hevelius’s come to your door tonight night, honor the Celts and give them a wintry treat. If they ask you for a trick, point out Saturn, one fist above the southwest horizon at 7:00 p.m.

Wednesday: Happy Celtic New Year! Many historians think that November 1, known for the festival of Samhain, was the ancient Celtic New Year’s Day. Samhain, Old Irish for “summer’s end”, was a harvest festival that may have contributed to some of the customs of our current “holiday” of Halloween.

Thursday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life. For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 light years to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major. Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists above due south at 9 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.

Friday: At 7 am, Mars is two fists and Venus is a half a fist above the east-southeast 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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