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.