Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of 10/21/17

Saturday: Dead October flowers lead to November meteor showers. While the Leonid meteor shower is the next big name event, the few bright and surprisingly colorful fireballs per hour you can see during the typical Southern and Northern Taurids meteor showers may make it worth your while to stay up late for a few nights. These two showers overlap from mid-October to mid-November. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull. This point is nearly four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-southeast horizon at 11 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist to the right of the V-shaped Hyades Cluster with its bright star Aldebaran (pronounced Al-deb’-a-ran). Meteors are tiny rocks that burn up in the atmosphere when the Earth runs into them. These rocks are broken off parts of Comet 2P/Encke. For more information about the Taurid meteor showers, go to https://goo.gl/oqnZWy.

Sunday: Halloween is coming soon so make sure you load up on peanut clusters, almond clusters, and open star clusters. That last one will be easy (and cheap… actually free) because two of the most prominent open star clusters in the sky are easily visible in the autumn sky. The sideways V-shaped Hyades Cluster is two fists above due east at 10 p.m. Containing over 300 stars; the Hyades cluster is about 150 light years away and 625 million years old. The Pleiades Cluster, a little more than three fists above due east, is larger at over 1000 stars and younger. Compared to our 5 billion year old Sun, the 100 million year age of the Pleiades is infant-like. The moon will help you find these clusters. This morning at 6:30 a.m., the Pleiades cluster is less than one fist to the upper right of the moon and the Hyades cluster is about one fist to the upper left of the moon. Tomorrow morning, the moon sits in the “V” of the Hyades cluster.

Monday: Saturn is about one fist above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m.

Tuesday: Vega, the bright bluish star in the constellation Lyra, is six fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m.

Wednesday: Along with the not-so-subtle drug reference in their name, The Doobie Brothers could have made an astronomy reference in their song lyrics if they would have written: “Old Earth water, keep on rollin’, Mississippi moon won’t you keep on shining on me.” Astronomers now think that some of the water on Earth may be older than the Solar System. The chemical signature of the water indicates it came from a very cold source, just a few degrees above absolute zero. The early Solar System was much warmer than this meaning the water came from a source outside the Solar System. For more information about the old Earth water, go to http://goo.gl/QsEu5P.

Thursday: Rho Cassiopeiae is the most distant star that can be seen with the naked eye by most people. It is about 8,200 light years away. That means that the light that reaches your eyes from that star left over 8,000 years ago, before the beginning of time according to the Byzantine calendar. Rho Cassiopeiae is six fists above the northeast horizon at 8 p.m., just above the zigzag line that marks the constellation Cassiopeia.

Friday: At 7 a.m., Mars is two fists and Venus is one 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 https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/planner.cfm.

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