Thursday, May 10, 2018
The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/12/18
Saturday: You know Metis and Thebe and Adrastea and Amalthea. Io and Ganymede and and Europa. But do you recall? There are 69 Jovian moons in all. Just 60 years ago, Jupiter was thought to have only 12 moons. But, astronomers are red-nosed with delight that the advent of supersensitive electronic cameras has caused the number of discovered moons to rapidly increase. Jupiter’s 69 moons range in size from Ganymede, with a diameter of 5,262 kilometers, to S/2002 J12 and S/2003 J9, with a diameter of only one kilometer. Our moon has a diameter of 3,475 kilometers. (One kilometer is 0.62 miles.) Saturn is second place in the moon race with 62. Uranus is next with 27. Then comes Neptune with 14, Mars with 2, and Earth with 1. Even dwarf planets have moons. Pluto has 5, Eris has 1, Haumea has 2, and has 1. Eris is an outer solar system object that was discovered in 2005 and named in September of 2006. Because astronomers thought it was larger than Pluto, people called it the tenth planet for a while. (More recent measurements show Eris to be a little smaller than Pluto.) Haumea, the newest dwarf planet with a moon, was discovered in 2004 and officially named a dwarf planet on September 17, 2008. Go to http://goo.gl/Xkoeq for more information about Solar System moons.
Sunday: you think your mother has problems on Mother’s Day because she had you as you as a child? Her mother issues can’t be as bad as Cassiopeia’s issues. First, she was chained to a chair for boasting about her beauty. Second, she has to revolve around the North Star night after night. Third, her daughter Andromeda was nearly killed by a sea monster. Look for poor Cassiopeia about one and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the north horizon at 10 p.m. Cassiopeia looks like a stretched out “W”.
Monday: Are you up at 2:51 a.m., looking due north and thinking you see a UFO coming to take you away? That's no UFO. It's the bright star Capella, a circumpolar star that never goes below the horizon as viewed from Ellensburg.
Tuesday: Jupiter is two and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 11 a.m.
Wednesday: Give me an “M”. Give me a “3”. What does that spell? “M3.” “Big deal,” you say. It was a big deal to French comet hunter Charles Messier (pronounced Messy A). M3 was the 3rd comet look-alike that Messier catalogued in the late 1700s. M3 is a globular cluster, a cluster of over 100,000 stars that is 32,000 light years away. It is too dim to be seen with the naked eye but is fairly easy find with binoculars. First find Arcturus six fists above the southeast horizon at 11 p.m. Move your binoculars up one binocular field of view so two stars of nearly identical brightness are in your field of view. When the top star is in the lower left part of your field of view, there should be a fuzzy patch near the center of your field of view. This is M3.
Thursday: Venus is less than a fist to the left of the young crescent Moon at 10 p.m.
Friday: Mars’ two small moons, and Deimos, are not visible in typical backyard telescopes. But they are an interesting study. The prevailing view among most astronomers is that they are captured asteroids. That makes sense given Mars’ proximity to the asteroid belt. But resent findings by European astronomers indicate that is very porous and made of material similar to the surface of Mars. This implies that may consist of chunks of Martian debris that was blasted off by numerous impacts and gravitationally bound together. Unfortunately, the Russian -Grunt probe launched late 2011 to collect material from crashed to Earth after malfunctioning. For more information about this recent model of ’ formation, go to http://goo.gl/8sw3rM. For more information about Mars, look due south early in the morning. Mars and Saturn are both two fists above the horizon and on either side of due south at 5 a.m. Mars is a little bit east (to the left) of due south and Saturn is a little bit to the west (to the right) of due south.
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.