Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/20/18

Saturday:  The Orionid meteor shower consists of the Earth colliding with pieces of the remains of Halley's Comet's tail. This shower peaks after midnight for the next two nights. 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. Also, the Moon will out most of the night and obscure the dimmer meteors with its light. The best time to observe will be near dawn, after moonset. 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 held upright and at arm’s length 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://earthsky.org/?p=2147

Sunday: The joint European/Japanese space agency mission to Mercury called BepiColombo just launched. There is an overview of the mission at http://sci.esa.int/bepicolombo/48871-getting-to-mercury/. But why name the mission BepiColombo? Giuseppi (Bepi) Colombo was a pioneer in studying Mercury. He made the critical calculations to insure that NASA’s Mariner 10 mission in 1974 would be a success, teaching us nearly everything we knew about Mercury until recently.

Monday: 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.

Tuesday: Jupiter is a half a fist above the southwest horizon at 6:30 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 p.m., Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon and Mars is two fists above the south-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.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/13/18

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 about the width of one thumb held out at arm’s length to the lower left of the Moon in the south-southwestern sky from sunset to moonset. But why wait until sunset? Saturn is bright enough to be seen with binoculars during the day. Under very good seeing conditions, you can see Saturn during the day with your naked eyes. If you know where to look. When a planet is near the Moon, you can use the Moon as a guide to find that planet. Find the Moon in the south-southeast sky at 4 p.m. With the Moon in the upper right portion of your binoculars Saturn will be in the center to lower left portion. Now lower your binoculars and look just to the lower left of the Moon with your naked eyes. You may still be able to see Saturn.

Monday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the southwest horizon at 7 p.m. In a few weeks, it will be lost in the glare of the Sun.

Tuesday: 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.

Wednesday: Mars is about a half a fist to the left of the Moon at 8 p.m. You should try to find Mars during the day with binoculars, as well. But since it is farther from the Moon in the sky, they won’t be in the same binocular field of view. Find the Moon in the southeast sky at 5 p.m. With the Moon in the lower right portion of the binocular field of view, move the binoculars so the Moon is in the upper right portion. Then keep moving the binoculars in that direction. Mars should com into your field of view.

Thursday: 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.

Friday: BepiColombo is scheduled to launch today. No, this mission is not about the old detective TV series. And it is not about the capital of Sri Lanka. It is a joint Europe-Japan mission to study Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun. Even though Mercury is one of our closest neighbors, only two missions have visited Mercury, mainly because being close to the Sun makes for difficult travel. One probe will study the composition of Mercury and the other will study the magnetosphere of Mercury. For more information, go to http://sci.esa.int/bepicolombo/.


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.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 10/6/18

Saturday: The CWU Physics Department and the College of the Sciences is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show today from noon to 1 p.m. STEM Teaching major Katy Shain will give a presentation about the nighttime sky called “The sky, what is it good for? Absolutely everything.” The sky can’t tell you who to marry. But Katy will tell you about different ways civilizations have used the sky throughout history. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show at noon on the first Saturday of every month hosted by different CWU astronomers and astronomy educators. The CWU Lydig planetarium is room 101 in Science Phase II, just off the corner of 11th and Wildcat Way, H-11 on the campus map found at https://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.

Sunday: The Draconid meteor shower peaks for the next three nights with tomorrow night being the best. 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. Could this be the year for a great show by the Draconids? The Moon will be nearly new so there won’t be any natural light to obscure the dimmer meteors. Also, Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner just passed by the Earth leaving many “comet droppings” for the Earth to collide with. For everything you need to know about the Draconid meteor shower, go to http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-draconid-meteor-shower.

Monday: At 8:30 p.m. Saturn is one fist above the southwest horizon and Mars is two fists above the south horizon.

Tuesday: The CWU Astronomy Club is coming up and getting the Star Party started tonight at 8 p.m. The party starts with a presentation in the CWU Lydig Planetarium called The Life Cycle of Stars. It continues on the roof with telescopes and observing the night sky. The CWU Lydig planetarium is room 101 in Science Phase II, just off the corner of 11th and Wildcat Way, H-11 on the campus map found at https://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.

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 19 through the 21st 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: Jupiter is less than a half a fist below the moon, low in the southwest sky at 7 p.m.

Friday: Astronomers may have discovered the first exomoon, that is, a moon orbiting a planet outside of our Solar System. They didn’t directly observe the moon. Instead, they studied the light of its host star as the Jupiter-sized planet and then its Neptune-sized moon blocked it. This transit method is one of the most popular ways to observe exoplanets. And not it may work to find exomoons, as well. Read more about this, still somewhat tentative, discovery at https://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/hubble-boosts-case-first-known-exomoon/.

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.