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

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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