Friday, November 16, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/17/18

Saturday:  Do you want to learn more about what goes on at night in the natural world? You can at a free event called Nature of Night on the CWU campus, today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Go to the Science Building at the intersection of Wildcat Way and 11th Avenue, J-9 on the map found at http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map. There will be planetarium shows, fun nighttime projects, animals, cookies and much more. The College of the Sciences and the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) are putting on this event. Go to cwu.edu/sciences for more information.
If you missed the Leonid meteor shower early this morning, you can still catch the peak tomorrow morning. These meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Leo the lion. This point is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night and into the morning, as it will remain about one fist above the bright star Regulus. Go to https://earthsky.org/?p=29831 to read everything you need to know about the Leonid meteor shower. But read quickly because these meteors travel at up to 150,000 miles per hour.

Sunday: Are you disappointed because you are not going anywhere for Thanksgiving? Why not take a (virtual) trip to outer space using Google’s new visualization tool called 100,000 Stars. It shows the stars in our neighborhood in a very good 3-D simulation. The Sun is initially at the center. If you zoom in, you can click on neighboring stars and learn more about them. Go to http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/ for the simulation. It works best on a Chrome browser.

Monday: Saturn is one fist above the southwest horizon and Mars is three fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5:30 p.m.

Tuesday: So, you are not into virtual vacations like the Google Simulation, hmmm? How about a vacation to the recently discovered Super Earth sized planet orbiting the closest single star to our Sun? Astronomers working with the European Southern Observatory discovered that Barnard’s Star, a red dwarf star only 6 light-years away, has a planet about three times the mass of the Earth. Even though Barnard’s Star is very dim, it is heavily studied because it is the star with the largest proper motion. It moves through the night sky more than any other star.  Don’t expect a warm vacation. This planet receives only 2% of the energy from its star as we receive from the Sun. For more information about the discovery, and to possibly book a trip, go to http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/news/view/658855/.  Barnard’s Star is about one fist above the west horizon at 7 p.m., just above the fairly bright star Cebalrai.

Wednesday: Are you thankful that you live in a solar system with multiple planets? You should be. A giant planet like Jupiter cleans up planetary debris that could have collided with Earth and hindered the formation of complex life. Any inhabitants of the planets orbiting Upsilon Andromedae are thankful for this, as well. Upsilon Andromedae, a star in the constellation Andromeda, was the first Sun-like star discovered to have multiple planets orbiting it. So far, all of its planets are giant planets like Jupiter. But, the system is likely to also contain smaller planets. The dim star, but certainly not its planets, is barely visible straight overhead at 9 p.m. Jupiter is lost in the glare of the setting

Thursday: Some of us have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. But, probably not as much as Andromeda had to be thankful for. According to Greek mythology, the beautiful princess Andromeda was chained to a rock next to the ocean. Cetus the sea monster was about to devour her in order to punish her family. Her mother Queen Cassiopeia and her father King Cepheus didn’t know what to do. It seemed that all was lost. But, along came Andromeda’s boyfriend, the great warrior Perseus. Even though Perseus’ standing as the son of King Zeus and the slayer of Medusa was probably enough to win Andromeda under normal circumstances, Andromeda’s impending death-by-sea-monster was not a normal circumstance. So, Perseus drove his sword into the sea monster’s neck and killed it. This was the first time in recorded history that a set of parents actually welcomed an uninvited Thanksgiving visit from the boyfriend. Perseus is about five fists above the east-northeast horizon and Andromeda is about seven fists above the east horizon at 7 p.m.

Friday: Venus is one and a half fists above the southeast horizon at 6:30 a.m. The bright star Spica is about a thumb-width to the right of Venus.

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, November 8, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/10/18


Saturday:  The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow night. These are slow moving meteors that result in the occasional fireball. The Taurid meteor showers produce a few bright meteors every hour. The waxing crescent Moon sets earlier in the evening so it won’t be much of a problem. These meteors appear to come from a point in Taurus the bull, near the open star cluster called the Pleiades. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 8 p.m. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain one fist above 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, go to https://earthsky.org/?p=136475.

Sunday: We wish you a Merry Martinmas. We wish you a Merry Martinmas. We wish you a Merry Martinmas. And a happy Friday. Martinmas is a holiday in many parts of the world commemorating Saint Martin of Tours. He was buried on November 11, 397. What does this have to astronomy? Not much except that the celebration on November 11 often doubles as a cross-quarter day celebration, a day that is halfway between an equinox and a solstice. Also, according to an agricultural calendar, November 11 marks the practical beginning of winter.
Saturn is about a half a fist to the lower right of the Moon at 5 p.m. They are one and a half fists above the southwest horizon.

Monday: Jupiter and Mercury are getting lost in the glare of the Sun. At 4:45, right after the Sun sets, look just above the southwest horizon. Mercury is about a half a hist above due southwest and Jupiter (the brighter of the two) is lower and a little west of southwest.

Tuesday: Imagine Opie and Andy Taylor walking down the dirt path at night to that fishing hole in the sky. They’d probably be looking to catch Pisces, the two fish already conveniently tied together with two ropes. The ropes are connected at the star Alrescha, Arabic for “the cord”. Alrescha is about a half a fist to the lower right of the Moon at 10:30 p.m. The fish are attached to lines of stars that branch out at one o’clock and three o’clock from Alrescha. By the way, “The Fishing Hole”, The Andy Griffith Show’s theme song, was rated the 20th best TV theme song of all time by ign.com. That’s too low of a ranking in my opinion.

Wednesday: Mars is three fists above due south at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday: Lieutenant Worf, the Klingon Starfleet officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, might say “Today is a good day to die.” But Deneb, the bright supergiant star in Cygnus the Swan would say “two million years from now is a good day to die.” This may seem like a long time. But, compared to many stars, two million years from now is as about close as tomorrow. For example, the Sun will last about five billion years. Small stars known as red dwarfs may last trillions of years. Prepare your astronomically short goodbyes to Deneb tonight at 7 o’clock when it is seven fists above the west horizon.

Friday: The Leonid meteor shower peaks early tomorrow and Sunday mornings. These meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Leo the lion. This point is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night and into the morning, as it will remain about one fist above the bright star Regulus. The Moon will be below the horizon nearly the whole night so you should see a pretty good show. The Leonid meteors are particles from the tail of Comet Tempel-Tuttle, a comet discovered by Ernst Tempel and Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1866. These are exceptionally fast moving meteors – over 150,000 miles per hour! Go to https://earthsky.org/?p=29831 to read everything you need to know about the Leonid meteor shower. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment.
The Nature of Night event takes place tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Science Building at the intersection of Wildcat Way and 11th Avenue, J-9 on the map found at http://www.cwu.edu/facility/campus-map.. There will be planetarium shows, fun nighttime projects, animals, cookies and much more. Go to cwu.edu/sciences for more information.

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, November 1, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 11/3/18

Saturday:  You’ll be getting an extra hour this weekend. What are you going to do with it? I suggest you learn some astronomy. 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. CWU physics major Jessica Kisner will give a presentation about Solar System moons. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show at noon on the first Saturday of every month during the school year 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.
Before you fall back on to your bed tonight, set your clock back one hour to the real time. Daylight savings ends early Sunday morning at 2 a.m. This means one more hour of sky watching at in the evening because the Sun will set one hour earlier. Ben Franklin proposed the idea of “saving daylight” by adjusting our clocks way back in 1784. Daylight savings time was first utilized during World War I as a way to save electricity. After the war, it was abandoned. It was reintroduced during World War II on a year-round basis. From 1945 to 1966, some areas implemented daylight savings and some did not. Also, it was not implemented with any uniformity as to when it should start and stop. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 codified the daylight savings rules.

Sunday: “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood.” Constellations can be considered neighborhoods in the nighttime sky. But, the stars in those constellations are not necessarily neighbors in real life. For example, the bright stars in the constellation Cassiopeia range from 19 light years to over 10,000 light years away from Earth. One constellation that consists of real neighbors is Ursa Major. Or, more specifically, the Big Dipper. Five stars in the Big Dipper are all moving in the same direction in space, are about the same age and are all about 80 light years from Earth. “Please won’t you be my neighbor?” Skat, the third brightest star in the constellation Aquarius is a neighbor to these five Big Dipper stars, all of which are about 30 light years from each other. They are thought to have originated in the same nebula about 500 million years ago. Just like human children do, these child stars are slowly moving away from home. Skat is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8 p.m. The much brighter Fomalhaut is a fist and a half below Skat. And, it’s not fun being below Skat.

Monday: Mercury and Jupiter are just above the southwestern horizon at 5 p.m. Jupiter is the brighter and the farther south of the two.

Tuesday: The moon is almost directly between the Earth and Sun today. That means you won’t be able to see it. But that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Contrary to the belief of toddlers and immature politicians, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (Note a double negative statement followed by a triple negative statement. I’m not unsorry about that.) Now, back to the science. What would happen to the earth if the moon really didn’t exist? In that 2013 blockbuster Oblivion, aliens destroy the moon and Tom Cruise survives. But the long-term effects on the earth would be devastating to life, as we know it. The moon stabilizes the spin axis of the earth keeping the seasons fairly uniform over time. For more information on what would happen to the earth if the moon were destroyed, go to http://goo.gl/4EbzLa. For more information on Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Cruise.

Wednesday: Did you look up Vera Rubin and Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni based on last week’s Halloween costume suggestion? Vera Rubin was an American astronomer who discovered that the orbital speed of material near the edge of galaxies was just as fast as material closer to the center. The best explanation for this was that there is invisible mass, or dark matter, spread throughout galaxies.  If you want to learn about her in her own words, listen to https://www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/33963. Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Biruni was one of the greatest scholars in the Medieval Islamic era. He did research on celestial motions and drew plans of an early clock and astrolabe, two important early astronomical tools..

Thursday: Deneb Kaitos, Arabic for whale’s tail, is two and a half fists above due south at 9:30 p.m. This is the brightest star in the constellation Cetus the sea monster.

Friday: While Stonehenge is an ancient burial ground visited by religious people for thousands of years, MIThenge is an 825-foot long hallway on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited by the Sun’s rays twice a year.  Every year in November and January, the setting Sun lines up with a narrow window at the end of the long hall and the light shines down to the opposite end. This season’s alignment is from November 10-12. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/0hwFQf or visit MIT. In addition, challenge yourself to find a similar alignment in your neighborhood. If you are not up for a challenge, just go outside tonight at 6:30 p.m. Saturn is a little less than one fist above due southwest and Mars is nearly three fists above the southern 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.