Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 12/22/18

Saturday:  I know you’re staying up late to train yourself to wait up for Santa. So look out a south-facing window at 12:44 a.m. and see Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, as high as it ever gets in the sky. It is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south.

Sunday: Just before Christmas, you look for junk to clean out of your closets so you can re-gift it. I mean, so you can throw it out or recycle it. NASA’s Meter Class Autonomous Telescope on Ascension Island is a key tool in a program tracking about 22,000 pieces space junk. Some of this junk is dangerous. The International Space Station occasionally performs debris avoidance maneuvers to keep is panels and sensitive instrument safe. For more information about the project, go to http://goo.gl/Kxgihd.

Monday: The autumn star Fomalhaut is one fist above the south-southwest horizon at 6 p.m. It is getting ready for its winter nap.

Tuesday: Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw Jupiter being eclipsed by the Moon in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, Bruce Palmquist version, informed by Michael Molnar). There are many theories as to the physical explanation of the Star of Bethlehem, the celestial object that guided the wise men to the location of Jesus. Some people think it was a recurring nova, a star that explodes. Some think it was a close alignment of bright planets. Some think it was a miracle that requires no physical explanation. In 1991, astronomer Michael Molnar bought an ancient Roman Empire coin that depicted a ram looking back at a star. Aries the ram was a symbol for Judea, the birthplace of Jesus. The Magi, or “wise men”, who visited the baby Jesus practiced astrology and would have been looking in that region of the sky for the king prophesied in the Old Testament. Molnar, a modern day wise person, used sky simulation software to model the positions of planets and the Moon in the region of Aries. According to his model, Jupiter was eclipsed, or blocked, by the Moon on the morning of April 17, 6 BC. A book written by the astrologer of Constantine the Great in 334 AD supports Molnar’s theory. The book describes an eclipse of Jupiter in Aries and notes a man of divine nature born during this time. See https://goo.gl/o89A4o for more information.
The moon, Aries, and Jupiter make an appearance in the Christmas sky. At 7 a.m., Jupiter is one fist above the southeast horizon and the Moon is three fists above the west horizon. At 8 p.m., the dim constellation Aries is six and a half fists above due south.

Wednesday: Is your favorite someone lamenting that she didn’t get that space-related calendar that she wanted? Are you sad that you ran out of money and can’t fulfill her last-minute wish? Do you wish you could spend more quality time with her? Worry not. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a free moon phases calendar and calculator you can make together. Download the calendar parts at https://goo.gl/jhgWoD.

Thursday: Did you get a new telescope for Christmas? The next item on your list should be a sky watching app for your phone. These apps will help you to get familiar with the constellations and bright stars. Then you can zoom in to an area of interest and learn about objects that are visible through your telescope. I like SkySafari, a free app for iPhones. But there are many other good ones to choose from for little or no money. Go to https://goo.gl/t1DX7R for fifteen short reviews. The first object you should look at is Mars. It is bright, easy to find and out in the early evening sky so you can share the experience with children. Mars is four fists above the south horizon at 6 p.m.

Friday:“Far out, man. Astronomers just discovered the farthest out object in the Solar System and nicknamed it Farout.” This Kuiper Belt object is more than 100 times farther from the Sun than Earth is, more than twice as far as Pluto is. For more information about Farout, go to https://goo.gl/YtGsRE. Look in the early morning sky for some not so far out objects. At 7 a.m., Venus, our nearest and brightest neighbor, is about two fists above the south-southeast horizon. Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, is about a half a fist above the southeast horizon, to the lower left of Jupiter.

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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