Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/18/19

Saturday:  Every year near the summer solstice, the orbital path of the International Space Station (ISS) is aligned with the Earth’s day-night terminator line, meaning the ISS is illuminated by the Sun for its entire orbit. Since the ISS just takes about 90 minutes to orbit the Earth, it will be visible about five times a night from many locations. For more information about the ISS’s orbit, go to https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/watch-international-space-station/. To see the ISS, go outside tonight (in Washington state) and look to the south-southeast at 9:35 pm, 11:10 pm, 12:47 am, 2:24 am, and 4:02 am.

Sunday: Are you thirsty. I’ll wait while you get some water. I will NOT wait while Corvus the crow gets you some water. The Greco-Roman god Apollo made this mistake. He sent Corvus the crow to get some water in the cup known as Crater. Some figs distracted Corvus and he waited for them to ripen so he could eat them. When Corvus got back late, Apollo put Corvus and Crater in the sky with the gently tipping cup just out of the reach of the perpetually thirsty crow. Corvus is a trapezoid-shaped constellation about two fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 9:30 p.m. Crater is just to the right of Corvus.

Monday: Jupiter is less than a half a fist to the left of the nearly full Moon at 5 a.m. The latest plan is for humans to return to the Moon by 2024. Watch this video to get excited about the upcoming trip https://youtu.be/vl6jn-DdafM.

Tuesday: You can set your watch tonight by carefully observing Navi, the center star in the W-shaped Cassiopeia. It will be due north at exactly 10:02 p.m. However, another star in Cassiopeia is causing astronomers to doubt whether or not they can use neutron stars as the most precise known clocks in the universe. Neutron stars have such a precise spin rate that they are used to set clocks on Earth. However, in 2013, astronomers using NASA’s Swift x-ray telescope noticed that the neutron star called 1E 2259+586 exhibited a spin glitch that that had never seen before. The spin rate of about eight times a minute decreased by 2.2 millionths of a second. Read more about this at http://goo.gl/C4V8R1. In 2016, astronomers using NASA’s Swift x-ray telescope observed the slowest rotating neutron star, once every 6.5 hours. What is it with using a telescope named Swift to make discoveries about something slowing? Maybe that slow developing question will be answered at https://tinyurl.com/y6ag6g7c.  

Wednesday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the upper left of the Moon at 5 a.m.

Thursday: Are you thirsty when you get up in the morning? I know you are not waiting for Corvus. That’s okay because the Big Dipper is positioned to hold water in the morning sky. Look three fists above the northwest horizon at 4:30 a.m. You’ll see three stars that make a bent handle and four stars that make a cup.

Friday: Are you up at 1:59 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.


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, May 9, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/11/19


Saturday:  You know Metis and Thebe and Adrastea and Amalthea. Io and Ganymede and Callisto and Europa. But do you recall? There are 79 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 79 moons range in size from Ganymede, with a diameter of 5,262 kilometers, to numerous moons with diameters 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 Makemake 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 in diameter 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: So 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: 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.

Tuesday: Jupiter is a half a fist above the southeast horizon at 11:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Spica is less than one fist below the Moon, about three fists above the south horizon at 11 p.m.

Thursday: Mars’ two small moons, Phobos 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 recent findings by European astronomers indicate that Phobos is very porous and made of material similar to the surface of Mars. This implies that Phobos may consist of chunks of Martian debris that was blasted off by numerous impacts and gravitationally bound together. Unfortunately, the Russian Phobos-Grunt probe launched late 2011 to collect material from Phobos crashed to Earth after malfunctioning. For more information about this recent model of Phobos’ formation, go to http://goo.gl/8sw3rM. For more information about Mars, look about two fists above the west horizon at 9:30 p.m.

Friday: At 5 a.m., Jupiter is a fist and a half above the south-southwest horizon, Saturn is two fists above due south, and Venus is just peeking up above the east horizon, nearly lost in the glare of the rising Sun.

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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 5/4/19

Saturday:  The CWU Physics Department is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show today from noon to 1 p.m. STEM Teaching major McKenzie Bailey will give a show called Solar System Travels. You will learn about a few key missions to explore the Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of 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.

Sunday: The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow morning. But since this meteor shower has a fairly broad peak range, there will be many more meteors than in the typical pre-dawn sky throughout the month of May. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. The meteors appear to come from a point in the constellation Aquarius near the star Eta. This point is about one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 4 a.m. The Moon is just past the new Moon phase so the sky will be dark for most of the night. The Eta Aquarid meteors slam into the Earth at about 40 miles per second. They often leave a long trail. The Eta Aquarid meteors are small rocks that have broken off Halley’s Comet. For more information about the Eta Aquarids, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=158833.

Monday: Mother’s Day is about a week away. What are you going to get her? Get her a Gem(ma). The star Gemma, also known as Alphekka, is the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Gemma, Latin for jewel is the central gemstone for the crown. It is four fists above due east at 10 p.m.

Tuesday: Mars is about a half a fist to the upper right of the crescent Moon in the western sky tonight.

Wednesday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the southeast horizon at midnight. By 5 a.m., it is all the way over in the southwestern sky, a little less than two fists above the horizon. Saturn is two fists above the south horizon.

Thursday: Read carefully now. The daytime is bright and the nighttime is dark. Place the Earth and its atmosphere in fairly close orbit around any star and the daytime rule would still apply. But put the Earth and its atmosphere in orbit around a star at the center of a globular cluster and the night sky would never be dark. Astronomers estimate that the sky would be 10 to 20 times brighter than the current sky when the Moon is full. One of the brightest globular clusters, M3, is seven fists above due south at 11:30 p.m. It is nearly one and a half fists to the upper right of the bright orangeish star Arcturus. It will look like a fuzzy patch in your binoculars. For a hypothetical view of what the night sky would look like at the center of this or a similar globular cluster, go to https://tinyurl.com/yyp88w7x.

Friday: This weekend, celebrate Mother’s Day with the big mom of the sky, Virgo. Ancient Greeks and Romans associated this portion of the sky with their own goddess of the harvest, either Demeter (Greeks) or Ceres (Roman). Demeter was the mother of Persephone and Ceres was the mother of Proserpina. According to myth, each of these daughters was abducted causing their mothers great grief. The first star in Virgo rises in the afternoon. Spica, the bright bluish star in the constellation rises at 7:00 and is three fists above the south-southeast horizon at 10 p.m.

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, April 26, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/27/19

Saturday: As the rock group Journey once thought of singing, “Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’. Know where the Dipper’ll be tomorrow.” Every night, the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia make a wheel in the sky that turns around the North Star in a counter clockwise direction. Every year on April 27 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 28 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 29 at 10 p.m., the Big Dipper is straight overhead and W-shaped Cassiopeia is low on the northern horizon. Every year on April 30 at 10 p.m., well, you get the idea. Of course, there are subtle charges in the position from night to night. Each northern constellation moves about one degree counterclockwise from one night to the next. But this is not going to change their position in the sky drastically over a few days. So, if you know where the Big Dipper is tonight, you DO know where it’ll be tomorrow. If you are really struggling to understand this concept, Don’t Stop Believin’ in yourself. Just keep studying Faithfully.

Sunday: Do you wish you could archive your own lunar images but you don’t have a camera for your telescope? Why not go old school and actually sketch your observations? Visual artist Bettina Forget will be giving a workshop on Facebook Live called Sketching the Moon during which she’ll give you some tips for drawing lunar features. So, gather up some paper, sharpen your pencils, and go to  https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/astroarts/4682-sketching-the-moon.html for more information. The workshop starts at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

Monday: Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5 a.m. Neptune is a much bigger binocular observational challenge at this time. It is a half a fist above the Moon. First find the Moon with your binoculars and put the Moon at the bottom of your field of view. There should be a triangle-shaped clump of stars to the upper right of the moon, a solitary star of similar brightness near the center of your field of view, and a solitary star of similar brightness near the top of your field of view. Neptune is to the left of the star at the top of your field of view.

Tuesday: Mars is two and a half fists above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Wednesday: Winter must be over because the winter constellations are becoming less visible. Orion is setting in the west starting at about 9 p.m. At this time, Orion’s belt is one fist above the west-southwest horizon and Betelgeuse is nearly two fists above the west horizon. By mid-May, Orion will be lost in the glare of the Sun.

Thursday: Jupiter rises at 11:30 p.m. By 4 a.m., it is two fists above due south. It looks so peaceful up there. But life is not peaceful for Jupiter. According to a recent study by astronomers, Jupiter gets hit by a 5-20 meter in diameter asteroid 10 to 65 times a year. For comparison, the object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013 was 20 meters in diameter. Earth gets hit by a 20-meter asteroid about once every 50 years. For more information, go to https://goo.gl/RxPc5G.

Friday:  The CWU Physics Department is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show tomorrow from noon to 1 p.m. STEM Teaching major McKenzie Bailey will give a show called Solar System Travels. You will learn about a few key missions to explore the Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of 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.

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.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/20/19

Saturday:  Sometimes you get to your car and realize that you are missing your keys or your sunglasses. The asteroid/dwarf planet Ceres is missing craters. Astronomers thought there would be many large, old craters marking the surface of Ceres. Instead, close-up images from NASA’s Dawn mission shows that Ceres is covered with numerous small, young craters. Possible explanations include the relatively soft icy surface smoothing out over time or that eruptions from ice volcanoes, called cryovolcanoes, buried the older craters. Ceres is visible in small telescopes or even 10x50 binoculars. But you’ll need to get up early to observe it highest above the horizon. At 4:00.m., it is two and a half fists above due south. First find Jupiter, the brightest point of light in the southern sky. It is two fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southern horizon. Then find Sabik, the medium bright star one fist to the upper right of Jupiter. With Sabik in the upper right hand portion of your binocular field of view, Ceres will be in the lower right, beneath a group of stars shaped like a backwards letter “C”.

Sunday: Mars is two and a half fists above the west horizon at 9 p.m.

Monday: Remember the old saying: April showers bring… meteors. The Lyrid meteor shower peaks tonight through tomorrow morning. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east-northeast horizon at midnight tonight and close to straight overhead near dawn. The best time to look is just before dawn since that is when the radiant, or point from which the meteors appear to come, is high in the sky. This year, the Moon is in the waning gibbous phase so it will provide enough light to obscure the meteors during the prime viewing time after midnight. Typically, this is one of the least interesting major meteor showers of the year. However, it is also one of the most unpredictable. As recently as 1982, there were 90 meteors visible during a single hour. In addition, the Lyrid meteor shower has historical interest because it was one of the first ones observed. Chinese records say “stars fell like rain” in the shower of 687 B.C. As your Mother might say, dress warm and sit in a comfortable chair for maximum enjoyment. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. For more information, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=158735.

Tuesday: Try to fit your pinky between the Moon and Jupiter this morning. Just try. You can’t do it because Jupiter is only a half a degree below the Moon at 5:30 a.m., two fists above the south-southwest horizon. At this same time, Saturn is nearly two fists above the south-southeast horizon and Venus is less than a half a fist above the east horizon. If you were up at 1 a.m. reading, you may have noticed that Jupiter was three times farther from the Moon in the sky. Over the course of a night, the Moon moves noticeably eastward.

Wednesday: Are you getting bored with our Solar System? Looking to move but don’t like the available options? Last year, astronomers announced the discovery of a system of three Super-Earths orbiting a star located only 100 light-years away. Of course, we have no way of travelling that far yet. But, you can dream. And your dreams should involve two of the planets being in the size range in which planets could be either rocky like Earth or gas planets like Neptune. Also, no need to dress warm because all three of the planets likely have surface temperatures over 400 degrees Celsius (760 degrees Fahrenheit). Once the James Webb Space Telescope is operational in about 2022, it will be able to study the atmosphere of these planets. For more information and to start planning your trip, go to https://goo.gl/eSpmJx.

Thursday: Do people think you have a magnetic personality? The star Cor Caroli understands how you feel. Cor Caroli has one of the strongest magnetic fields among main sequence stars similar to our Sun. This strong magnetic field is thought to produce large sunspots that cause the brightness of Cor Caroli to vary. Cor Caroli is nearly straight overhead at 11:45 p.m..

Friday: The Space Shuttles have been retired. But NASA is still making plans about the future of space flight. Here is a small NASA poster summarizing the future of American Human spaceflight: https://goo.gl/Gd3q9q. It is interesting to compare the sizes of these real spaceships to the dozens of fictional spacecraft summarized on a poster found at http://goo.gl/F95aEL. Next time you are in Seattle, go see the Full Fuselage Space Shuttle Trainer at The Museum of Flight (http://www.museumofflight.org/).


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, April 12, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/13/19

Saturday:  In 1979, The Police released the song called “Walking on the Moon”. Today at 1:00 p.m., The Virtual Telescope project will host an online lunar observing session to allow you to virtually walk on the Moon. This is your opportunity to see the Moon close-up. Go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/online/4693-walking-on-the-moon.html to access the observing session.

Sunday: The Stargate movies and TV shows have access to a portal to other planets. Harry Potter has access to a portal to the Chamber of Secrets. You have access to a Portal to the Universe. This portal is not in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom but on the web at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/. It is a repository of up-to-date astronomy news, blogs, and podcasts.
One recent feature highlights the first direct image of a black hole. You probably saw the now famous donut-shaped image taken by the Event Horizon Telescope in the news last week. NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory obtained a much wider field of view of the same black hole, showing the giant jet of high energy particles launched by the strong magnetic and gravitational fields. This jet is more than 1,000 light years long. For more images, go to http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2019/black_hole/.

Monday: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks next week. But there will be increased meteor activity for the next ten days in the vicinity of the constellation Lyra. The meteors appear to come from a point to the right of the bright bluish star Vega in the constellation Lyra the lyre. This point is about three fists above the east-northeast horizon at midnight and close to straight overhead near dawn.

Tuesday: Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5 a.m.

Wednesday: The early modern astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote about the “music of the spheres”, exploring the relationship between planetary orbits and musical intervals. It turns out there is no actual relationship. On the other hand, Italian pianist and composer Giovanni Renzo gets inspiration from astronomy videos and photos from around the world to put on the Cosmic Concert. Original music and videos will flow together to form one coherent work of art. Listen and watch the concert starting at today noon Pacific Daylight Time by going to

Thursday: Tonight’s full Moon is in the constellation Virgo. The bright star Spica remains to the lower right of the Moon throughout the entire night.

Friday: Astronomers are often fascinated with large objects. Planets that could fit 1000 Earths (Jupiter). Stars that would fill up the entire inner Solar System (Betelgeuse). Galaxies with 400 billion stars (Milky Way). But what about the smallest objects? One of the smallest stars is Proxima Centauri, the closest known star other than our Sun. It is about 12% of the mass of the Sun. Three years ago, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting Proxima Centauri indicating that even very small stars can have planets. The smallest theoretically possible star would be about 7.5% of the mass of the Sun. Any smaller and it could not support the nuclear reactions characteristic of stars. For more on small stars, go to http://goo.gl/EHBdOX.
Jupiter, the object that will fit 1000 Earths rises at 12:30 a.m. and is two fists above due south at 5 a.m.


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.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 4/6/19

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. CWU professor Bruce Palmquist and STEM Teaching major Katy Shain will give an overview of the night sky and Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. Today’s show is likely to fill up because the official planetarium dedication ceremony will follow at 1:15. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of 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.

Sunday: International Dark Sky Week is just ending https://www.darksky.org/. But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore our obligation to minimize stray light for the next 51 weeks. Lights that are aimed upward illuminate the atmosphere and obscure dim objects. Having too much light shining where it shouldn’t is considered light pollution. And just like other forms of pollution, light pollution can be hazardous to our health and the health of other animals. That’s right. Harmful. Watch this episode SciShow for more information: https://youtu.be/_nlFcEj41Xk.

Monday: Tonight at 9 p.m., the Moon forms a quadrilateral with three other prominent objects in the western sky. The open star cluster called the Pleiades is one fist to the upper right of the Moon. Mars is less than one fist above the Moon. The bright star Aldebaran is one fist to the upper left of the Moon. The center of the quadrilateral is two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due west. Did you look up the word quadrilateral yet? “Quad” or “quadri” is Latin for “four” and “laterus” is Latin for “sides”.

Tuesday: Deneb is about one finger-width above due north at 8:33 p.m. It almost looks like a bright yard light or streetlight many kilometers away.

Wednesday: You probably didn’t know this but several British New Wave bands were really into astronomy. Take the band “Dead or Alive” (please). The original lyrics to their song “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) were actually: “You spin me right round, baby, right round, like the Whirlpool Galaxy, right round, round, round.” (Well, that’s what I thought they were.) The Whirlpool Galaxy was the first galaxy observed to have a spiral shape. Since then, astronomers have discovered many galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy, have a spiral shape. Go to http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0506a/ for more information about the Whirlpool Galaxy. Go to your small telescope to find the Whirlpool Galaxy in the night sky. It is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs. At 10 p.m., find Alkaid, the end star of the Big Dipper handle, six fists above the north-northeast horizon. The Whirlpool Galaxy is two fingers to the upper right of Alkaid.

Thursday: At 6 a.m., Jupiter is two fists above the south horizon, Saturn is two fists above the south-southeast horizon and Venus is a half a fist above the east horizon.

Friday: Art and science mix at noon today in Opticks, a live Networked Performance between the Earth and Moon. Media artist Daniela de Paulis and her collaborators convert images to radio waves and transmit them to the Moon. The waves bounce off of the moon, return to Earth and are converted back into optical images. The effect is sort of like painting your image as seen in a dirty mirror. For more information, go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/astroarts/4674-opticks-echoes-from-the-moon.html.
In 1979, The Police released the song called “Walking on the Moon”. Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., The Virtual Telescope project will host an online lunar observing session. This is your opportunity to see the Moon close-up. Go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/gam2019-programs/online/4693-walking-on-the-moon.html to access the observing session.

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

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/30/19

Saturday:  Some people in town today for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon may have been looking for a little running inspiration. While nothing can take the place of a 20 mile run for marathon preparation (I know), certain objects in the night sky are inspiring. In the Bible, Job specifically mentions the star Arcturus, or the bear keeper, to his friend as a sign of God's majesty. He describes God as that "Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers (constellations) of the south" (Job 9:9, King James Version). Whatever your religious beliefs, it is clear that Job was impressed with this very bright star. See the star that inspired Job about two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the east horizon at 10 p.m.
Mars and the Pleiades are neighbors in the evening sky. They are three fists held upright and at arm’s length above due west at 9 p.m.

Sunday: Where do art and science mix? How about nearly everywhere? But, more specifically, in two contests during the Global Astronomy Month of April. There is an art contest and a poetry contest where people of all ages can compete for prizes or just create for the sake of expression. This is a great opportunity for a classroom assignment for creative teachers and students. For more information, go to

Monday: Venus and the waning crescent Moon are side by side, low in the eastern sky at 6 a.m.

Tuesday: Hopefully, you saw Mars near the Pleiades on Saturday night. If you didn’t, look again tonight. They are still pretty close in the sky. But tonight, while you look, imagine rivers flowing on Mars. The high-resolution camera on the Mars Express Orbiter recently took images that show clear evidence of an ancient river bed. This, along with other evidence including lake beds, outflow channels, and some minerals that are known to form in liquid water makes scientists very confident that Mars was once a wet world. For more images of the river beds, go to

Wednesday: Listen; do you want to know a secret? Do you promise not to tell? Whoa oh, oh. The Beatles certainly didn’t write this song about the Barringer meteorite crater in Arizona. Astronomers are studying this 50,000-year-old impact to learn more about our planet’s violent history as well as the physics of impacts throughout the solar system. If you’d like to be let in on some of these secrets, go to http://goo.gl/sqbBe.

Thursday: If the National Enquirer was around in Galileo’s day, it may have featured the headline: “Saturn has love handles; Opis leaves him for a much hotter starlet”. When Galileo first observed Saturn through a telescope, he reported objects that looked like bulges on either side of Saturn’s midsection. He was actually seeing Saturn’s rings through less than ideal optics. Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon at 5:30 a.m. You can see Saturn’s rings clearly with a small telescope. Move that small telescope to the west to find Jupiter two fists above the south horizon. The same small telescope that shows Saturn’s rings will show the four large Jovian moons that Galileo discovered.

Friday: The CWU Physics Department and the College of the Sciences is hosting its monthly First Saturday planetarium show tomorrow from noon to 1 p.m. CWU professor Bruce Palmquist and STEM Teaching major Katy Shain will give an overview of the night sky and Solar System. The show is free and open to all ages. Tomorrow’s show is likely to fill up because the official planetarium dedication ceremony will follow at 1:15. There will be a show on the first Saturday of every month of 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.


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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/23/19


Saturday:  Has there ever been life on Mars? Astronomers don’t know. But the Mars Curiosity Rover has been digging up some strong evidence that Mars was hospitable to life in the past. At the end of 2012, the first drilling assignment for Curiosity found clay-like minerals that form in the presence of water. In December 2013, scientists announced the strongest evidence yet for an ancient fresh-water lake in Gale Crater. Planetary geologist John Grotzinger said that Earth microbes would have thrived in this lake if they were placed there. Last year, astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile found evidence that Mars was once had an ocean that held more water than the Arctic Ocean and covered a greater percentage of Mars’ surface than the Atlantic Ocean does on Earth. Finally, this past November, the InSight mission landed on Mars and almost immediately started digging to study the geology of Mars. While geology isn’t life, many scientists think there is a relationship between geologic activity and the favorability for life to evolve.Watch a short video about the InSight Mission at https://youtu.be/Uzr335ZFrvQ. Watch reddish Mars, itself, four fists held upright and at arm’s length above the west-southwest horizon at 8:00 p.m.
By the way, the name of the observatory in Chile really is Very Large Telescope. See for yourself at http://www.eso.org/paranal.

Sunday: Orion still has a prominent spot in the nighttime sky. The belt is three fists above due southwest at 9 p.m.

Monday: Two weeks ago, the Moon was next to Mars in the evening sky. This morning at 6:30, the Moon is near the bright star Antares, known as Mars’ rival. We know it is Mar’s rival because its name tells us. Mars was the Roman god of war and Aries was the Greek god of war. The prefix “ant-” is another way to say “anti-” meaning “against”, “opposite of”, or “rival to”.

Tuesday: This morning, the Moon has moved eastward in the sky so it is near Jupiter. Jupiter less than a fist to the left of the Moon and is two fists above the south horizon. Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon. Venus is a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon. And, for an added challenge, Mercury is hiding in the glare of the soon-to-rise Sun, about a fist to the lower left of Venus.

Wednesday: In this busy world, it is important to know what time it is. We have many devices that give us the time. A phone. A computer. A watch. But who has time to build a phone, computer or even a watch. Not you. But everyone has enough time to build a simple Sun Clock. All you need is a pencil, a compass and a print out of the clock template. Go to https://www.exploratorium.edu/science_explorer/sunclock.html for more information.

Thursday: April is Global Astronomy Month (GAM). While many astronomy experiences come from looking up, you can also experience astronomy looking down… at pen and paper. GAM has numerous arts initiatives and is looking for contributors. Even if you’ve never written a poem before, this is your opportunity to express your love for astronomy in a unique way and possibly share it with others. Go to https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/global-astronomy-month-2019.html for more information about the AstroPoetry contest.

Friday: You need to get up early tomorrow to cheer on your favorite runners at the Yakima River Canyon Marathon starting at 8 a.m. on Canyon Road just south of Berry Road. So why not get a little viewing in? To symbolize the long trail of a marathon, follow the long trail of our own Milky Way Galaxy. It seems to rise up from the ground due south. At its highest, it is five fists above due east. It sinks back to the ground due north. The thickest part of the Milky Way is in the southern sky because that is the direction of the center of the galaxy.

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.

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 3/16/19


Saturday:  Ask someone which day in March has the same duration day and night. Go ahead, ask someone. Why are you still reading this? I can wait. If that person said the first day of spring, they are wrong. Today, four days before the first day of spring, is the date in which day and night are closest in duration in central Washington. There are two main reasons for this. First, the atmosphere acts like a lens, bending light from the Sun above the horizon when the Sun is actually below the horizon. This makes the Sun appear to rise before it actually rises and appear to set after is actually sets. Second, spring starts when the center of the Sun passes through the point called the vernal equinox. But, the Sun is not a point. The upper edge of the Sun rises about a minute before the center of the Sun and the lower edge sets a minute after the center of the Sun. Thus, even if we didn’t have an atmosphere that bends the sunlight, daytime on the first day of spring would still be longer than 12 hours.

Sunday: Many artists have sung the song “Blue Moon”. But few have sung the song “Blue Planet”. It goes, in part “Blue Planet, you saw me standing with 27 others. Rolling around like a barrel. Without close sisters or brothers.” It’s about the planet Uranus, which orbits the Sun in a rolling motion and has 27 moons. Every one of Uranus’ moons is named after characters in works by William  Shakespeare or Alexander Pope. Uranus is two fists above the west horizon at 8 p.m., easily visible with binoculars. First find Hamal and Sheratan, two stars of similar brightness, three fists above due west and a half a fist apart from each other. Then move your binoculars from Sheratan, the lower and dimmer of the two, toward Mesarthim, a star about half as bright to the lower left of Sheratan. Continue along the line between Sheratan to Mesarthim for about two or three binocular fields of view and you will get to Uranus. Return to this same spot for the next few nights. If the point you are looking at moves compared to the neighboring points of light, are are looking at Uranus.

Monday: The bright star Regulus is about two fingers to the right of the Moon at 8 p.m. They are three and a half fists above the east-southeast horizon.

Tuesday: Mars is three fists above the west horizon at 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday: Look up in the sky. It’s a plane. It’s a bird. No, it’s the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox!? Spring starts at 3:01 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. The first day of spring is often called the vernal equinox. This label for the day is misleading. The vernal equinox is actually the point in the sky where the Sun’s apparent path with respect to the background stars (called the ecliptic) crosses the line that divides the stars into northern and southern celestial hemispheres (called the celestial equator). This point is in the constellation Pisces the fishes. At the vernal equinox, the Sun is moving from the southern region of background stars to the northern region.
Because the Earth slowly wobbles like a spinning top, the vernal equinox is slowly moving into the constellation Aquarius. By the year 2597, the vernal equinox will reach the constellation Aquarius and the “Age of Aquarius” will begin. Until then, we’ll be in “the age of Pisces”.

Thursday: There is a lot to see at 6:30 a.m. The coffee pot. A hot shower. Your alarm clock. (Oh, I’m sorry. Apparently everyone uses their phone for an alarm now.) There is also a lot to see in the sky. The bright star Spica is less than one fist to the lower left of the Moon in the west-southwest sky. Jupiter is two fists above the south horizon. Saturn is one and a half fists above the south-southeast horizon. And bright Venus is a half a fist above the east-southeast horizon.

Friday: If you want to put somebody off, tell her or him to wait until Deneb sets. At Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees, Deneb is a circumpolar star meaning it never goes below the horizon. At 9:42 p.m., it will be as close as it gets to the horizon, about two degrees above due north. Watch it reach this due north position about 4 minutes earlier each night.

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.