Wednesday, January 9, 2019
The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/12/19
Saturday: Mars is less than a fist to the right of the Moon at 9 p.m. The sky is so wondrous. It makes me want to sing. Who can forget that memorable song by Three Dog Constellations Night, “The sky is black. The stars are white. Together we learn to find the light.” Well, maybe it didn’t go like that. Which is good. Because not all stars are white. Most stars are too dim to notice a color. But, two of the stars in the constellation Orion provide a noticeable contrast with each other. Betelgeuse, four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south horizon at 9:00 p.m. is a red giant. Rigel, the bright star about two fists to the lower right of Betelgeuse, is a blue giant.
By the way, the three dog constellations are Canis Major, the greater dog, found one and a half fists to the lower left of Orion; Canis Minor, the lesser dog, found two and a half fists to the left of Betelgeuse; and Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs, found low in the northeast sky, halfway between the Big Dipper and the horizon. Canis Major contains Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky.
Sunday: Venus, Jupiter and the bright star Antares make make a small triangle low in the south-southeast sky at about 7 a.m. every day this week. The very bright Venus is at the top of the triangle. Jupiter is to the lower left of Venus, one fist away this morning but getting closer everyday this week. Antares is one fist below Venus this morning.
Monday: Do you ever take photos to spy on your neighbors? The Hubble Space Telescope does. Last week, Hubble scientists released the best ever image of the Triangulum Galaxy, the second closest spiral galaxy to Earth. Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys weaved together 54 separate images to provide enough detail to see 10 million individual stars out of the estimated 40 billion stars in the galaxy. See the pictures at https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1901/.
Tuesday: You never see a giraffe on the ground in Ellensburg. But you can look for one every night in the sky. The constellation Camelopardalis the giraffe is circumpolar from Ellensburg’s latitude of 47 degrees north meaning it is always above the horizon. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the appearance of the stars in Camelopardalis. The brightest star in the constellation appears only about half as bright as the dimmest star in the Big Dipper. However, the actual luminosities of the three brightest stars in Camelopardalis are very high, each at least 3,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Alpha Camelopardalis, a mind boggling 600,000 times more luminous than the Sun, is seven fists above the northern horizon at 9 p.m.
Wednesday: Have you ever planned a vacation to a place because it was supposedly the up-and-coming locale? Then, when the vacation time finally arrives, you find out the place doesn’t live up to its billing? A little over six years ago, astronomers discovered that the star Tau Ceti, one of our closest neighbors at 12 light years away, has five planets. They claimed two of the planets are in the so-called habitable zone where the temperature is just right for having liquid water. Time for a va-ca-tion! Well, not so fast. Astronomers have only a lower limit to the planet masses so they may be too massive for complex life to form. And the Tau Ceti system has ten times as much mass in dust and rocks as our own solar system. So you’ll want to do some research before you travel there. Tau Ceti is two and a half fists above the south-southwest horizon at 7 p.m. For more information about the discovery, go to https://goo.gl/RTn92w.
Thursday: These next two weeks are the coldest of the year so it is time to turn up the furnace. Fornax the furnace is one fist above due south at 7 p.m.
Friday: Get ready for a total lunar eclipse this Sunday night as seen from the United States. Go to http://time.unitarium.com/events/eclipse/lunar/012019/ to determine when the eclipse will be visible in your location. In the Pacific Time Zone, the eclipse will be total from about 8:40 p.m. to 9:45 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.