Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of 1/26/19

Saturday:  Mars is four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southwest horizon at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday: Venus and Jupiter will be neighbors in the morning sky all week. This morning they are a half a fist apart, with the much brighter Venus to the left of Jupiter. As the days go by, Venus will move away from Jupiter.

Monday: At 10:30 p.m., the blue giant star called Adhara is one and a half fists above due south. It is one of the brightest stars in the sky. Currently over 430 light years away, Adhara was only 34 light years away five million years ago. That proximity made it the brightest star in the nighttime sky at the time.

Tuesday: On these cold mornings, it is difficult to get going. You just want to plop into a chair and sit still. But, are you really sitting still? You’re moving at about 700 miles per hour due to the rotation of the Earth on its axis and 66,000 miles per hour due to the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. If that’s not enough, the entire solar system is orbiting the center of the galaxy at a whopping 480,000 miles per hour! So while you may be sitting still with respect to your living room (and all of the overachievers in your house), you are NOT sitting still with respect to the center of the galaxy. For more information about this concept, go to http://goo.gl/lPVPS.

Wednesday: If someone gives you a ring and says, “this ring symbolizes our eternal love, just like the rings of Saturn are eternal”, don’t doubt their love. But do doubt their astronomy knowledge. According to data recently analyzed from the Cassini Mission, Saturn’s rings may be only 10 to 100 million years old. As Cassini passed between Saturn and the rings, it was able to get the best estimate yet of the mass of the rings. Saturn’s rings are made mostly of ice and are still very bright and clean. Older rings would be darkened by debris. Also,  collisions over time pulverize the ring particles. If this relatively low mass of ring particles were older, they would have been destroyed by now. For more information about the lifespan of Saturn’s rings, go to Saturn’s rings https://www.universetoday.com/141272/saturns-rings-are-only-10-to-100-million-years-old/.

Thursday: Venus is about a finger’s width to the left of the Moon at 7 a.m. this morning.

Friday: Tomorrow is Groundhog Day, an important day for pop culture astronomers and Bill Murray movie fans. If you don’t want to travel to Pennsylvania to see Punxsutawney Phil, travel to the CWU campus to see a planetarium show. 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 Cassie Fallscheer will give a presentation about star formation and evolution. The show is free and open to all ages. There will be a show at noon 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.
If Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow tomorrow morning, he is telling us that he follows the Chinese calendar and that spring starts early. On the Chinese calendar, equinoxes and solstices occur in the middle of their respective seasons. In order for the vernal equinox to occur in the middle of spring, spring must start on February 3 or 4, depending on the year. Thus, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, legend is that spring will start on February 3 or 4 as on the Chinese calendar. If Phil sees his shadow, he is telling us he agrees with the western calendar and that there will be six more weeks of winter meaning spring will start near March 20.

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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