Friday, July 12, 2019
The Ellensburg WA sky for the week of July 13, 2019
Saturday: Jupiter is a half a fist to the right of the Moon in the southern sky at 10 p.m. Since this week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, it is fitting that the Moon will be prominent in the night sky all week. Warm up for the week by reading 50 Apollo 11 facts at http://mentalfloss.com/article/585759/apollo-11-moon-landing-facts.
Sunday: Four years ago today, NASA’s New Horizons probe passed by Pluto. If the band Nirvana was still together, they’d probably rewrite one of their hit songs to be called Heart-Shaped Spot, after one of Pluto’s most distinctive features. “She eyes me like a dwarf planet when I am weak. I’ve been imaging your heart-shaped spot for weeks.” Astronomers think this heart-shaped spot is a large plain of nitrogen ice that consists of convective cells 10-30 miles across. Solid nitrogen is warmed in the interior of Pluto, becomes buoyant, and bubbles up to the surface like a lava lamp. You will find great pictures and information about what New Horizons found this past year at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/. Pluto, itself, is one fist held upright and at arm’s length above the southeastern horizon, a half a fist to the lower left of the much brighter Saturn.
Hey, wait, I’ve got a new complaint. People should be more interested in astronomy. Hopefully all of the Apollo 11 news will help build this interest in more people.
Monday: Saturn is in the southeastern sky, about a thumb width to the left of the Moon at 10 p.m. In a few decades, future generations may be celebrating the first Saturn Moon landing just like we are celebrating the first Earth Moon landing. Last month, NASA announced the first step in the process: an innovative mission to send a flier, nicknamed the Dragonfly, to explore diverse parts of Titan. The Dragonfly, launching in 2026 and landing in 2034, will analyze samples from various dunes and craters to study the past and present chemical processes on Titan. For more information about the mission, go to https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasas-dragonfly-will-fly-around-titan-looking-for-origins-signs-of-life. Titan is visible through a pair of 10X50 binoculars tonight, about Saturn-ring-diameters to the left of Saturn.
Tuesday: Tonight’s Moon is full. This is a great opportunity to really study our nearest neighbor. Download the Skywatcher’s Guide to the Moon at https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/docs/ObserveMoon.pdf. It shows some of the largest features as well as the location for each of the six human Moon landings.
Wednesday: Say "Cheese". 169 years ago today, Vega, in the constellation Lyra the lyre, became the first star ever photographed. The photograph was taken at the Harvard Observatory using the daguerreotype process. Vega is the third brightest night time star we can see in Ellensburg, behind Sirius and Arcturus. Vega is nearly straight overhead at 11:00 tonight.
Thursday: Deneb Algedi, the brightest “star” in the constellation Capricornus is about a thumb width to the upper left of the Moon tonight. They are low in the southeastern sky at 11 p.m. The word “star” is in quotes because it makes me sound pretentious. And because Deneb Algedi, which means “the tail of the goat” (there’s that pretentiousness again) in Arabic, is actually a four star system.
Friday: Say “good-bye” to Regulus tonight, before it gets lost in the glare of the setting Sun. It is less than a half a fist above the west-northwestern horizon at 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.