Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of January 22, 2022

Saturday: Winter is the best season for finding bright stars. And if you only want to set aside a few minutes, 10:00 p.m. tonight just might be the best time because the winter hexagon is due south. Starting at the bottom, find Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, two and a half fists held upright and at arms length above the southern horizon. Going clockwise, Procyon (6th brightest star in the night sky) is about two and a half fists to the upper left of Sirius. Pollux (17th brightest) is about two and a half fists above Procyon. Capella (6th brightest) is about two and a half fists to the upper right of Procyon and close to straight overhead. Going back to Sirius at the bottom, Rigel (7th brightest) is about two and a half fists to the upper right of Sirius. Aldebaran (14th brightest) is about three fists above Rigel. Adhara (22nd brightest) is a little more than a fist below Sirius and Castor (24th brightest) is right above Pollux. Betelgeuse (10th brightest) is in the center of the hexagon, five fists above due south. That’s nine of the 24 brightest stars visible in the night sky congregated in one small section of the sky. 

Sunday: You think wintertime weather is bad in Ellensburg. Astronomers have discovered storms and earth-sized clouds on a brown dwarf. These are cool, small stars that are not massive enough to fuse hydrogen atoms and fuse hydrogen. In fact, they are more similar to gas giant planets such as Jupiter than to the Sun. Luckily, astronomers are getting better at predicting this weather. That means you can plan your brown dwarf picnic and it can be more enjoyable. For more information, go to https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/scientists-improve-brown-dwarf-weather-forecasts 

Monday: Spica is about a half a fist below the moon this morning. They are about three fists above the south-southwestern horizon at 7:00 a.m. Very bright Venus is about one fist above the southeastern horizon. Mars is a fist and a half to the right of Venus, on the other side of due southeast.

If you’d like a challenge, try to spot Spica with a standard pair of 10X50 binoculars during the day. First find the Moon with the binoculars. With the Moon at the top of your field of view, Spica will be in the middle of the field. You may need to use averted vision, meaning you should look off to the side and use peripheral vision to see the middle of the field of view. This works because there are more light-sensitive rods around the edge of your eyes than in the center.

Tuesday: Jupiter is about a fist above the west-southwestern horizon at 6:00 p.m.

Wednesday: Do you ever take photos to spy on your neighbors? The Hubble Space Telescope does. Last year, 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/. At 7:00 p.m., the Triangulum Galaxy is six and a half fists above the southwestern horizon and two and a half fists to the upper right of Mars. The galaxy is visible with binoculars. First find Mars. Then move your binoculars to the upper right until you see two stars of similar brightness to each other, one at the top and the other at the bottom of your field of view. Continue to move your binoculars the same distance to the upper right and you will be pointing at the Triangulum Galaxy, also known as Messier 33 (M 33). If you reach a third star about the same brightness as the first two, you have moved too far.

Thursday: The moon is in line with the center of the Milky Way Galaxy this morning. Because of the surrounding gas and dust, we can’t directly observe the center of the galaxy with the naked eye. But the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope has captured numerous images. Astronomers there have created a short video tour of the region: https://youtu.be/dXAU0gzsPOw/ 

Friday: At 7:00 a.m., the moon is midway between Mars and its rival. Mars is about a fist and a half to the lower left of the moon. The bright reddish star Antares, which means “rival of Mars” in Greek, is one fist to the upper right of the moon. These two red objects are named after the Roman (Mars) and Greek gods of war.

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, January 13, 2022

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of January 15, 2022

Saturday: Most constellations don’t look like the object their name refers to. That’s because most constellations don’t have such a simple object to emulate as Triangulum does. Triangulum is shaped like a… wait for it…. wait for it…. A thin isosceles triangle. Metallah is the only mononymous star in the constellation. In Latin this star is called Caput Trianguli, the head of the triangle. Triangulum is four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due west at 9:30 p.m. The triangle is pointing straight down with Metallah. The Triangulum Galaxy can be seen with binoculars about half a fist to the lower right of Metallah. This is the galaxy that the USS Enterprise travels to after the warp drive engine malfunctions in The Next Generation episode called “Where No One Has Gone Before”.

Sunday: Have you ever looked down on the ground and spotted a penny? In Yakima? While you were standing in Ellensburg? If you have, then you may be able to see the star Hamal as more than just a point of light. It has an angular diameter that can be directly measured from Earth. Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries the ram, has the same angular diameter as a penny 37 miles away. (For comparison, the moon is about half the diameter of a penny held at arm’s length.) Hamal is about four and a half fists above the western horizon at 9:30 p.m. Hamal is just to the left of Triangulum and is the brightest star in that region of the sky.

Monday: Tonight’s full moon is called the Wolf Moon. People used to think that wolves howled due to hunger in the wintertime due to snow and cold diminishing the food supply. The moon is in the constellation Cancer the crab.

Tuesday: Saturn is less than a half a fist above the west-southwest horizon at 5:30 p.m. Jupiter is two fists above due southwest at this time.

Wednesday: At 6:45 a.m., very bright Venus is a half a fist above the east-southeastern horizon. Mars is almost one fist above the eastern horizon, about half way between Venus and the red supergiant star called Antares.

Thursday: 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 due north at 9:00 p.m.

Friday: This next week is the coldest of the year so it is time to turn up the furnace. Fornax the furnace is one fist above due south at 7:00 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.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of January 8, 2022

Saturday: How do you study the life cycle of a dog? Easy. Get a dog from the animal shelter, care for it for 15 years and study it. How do you study the life cycle of a star? Easy. Pick a star, watch it for a few billion years, and…. Wait a minute. Astronomers can’t observe something for a few billion years. Instead, they study stars that are at different points in their long life cycle and piece together the information from those different stars. What they do is like studying a one-year-old dog for a few minutes, then studying a different two-year-old dog for a few minutes, and so on. The sky in and near the constellation Orion provides an example of four objects at different points of star life.

First, find Rigel, the bright star in the lower right corner of the constellation Orion. This star, rapidly burning its fuel for a high energy but short-lived existence, is three and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 10 p.m. It was not, is not, and never will be like our Sun. However, about one fist up and to the left are the three objects of Orion’s sword holder. The middle “star” is really a star-forming region called the Orion nebula. There you’ll find baby Suns. Now, look about two fists to the right and one fist down from Rigel. You should be looking at a star that is about one tenth as bright as Rigel but still the brightest in its local region. The third star to the right of that star is Epsilon Eridani, the most Sun-like close and bright star. Betelgeuse, in the upper left corner of Orion, is a star at the end of its life that started out life a bit larger than the Sun.


Sunday: Mercury is a half a fist above the southwestern horizon at 5:30 p.m. Saturn is a half a fist to the upper left of Mercury. Jupiter is another two fists to the upper left of Saturn.


Monday: Let’s review three important sets of three cats. There’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody of Josie and the Pussycats. Felix, Tom, and Sylvester from old time cartoons. And, if you want to get away from the mind-numbing effects of television, there’s Leo the lion, Leo Minor, and Lynx in the night sky. Leo is by far the most prominent of these three constellations. Its brightest star called Regulus is two  and a half fists above the east-southeastern horizon at 10:00 p.m.. The backwards question mark-shaped head of Leo is above Regulus and the trapezoid-shaped body is to the left of it. Leo Minor consists of a few dim stars right above Leo. Pretty wimpy. The long dim constellation called Lynx spans from just above Leo Minor to nearly straight overhead. You and fellow stargazers won’t need to wear a long tail or ears for hats to enjoy these stellar cats.


Tuesday:  In 1984, American singer Rockwell released the song “Somebody’s Watching Me”, backed up by Michael Jackson. In 2020, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope released a picture of two bubbles of gas and dust that look like eyes watching you. Stare back at them by going to http://tiny.cc/w99nuz


Wednesday: The moon is hanging out with Seven Sisters tonight. It is about a half a fist from the open star cluster called Pleiades, Subaru, or the Seven Sisters. They are six fists above the southeastern horizon at 7:00 p.m.


Thursday: Draco Malfoy makes an appearance in all seven books of the Harry Potter series. Perhaps you’ve heard of these. But, the constellation Draco the dragon makes an appearance in the sky every night. It is a circumpolar constellation as viewed from Ellensburg meaning it never goes below the horizon. The head of the dragon is one fist above due north at 9:30 p.m. Eltanin, the brightest star in the constellation, is at the lower left-hand corner of the trapezoid-shaped head of Draco.


Friday: Venus is just above the east-southeastern horizon at 7:00 a.m. Mars is one fist above the southeastern horizon at this time.


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, December 30, 2021

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of January 1, 2022

Saturday: Today is the day we celebrate the anniversary of something new – a new classification of celestial objects. Giuseppe Piazzi discovered Ceres [pronounced sear’-ease], the first of what are now called “asteroids”, on January 1, 1801. Ceres is the largest asteroid in the belt between Mars and Jupiter. At first, Piazzi thought it was a star that didn’t show up on his charts. But, he noted its position changed with respect to the background stars from night to night. This indicated to him that it had to be orbiting the Sun. The International Astronomical Union promoted Ceres to the status of “dwarf planet” in August of 2006.

Sunday: Late tonight and early morning’s weather forecast: showers. Meteor showers, that is. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks late tonight and early tomorrow morning between midnight and dawn. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. That makes this shower mysterious because there isn’t any constellation with this name now. The shower was named after Quadrans Muralis, an obsolete constellation found in some early 19th century star atlases. These meteors appear to come from a point in the modern constellation Draco the dragon. This point is about three fists held upright and at arm’s length above the northeastern horizon at 1:00 a.m. This year, the Moon will be below the horizon so you may be able to see up to 100 meteors per hour. Meteors are tiny rocks that hit the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. Most meteors are associated with the path of a comet. This shower consists of the debris from an asteroid discovered in 2003. Keeping with the comet-origin paradigm, astronomers think the asteroid is actually an “extinct” comet, a comet that lost all of its ice as it passed by the Sun during its many orbits. For more information about the Quadrantid meteor shower, go to http://earthsky.org/?p=155137.

Monday: If the Sun looks big today and tomorrow, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. The Earth is at perihelion at 10:52 p.m., Pacific Standard Time tonight. If you dig out your Greek language textbook, you’ll see that peri- means “in close proximity” and helios means “Sun”. So, perihelion is when an object is closest to the Sun in its orbit, about 1.5 million miles closer than its average distance of 93 million miles. Since it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere now, the seasonal temperature changes must not be caused by the Earth getting farther from and closer to the Sun. Otherwise, we’d have summer when the Earth is closest to the Sun. The seasons are caused by the angle of the sunlight hitting the Earth. In the winter, sunlight hits the Earth at a very low angle, an angle far from perpendicular or straight up and down. This means that a given “bundle” of sunlight is spread out over a large area and does not warm the surface as much as the same bundle in the summer. For the Northern Hemisphere, that very low angle occurs in December, January and February.

Say “goodbye” to Venus. It is moving close to the Sun in the sky and will soon be obscured by its light. It is just above the west-southwestern horizon at 5:00 p.m.

Tuesday: Saturn is about a half a fist to the right of the waxing crescent moon, low in the southwestern sky after sunset.

Wednesday: Jupiter is about a half a fist above the moon and two and a half fists above the south-southwestern horizon at 5:00 p.m.

Thursday: Has it been tough to wake up this past week? It should have been because the sunrise has been getting a little later since summer started. I know. I know. December 21 was the shortest day of the year. But, because the Earth’s orbit around the Sun is elliptical and not circular, the Earth does not travel at a constant speed. It moves faster when it is closer to the Sun and slower when it is farther away. This leads to the latest sunrise occurring in early January and the earliest sunset occurring in early December. Neither of these happen on the first day of winter. On the first day of winter, however, the interval between sunrise and sunset is the shortest, making it the shortest day of the year. For more information, go to http://goo.gl/SJC5r.

Friday: Mars is a little more than a half a fist above due southeast at 6:45 a.m. Its rival Antares is nearly one fist to the right of Mars.

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, December 24, 2021

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of December 25, 2021

 Saturday: 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.

These three celestial objects are not close together in the sky tonight. At 7:00 p.m., Aries is six fists held upright and at arm’s length above the southeastern horizon. Jupiter is a fist and a half above due southwest. The moon doesn’t rise until a little after 11:00 p.m.

Sunday: 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 into an area of interest and learn about objects that are visible through your telescope. I like SkySafari, a free app or low cost iPhones app (depending on their promotions at the time). 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. One of your first targets should be the Pleiades open star cluster. It is bright, easy to see with the naked eye and even more interesting in binoculars. It is six fists above due southeast at 8:00 p.m.

Monday: Snoop Dogg may have tried to put an end to the East Coast-West Coast rap rivalry violence in 2016. But the Mars-Antares rivalry has been going on for centuries. In fact, the name Antares means "rival of Mars". The reddish Antares has that name because of its resemblance to the reddish Mars. Go to http://tiny.cc/umwmuz to read about Ambassador Snoop’s efforts. Look a half a fist above the southeastern horizon at 7:00 a.m. to see the Mars-Antares rivalry going strong. Mars is a half a fist to the upper left of the slightly brighter Antares.

Tuesday: Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is one and a half fists above due southeast at 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday: A group of crows is called a murder of crows. A group of porcupines is (appropriately) called a prickle of porcupines. A group of planets is called… a group of planets? Whatever it is called, there is one low in the southwestern sky right after sunset at 5:00 p.m.. Mercury is less than a half a fist to the lower left of the much brighter Venus. Both are about a half a fist above the horizon. Saturn is to the upper left of bright Venus, a fist and a half above the horizon. Jupiter is to the upper left of Saturn, nearly three fists above the south-southwestern horizon.

Thursday: It’s a beautiful day in our solar neighborhood. We know that because the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission published the third edition of its star catalog last year. It is an ultra-precise overview of the position of the nearest nearly two billion stars. While you wait to get your COVID-19 booster shot, take a virtual walk through your celestial neighborhood with some friends by going to https://youtu.be/BknZ2YxegIk.

Friday: Aside from the Big Dipper, the northern sky doesn’t get enough love. Vega, the bright star in the constellation Lyra, is one fist above due northwest at 8:00 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, December 17, 2021

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of December 18. 2021

 Saturday: Red is a popular Christmas color. It is also a popular star color. And R Leporis, also known as Hind’s Crimson Star, is one of the reddest stars in the sky. It is a star near the end of its life that has burned its helium nuclei into carbon. Convective currents, like those in a pot of boiling water, bring this carbon to the surface. There it forms a layer of soot that scatters away the light from the blue end of the visible spectrum leaving the light from the red end of the spectrum to reach our eyes. For more information about Hind’s Crimson Star and a list of other deep red stars, go to http://goo.gl/EnhRe4. Hind’s Crimson star is one fist to the lower right of Rigel, the brightest star in Orion. You’ll need binoculars or a small telescope to see Hind's Crimson star. But you can easily spot Rigel two and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above the south-southeastern horizon at 10:00 p.m.

Sunday: At 5:00 p.m., three bright planets and one dim one line up in the southwestern sky. Very bright Venus is one fist above the southwestern horizon. Saturn is one and a half fists to the upper left of Venus. Bright Jupiter is two fists to the upper left of Saturn. Now it gets more difficult. Neptune is about two and a half fists to the upper left of Jupiter. But you’ll need binoculars and a darker sky to see it. At 7:00 p.m., find the bright star Fomalhaut one fist above the south-southwestern horizon. Move your binoculars up until you see a bent vertical line of three medium bright stars, looking like a skinny arrow pointing to the right. Then move your binoculars up about twice as much until you see a smaller upward-pointing arrow of three stars of similar brightness. With that arrow at the bottom of your field of view, Neptune will be near the top of your field of view. Overall, Neptune is three and a half fists above the south-southwestern horizon.

Monday: With the Sun as low as it gets in the Northern Hemisphere winter sky, you may wish it was a little more prominent. This past April, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe got that wish. It passed through the boundary between outer space and the region where the Sun’s magnetic field has a tight hold on the plasma that makes up the outer layer of the Sun. Since the Sun does not have a solid surface, this is as close to touching the Sun as an object can get. It is analogous to “touching” a cloud. The cloud does not have a defined surface but there is a definite boundary between “cloud” and “not cloud”. The Parker Solar Probe pierced the boundary between “Sun” and “not Sun”. For more about the mission plus short videos, go to https://skyandtelescope.org/astronomy-news/humanity-has-touched-the-sun/

Tuesday: At 7:57 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, this morning, the Sun reaches its lowest point in the sky with respect to the background stars. This point is called the Winter Solstice. During the day that the Sun reaches this point, your noontime shadow is longer than any other day of the year. Also, the Sun spends less time in the sky on the day of the Winter Solstice than any other making this the shortest day of the year. Even though it is the shortest day of the year, it is not the day with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. The latest sunrise is during the first week in January and the earliest sunset is during the second week in December. The Sun is at its southernmost point with respect to the background stars on the day of the winter solstice. This means the Sun spends the least amount of time above the horizon on that day. But, the Sun rise and set times depend on more than its apparent vertical motion. It also depends on where the Sun is on the analemma, that skinny figure-8 you see on globes and world maps. During the second week in December, the Sun is not quite to the bottom of the analemma.  But, it is on the first part of the analemma to go below the horizon. During the first week in January, it is on the last part of the analemma to rise above the horizon.

Wednesday: Are you disappointed because you are not going anywhere for Christmas? Why not take a (virtual) trip to outer space using Google’s new visualization tool called 100,000 Stars. It shows the stars in our neighborhood in a very good 3-D simulation. The Sun is initially at the center. If you zoom in, you can click on neighboring stars and learn more about them. Go to http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/ for the simulation. It works best on a Chrome browser.

Thursday: Mars is nearly one fist above due southeast at 7:00 a.m. Its “rival”, the bright reddish star Antares, is midway between Mars and the horizon.

Friday: 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 of space junk. Some of this junk is dangerous. The International Space Station occasionally performs debris avoidance maneuvers to keep its panels and sensitive instruments safe. For more information about the project, go to http://goo.gl/Kxgihd.

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, December 10, 2021

The Ellensburg, WA sky for the week of December 11, 2021

Saturday: Imagine Opie and Andy Taylor walking down the dirt path at night to that fishing hole in the sky. They’d probably be looking to catch Pisces, the two fish already conveniently tied together with two ropes. The ropes are connected at the star Alrescha, Arabic for “the cord”. Alrescha is four and a half fists held upright and at arm’s length above due south at 8:30 p.m. Tonight it is also three fists to the left of the moon. The fish are attached to lines of stars that branch out at one o’clock and three o’clock from Alrescha. By the way, “The Fishing Hole”, The Andy Griffith Show’s theme song, was rated the 20th best TV theme song of all time by ign.com. That’s too low of a ranking in my opinion. 

Sunday: Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky is two fists above the southeastern horizon at 11:00 p.m.

Monday: The Geminid meteor shower peaks tonight and tomorrow morning. Meteor showers are named after the constellation from which the meteors appear to originate. These meteors appear to come from a point in Gemini the twins. This point is about four fists above due east at midnight tonight. You can follow this point throughout the night, as it will remain near the bright star Castor, the right-hand star of the “twin” stars Pollux and Castor. By 4:00 a.m., it is four fists above the southwest horizon. This shower is typically one of the best ones of the year producing bright, medium speed meteors with up to 80 meteors per hour under ideal conditions near the peak. This year, the waxing gibbous moon will be in the sky until about 2:00 a.m., obscuring the dimmer meteors until that time.

Most meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the orbital trail of a comet. The broken off comet fragments collide with the Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. Astronomers had searched for a comet source for this shower since 1862 when the shower was first observed. Finally, in 1983, astronomers discovered the object that created the fragments that cause the meteor shower each year. To their surprise, it was a dark rock that looked like an asteroid, not a shiny icy comet. Astronomers named this object Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. For more information about the Geminid shower, go to https://goo.gl/f4qMqg

Tuesday: The bright star Capella is nearly straight overhead at 11:30 p.m.

Wednesday: Last week we learned that the early December evenings are getting darker earlier than any time of the year. While the sky is getting darker earlier, the nighttime sky is actually getting brighter due to the greater use of low energy LED bulbs. While these bulbs use much less energy than incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, researchers think that people and communities are using more of the bulbs and leaving them on longer. This is increasing light pollution near cities. You can get more illumination on the subject at https://goo.gl/1CdqcH

Thursday: Mars is nearly one fist above due southeast at 7:00 a.m.

Friday: Today is the start of the Saturnalia celebration, an ancient Roman festival in honor of their god Saturn, the god of agriculture and time. The holiday featured a break from work and school, a public banquet, and private gift giving. Some of these customs influenced the secular aspects of Christmas celebrations. After Sheldon hugged Penny on The Big Bang Theory, Leonard proclaimed, “It’s a Saturnalia miracle” https://youtu.be/yarNJnZw2yk. It would not be a miracle if you saw the planet Saturn today. It is midway between two much brighter planets. At 5:00 p.m., Venus is one fist above the southwestern horizon. Saturn is about a fist and a half to the upper left of Venus. Jupiter is nearly two fists to the upper left of Saturn.

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.