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.