Bakersfield Night Sky – August 2, 2008
By Nick Strobel
All of the naked eye planets are now evening objects now that Venus has emerged from behind the Sun. However, Venus will be a challenge to see low in the west just after sunset (especially if a recent forest fire has put more smoke up in our air). If you are able to spot Venus as a bright “star” low in the west, then try to spot a very young Moon (thin sliver) also low in the west less than a fist width held at arm’s length to the left of Venus. Saturn will be about the same distance to the upper left of the Moon on our sky. As the Sun moves into Leo this month, Saturn will become impossible to see. Mars is now over a fist width held at arm’s length above and to the left of Saturn. By mid-month, Venus will have moved past Saturn and Mercury will be next to Saturn. The trio will then fit within the field of a pair of binoculars (see chart B). Let’s not forget the very bright Jupiter that dominates the southern evening sky! It will be the first star-like object you see after sunset.
At 9 PM, it should be dark enough to spot some famous summer constellations straight overhead. The attached chart (chart A) shows what you can see if you face south, then look straight up (to the “zenith” point). Hercules is right overhead (can you see the “keystone”?). To the right of Hercules, the very bright star, Arcturus, anchors the kite-shaped Bootes. To the left of Hercules are the Summer Triangle constellations, Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila with their brightest stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (respectively) making the Summer Triangle.
I like August for a couple of reasons. One is my anniversary and the other is the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids should be near their peak in the pre-dawn hours of August 12th (wait for the gibbous Moon to set for a better view). They form from the Earth running into the dust trail left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle. The comet dust particles (about the size of a grain of sand or smaller) hit the Earth’s atmosphere at about 37 miles/second and burn up many tens of miles above the ground. The Perseid meteor is popular because it happens during the summer for comfortable viewing and the particles tend to be a bit larger than those in other meteor showers so the meteor streaks tend to be brighter.
Want to see more of the stars at night and save energy? Shield your lights so that the light only goes down toward the ground. See www.darksky.org for how.
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com
last updated: August 11, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel