Bakersfield Night Sky – December 5, 2009
By Nick Strobel
While Jupiter is still the brightest evening planet (blazing in the southwest), it finally will have some company. Mercury will be visible low in the southwest just after sunset for up to about 30 minutes after sunset but it will climb up further from the Sun until December 18th at which time it will be visible for over an hour after sunset low in the southwest. Tonight (Dec 5th), you will probably need binoculars to see Mercury in the bright twilight but by the following Saturday it be brighter and easy to see without binoculars. Jupiter is setting earlier and earlier every night. As it sets in the southwest, Mars will rise in the east between the dim zodiac constellation of Cancer and the brighter Leo. Mars will continue to grow brighter as it approaches opposition—when we have caught up to it in our faster orbit at the end of January so that it appears opposite the Sun. Tonight, the Waning Gibbous Moon is to the right of Mars in the middle of Cancer. The next night, the Moon will pass below Mars. By the time Mars is visible low in the east, Orion will be up. The three belt stars of Orion point down to the brightest star in our night sky, Sirius, at the nose of Canis Major. Sirius will be slightly higher above the horizon than Mars and of all the stars, Sirius is the only one that is brighter than Mars. A star chart for the evening sky is given below.For the star chart in today's column I decided to put in one for early Sunday (Dec 6th) morning at 5:30 AM. That is because not only does it show the position of the Lord of the Rings, Saturn in Virgo, it also shows the trail of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST on the chart) that will be visible in the southwest starting at 5:27 AM and then moving in Saturn's direction (to the left) over the following few minutes. The Hubble Space Telescope is the one that astronomers have used to: set the scale for the universe, study forming solar systems, discover the acceleration of the universe, probe the cores of galaxies where supermassive black holes reside, and many, many other things including to give us all of those gorgeous space images archived at http://heritage.stsci.edu. At 5:31 AM HST will be slightly over your hand at arms length with all of your fingers spread out below Saturn. At 5:32 AM HST will be under Spica and by about 5:33 AM it will be too faint to see. Saturn rises at slightly after 1 AM. By the winter solstice on December 21st Saturn will be rising slightly after midnight. If you ever have the chance to observe Saturn through any of the telescopes at a Kern Astronomical Society star party, take it! The KAS gives star parties for schools—teachers and principals: reserve a session for your school for the spring when the weather improves. See www.kernastro.org for contact information.
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: November 29, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel