Bakersfield Night Sky
By Nick Strobel
(appeared December 15, 2007)
Look east at 9 PM and you'll see Mars continuing to slide past Gemini on its way toward Taurus. This retrograde motion of Mars until the end of January is happening because we are passing by Mars in our respective orbits. We will pass closest to Mars on December 18th at a distance of "only" 54.8 million miles. Mars will be directly opposite the Sun on December 24th so it will be due South at about midnight on the days near Christmas Eve. Mars will end its retrograde at the end of January. Comet Holmes is still visible as a dilute fuzzy patch to the naked eye in Perseus outside of the city.
In the pre-dawn (about 5 AM) sky looking east you will see the very bright Venus beginning to rise above the mountains. It will be next to Libra whose stars may be too faint to see if you're stuck in the city. Venus will reach the head of Scorpius by the end of the month. Higher up you will see Saturn below the middle of Leo. Saturn begins its retrograde motion on December 19th. Saturn will almost reach Regulus at the bottom right end of Leo by the end of April. Its retrograde loop over the next 4 months is smaller than Mars' because Saturn is further away from us.
The season of winter officially starts with the December "solstice" at 10:08 PM on December 22nd. The solstice in December is when the Sun stops its southward drift among the stars, "stands still", and then starts heading northward. See my September 15th column for more on how astronomers come up with such ridiculously precise times for the start of our seasons.
One last thing: if you couldn't make it to the planetarium's "Season of Light" show to find out what could have been the "Bethlehem star", then check out my Star of Bethlehem article at www.astronomynotes.com/history/bethlehem-star.html.
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
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com
last updated: January 7, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel