Bakersfield Night Sky – March 21, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Welcome to the first full day of spring! The season of spring officially began yesterday morning. We will see the Sun rise further and further north of east over the next few months. It will also set further and further north of west and the length of daylight will increase.
Venus sets just an hour before the Sun and it will probably not be possible for people in Bakersfield to see it low in the sky near the western horizon because of the mountains and normal haze near the horizon. On March 27th Venus will pass nearly in front of the Sun. In early April, early morning observers will be able to see Venus in the East just before sunrise and climb higher in the East further from the Sun as the weeks go by. Saturn is the planet to see in the evening sky. Look about halfway up in the eastern sky below the triangle of Leo (on the left side of Leo). The brightest "star" below Leo is Saturn. Be sure to check it out in the telescopes that will be set out at Foothill High School for Astronomy Day (& Night!) on March 28th. I'll talk a little more about Astronomy Day below.
The first chart shows the evening sky tonight with a focus on Orion and the constellations around it. Two giant stars shine in the opposite corners of Orion: Betelgeuse a red supergiant in Orion's right shoulder and Rigel, a blue supergiant in Orion's left knee. If you orbited Rigel at the same distance that we orbit the Sun, the temperature on the Earth would be over 6700º F. If you were that same distance from the center of Betelgeuse, you would be inside Betelgeuse! Follow the line of the belt stars down and left to the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius also happens to be the nearest star that Bakersfield observers can see without a telescope. Observers south of 25º N latitude will be able to see the truly nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Follow the line of the belt stars up and right to the Pleiades at the shoulder of Taurus (another nice object to look at during Astronomy Day). Along the way you will pass below the bright orange star, Aldebaran at the eye of Taurus.
A thin Waning Crescent Moon is just right of the very bright Jupiter low in the eastern sky about half an hour before sunrise (see chart B). Both are in the constellation Capricornus but the faint stars of that constellation will be hard to see in the pre-dawn twilight. Mars is even closer to the eastern horizon and it will probably be lost in the pre-dawn twilight. Mercury is too close to the Sun on our sky to see it. We will need to wait several weeks to try to catch it in the evening sky (in the west).
Astronomy Day put on by the Kern Astronomical Society and the Foothill Astronomy Club will be held at Foothill High School on March 28th. There will be free afternoon sessions from 2 to 5:30 PM on solar observing, solar system scale model and telescope clinics followed by stargazing at night from 8 to 10 PM. NASA planetary scientist, Carson Mittelsteadt, will be joining us. See www.kernastro.org for more details.
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: March 16, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel