Bakersfield Night Sky – May 2, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Mercury is still visible low in the west after sunset this evening (see chart B). It is now just left of the Pleiades cluster. Both will fit comfortably within the field of binoculars. Mercury will be bright for just another few days as it begins its plunge back toward the Sun. After the middle of next week, it will probably be too faint to see without binoculars. On the opposite side of the sky in the east-southeast, look for Saturn below the triangle of Leo on the left side of Leo (see chart A). The Waxing Gibbous Moon will pass by it tomorrow (full phase is next Saturday). Saturn has been drifting westward for the past four months. It will end that retrograde motion in the middle of the month and resume its usual eastward drift among the stars.
Chart A also shows the brighter stars in the east-southeastern sky. Extend the curve of the handle of the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major) to the second brightest star in the northern hemisphere's sky, Arcturus, in the constellation Bootes. Bootes looks something like a kite on its side as it is rising up. A line through the center of Bootes and extending to the right will point you to the bright star, Spica, in Virgo. You can use the stars at the other end of the Big Dipper and extend a line southward through the pointer stars in the bowl to find the backward question-mark of Leo (the Sickle part of Leo).
In the pre-dawn sky look in the southeast sky for bright Jupiter in Capricornus (see chart C). A bit to the left of Jupiter and lower in the east, look for the very bright Venus and the much dimmer Mars to the lower left of Venus.
Two special astronomy events are happening in the first half of May. Today and tomorrow, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena is holding its annual open house. If you have any interest at all in astronomy and space exploration, especially the exploration of the planets, you should take the time to go to JPL's Open House. You'll be able to talk with the scientists and engineers working on the missions to explore our solar system and the rest of the universe. The second event is an additional planetarium show on May 8th for the general public. In honor of the international year of astronomy, the planetarium will premier "Two Small Pieces of Glass" (TSPOG) Friday evening, May 8th from 8 to 9 PM. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time at the BC Ticket Office. TSPOG traces the history of the telescope from Galileo's modifications to a child's spyglass—using two small pieces of glass—to the launch of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the future of astronomy. It explores the wonder and discovery made by astronomers throughout the last 400 years.
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: April 26, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel