Bakersfield Night Sky – November 21, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Jupiter still reigns supreme in the southern sky next to Capricornus in the early evening sky. Tonight a Waxing Gibbous Moon hangs low in the southwest. The Moon will pass Jupiter on November 23rd and it will be at first quarter phase the following night. Facing east you will see a fuzzy patch about a third of the way up in the sky at 8 PM (see chart A). Those with good eyes under darker skies will see that it is actually made of six stars—the Pleiades star cluster in the shoulder of Taurus, the bull. In the ancient Greek stories, the Pleiades were seven sisters and there are various stories given for why the seventh is much dimmer than the rest. With a telescope, the Pleiades are a gorgeous sight with a few hundred stars in total. Below the Pleiades is the bright orange star, Aldebaran, at one end of the sideways V-shape of stars that forms the nose of Taurus. Aldebaran is the eye of angry Taurus who is charging Orion. After about 9 PM, Orion will have risen high enough for you to see him posed for battle against Taurus. To the left of the Pleiades a bit more than your hand at arms length with all of your fingers spread out is the bright yellow-white star Capella in Auriga in the northeast. Go up from Capella to about 2/3rd of the way up in the sky at 8 PM and you will see the sideways "W" of Cassiopeia. If you have a dark sky, go a bit less than your outstretched fingers at arms length to the right of Cassiopeia to the point almost directly overhead ("zenith") and see if you can spot the fuzzy patch that is M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, the farthest thing visible to us without a telescope. Do note that if you want to impress your family and friends as you point all these objects out after your Thanksgiving feast, be sure to keep the attached Thanksgiving chart out of their sight. :-)
At around 10:30 PM Mars will rise in the east and be up high in the south at around 5 AM. Mars is continuing to grow brighter and larger as we catch up to in our faster orbit. We will pass Mars in late January to early February but it won't be a close approach like we have at other times in the recent past (will we get the "Mars as big as the full Moon" spam emails though?). At around 2:30 AM Saturn will rise. Look for it on the right edge of Virgo---see chart B below. Venus is now getting hard to see in the pre-dawn twilight as it passes behind the Sun with respect to us. Also posted below is a view of the planets from high above the Sun.
The 2012-mania should be in full swing now as people have seen the 2012 movie. My 2012 reality-check article from earlier this month is posted on the planetarium's website. There are still tickets left for the December shows "Season of Light" that will be given on the first two Fridays of December. Get the tickets from the BC ticket office ahead of time---they will NOT be sold at the door.
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 12, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel