The Bakersfield Night Sky
By Nick Strobel
(appeared September 15, 2007)
Jupiter is still the first star-like object that you'll see in tonight's sky. Look in the southwest after sunset. It will be above a bright orange-red star called Antares that is at the heart of the constellation Scorpius. The view of Jupiter at around 9 PM is shown in the chart. The center of the Milky Way Galaxy in which our solar system resides is off in the direction of Sagittarius so a view through binoculars or a telescope in that direction will show a number of star clusters and gas clouds. The chart also shows the position and phase of the Moon at 9 PM from Sept 16th through the 21st (a couple of days before the autumnal equinox).
Speaking of the equinox: The season of autumn officially starts at 2:51 AM Pacific Daylight Time on September 23rd. How can we say that the season of autumn begins at a specific time with such a ridiculous degree of precision? Because of the Earth's motion around the Sun, the Sun appears to drift slowly with respect to the stars. It takes the Sun a full year to slide through the zodiac constellations along a path called the "ecliptic". The Earth's rotation axis is tilted by 23.5 degrees with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun. If you were to project the Earth's longitude and latitude coordinates onto the sky, the ecliptic would appear to be tipped by 23.5 degrees and it would cross the Earth's projected equator on the sky (the "celestial equator") at two points, called the "equinoxes". The equinox date and time happens when the Sun is precisely at the equinox point on the sky. Diagrams and more explanation of this can be found on my Astronomy Notes website, www.astronomynotes.com (see the third chapter).
Tonight Mars rises at about 11:40 PM, so it will appear best in the early pre-dawn hours after midnight. Look for it in the east-northeast sky. It will be the bright orange object in the head of the constellation Taurus near the tip of one of Taurus' horns.
In the evening the brilliant stars Deneb at the tail of Cygnus the Swan, Vega at the base of the little harp Lyra, and Altair at the neck of Aquila the Eagle, form the famous "Summer Triangle". The Summer Triangle will be high overhead in the late evening before midnight. See the chart in my previous installment.
Something for your calendar, in honor of the World Space Week and the 50th anniversary of the Space Age, there will be two public shows at the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College on the evenings of October 5th and 6th both at 7:30 PM. Get your tickets at the BC ticket office.
Want to see more night sky even in town? Shield your
lights so all of the light hits the ground instead of being wasted
up the sky! See www.darksky.org for how to shield your lights while
providing light to the ground (and save energy too!).
Author of Astronomy Notes at www.astronomynotes.com and
Planetarium Director at BC: www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium
See the planetarium's website for reservation information
last updated: January 7, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel