The Bakersfield Night Sky
By Nick Strobel
(appeared September 29, 2007)
The first star-like object you'll see in tonight's sky is Jupiter low in the southwest but it will soon be overtaken by the Sun in the next few weeks. If you are lucky you may be able to spot Mercury very low in the west-southwest up to about a half-hour after sunset. Later at night look for the bright orange planet, Mars, in the eastern sky. Mars rises at around 11:15 and you will see it to the left of the horns of Taurus. Venus will be the very bright "morning star" blazing in the eastern sky after about 4 AM.
Let's take a look at the constellation Cygnus the Swan straight overhead at 9 to 10 PM. It is the focus of the Great World Wide Star Count that is going on from October 1 to 15. Organized by the Windows to the Universe project at UCAR, you can help astronomers map light pollution by telling them how many stars in Cygnus you can see from your home. To help out go to www.windows.ucar.edu/starcount . The chart below shows Cygnus as it would if you faced south and then looked straight overhead. Bright Deneb is at the tail of the swan and much dimmer Albireo is at the beak that is pointing toward the southwest. Albireo is a beautiful sight in a telescope because it is a double star with a nice color combination: a rich blue star and a golden partner. If you are under a dark sky, you'll see that Cygnus is flying down the length of the Milky Way.
The chart also shows three things in Cygnus to check out with binoculars: M29 and M39 are loose clusters of stars called "open clusters" and the North American Nebula, a hot cloud of hydrogen glowing from the energy of young stars. The North American Nebula is bright and big enough to be even visible to the unaided eye on a dark sky as a faint patch slightly to the left of Deneb. The open cluster M39 is further to the left and slightly up from Deneb. The open cluster M29 is near the heart of Cygnus a little right of the swan's wing that points down to the south.
If you are disappointed at how few stars in Cygnus
you can see from your home, then check out www.darksky.org for what
you can do to shield
your lights so all of the light hits the ground instead of wasting
energy by lighting up the sky.
Author of Astronomy Notes at www.astronomynotes.com and
Planetarium Director at BC: www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium
last updated: January 7, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel