Bakersfield Night Sky - June 5, 2010

Bakersfield Night Sky - June 5, 2010
By Nick Strobel

Well, the kids are now done with school and the summer awaits. Bakersfield College was out three weeks before but I have not been on break. I have spent many, many hours updating and expanding my astronomy textbook to cover the material of the three astronomy courses at BC. The planets chapter has been expanded by at least two times. The textbook is also freely available online at my "Astronomy Notes" website and I invite you to take a look. After you read through all of the processes at work on the planets, you will have an even greater appreciation for those bright things we see in our night sky.

Venus continues to greet us in the evening as the first "star" we see after sunset, shining very brightly in the west. Venus is now in Gemini below the bright stars Pollux and Castor at the head of Gemini. Venus will set at about 10:40 PM. Since its orbit is inside ours, we can never see it in the middle of the night because our part of the Earth is pointed away from the Sun.  On June 11th it will make a line with Castor and Pollux and on June 19th it will be right next to the Beehive Cluster at the heart of Cancer—a nice sight in binoculars! A Waxing Crescent Moon will be below Venus on June 14th. Tonight and tomorrow night, Mars will be right above Regulus at the end of the sickle of Leo in the west. Compare orange-red Mars with blue-white Regulus. Saturn is now slowly moving eastward but it is still below the bright star, Denebola at the tip of Leo's tail in the southwest. Saturn will not get near Spica at the far end of Virgo until mid-November 2011 and it will undergo a retrograde loop before then. See the second chart below.

The primary chart this time shows the eastern sky at 9:30 PM. The bright star Arcturus at the end of the kite-shaped Bootes dominates the sky. If you extend the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major), you arc your way to Arcturus. Then going straight horizontally brings you to Spica. Below Bootes are the stars making up the jewels in Corona Borealis. They make a backward "C-shape". Below Corona Borealis we are now able to see the strongman of Greek legends, Hercules. The main part of Hercules makes either a butterfly shape or a bow-tie shape. Hercules is actually upside down on our sky. Closer to the horizon you may be able to see Vega of Lyra. It gives Arcturus good competition for brightest star. Vega is a young star with a disk of gas and dust orbiting it—a planetary system in the making.

Sunday early morning, June 6th, a Waning Crescent Moon will be above very bright Jupiter. They will be just a bit too far part to fit together in the field of your binoculars. Jupiter and the Moon will be first visible about three hours before sunrise. Jupiter is below one end of the dim zodiac constellation, Pisces. You will have an easier time locating Jupiter with respect to the brighter stars of the "Great Square" of Pegasus.  A star chart for an hour before sunrise is the third (last) chart below. The swan Cygnus is high overhead at this time. 

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. Visit the Dark Sky International website for more info.
Nick Strobel
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website