Bakersfield Night Sky - March 6, 2010

Bakersfield Night Sky - March 6, 2010
By Nick Strobel

In the early evening sky look for Venus very low in the west up to about 30 minutes after sunset. The visibility time will increase to about 50 minutes after sunset by month's end and Mercury will have joined Venus. Mars is the brightest thing in the eastern sky. At sunset it will already be about halfway up in East. By around 7 PM it will be higher in the southeast. The 7 PM is the time for people to make their Globe at Night observations described below. Above Mars will be the two bright stars of Gemini: Pollux (closest to Mars) and Castor (see the first chart below). For the past couple of months Mars has been drifting toward them as we passed by Mars in our faster orbit. By March 11th we will have moved far enough ahead of Mars that it will appear to stop its retrograde motion and then start heading back to dim Cancer for the rest of the month. To the right of Mars in the south about halfway up in the sky is Orion, the subject of the Globe at Night campaign. In Orion's top left corner is the bright orange-red star, Betelgeuse, a supergiant that would swallow up all of the planets out to Jupiter if it were placed in our solar system at the Sun's position. In the diagonal opposite (lower right) corner is bright Rigel, a blue giant putting out so much energy that if we orbited it at the same distance we orbit our Sun, the average temperature on the Earth would be over 6700º F. Extend the line made by Orion's belt stars down left to the only object brighter than Mars, Sirius at the head of Canis Major, the big dog. Midway between Mars and Sirius is Procyon in Canis Minor. Leo is coming up low in the east, the “Sickle” part appears at the far left of the first chart.

Saturn will be visible low in the East by around 8 PM below Leo at the upper end of Virgo. In mid-March the waxing Moon will pass through the western sky in the evening. On March 20th, the crescent Moon will cover up part of the gorgeous Pleiades cluster. Such an event won't occur again until 2023 for North America. See the second chart below. Early morning risers will have to be content with the third quarter Moon on Sunday morning, March 7th. It will be to the left of Antares in Scorpius. The following night it will be in Ophiuchus, that should be the thirteenth zodiac sign since the Sun spends more time in Ophiuchus than in Scorpius but either Ophiuchus didn't have as good a PR agent as Scorpius or the astrologers didn't like the number 13 (more likely), so Ophiuchus was left out of the zodiac. The pre-dawn chart below shows the annual path of the Sun through that part of the sky.

The fifth annual Globe at Night campaign is happening March 3rd to 16th. During that time thousands of people from around the world will be measuring the sky brightness using the stars of Orion as the measuring tool. By comparing the number of stars in Orion that you can see from your location with a set of standard brightness charts available on the Globe at Night website, you can help map the light-pollution levels worldwide. You will also need to know the latitude and longitude of your location. Bakersfield is at latitude +35.4º North and -119º West longitude, Tehachapi is +35.1 N, -118.4 W, Delano is +35.8 N, -119.2 W, Frazier Park is +34.8 N, -118.9 W, and Taft is +35.1 N, -119.4 W. After the Globe at Night campaign, come take a look at the truly dark sky of the Planetarium and explore the edge of the solar system with IBEX: Search for the Edge of the Solar System on March 18th at 7:30 PM. Tickets must be purchased from the BC Ticket Officebefore the show.

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