Bakersfield Night Sky - September 18, 2010

Bakersfield Night Sky - September 18, 2010
By Nick Strobel

Venus blazes away low in the west just after sunset. You may be able to spot it even before the Sun is all the way below our horizon. To the right of Venus (at about half your clenched fist held at arm's length) is the much dimmer orange-red Mars. Both Venus and Mars have moved past the bright star, Spica. Venus will continue to lead Mars until the second week of October which is also about the time that Venus will appear to be the brightest it can get before it plunges back toward the Sun. Venus exhibits a definite crescent in a telescope---check it out using one of the Kern Astronomical Society's telescopes at this evening's public star party at Barnes + Noble. The fun begins at sunset and will continue until about 10 to 10:30 PM (depending on the amount of foot traffic). See the KAS website for a map to the site.

The Waxing Gibbous Moon will be southeast at the start of the public star party and it will be high in the south at the end of the event. During the last half of the public star party Jupiter will become visible in the east-southeast. It will be brighter than any star in our sky. If the bookstore building is not blocking the telescope's view, see if you can get one of the members to point the telescope toward Jupiter. The king of the planets is always a nice view and you also may be able to see some of its larger moons. Another reason to point a telescope in the direction of Jupiter is that Jupiter is passing just below the farther away planet, Uranus. Because a telescope flips images, Uranus will appear below Jupiter as a tiny, green-blue dot. Six days later (on September 22nd) a Full Moon will be above both of the planets.

September 22nd also marks the official beginning of the season of autumn because the Sun will be on the celestial equator, the projection of the Earth's equator onto the starry sphere that surrounds us. If you were at the Earth's equator, the Sun would get to the point right above your head at mid-day. This is called the "equinox" because on this day we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. For the following days of autumn, the Sun will rise further and further south of exact east and set further and further south of exact west right on up to December 21st, the official beginning of the season of winter.

The September planetarium show for the general public is "Oasis in Space" which is about our search for liquid water on other worlds. It is on Thursday, September 30th at 7:30 PM (doors open at 7 PM and are locked at the start of the show) and you must purchase tickets in advance from the BC Ticket Office. Oasis in Space includes some nice sequences of flying over Mars, peering below the clouds of Venus, and diving into the ocean of liquid water thought to exist below the icy surface of Jupiter's moon, Europa, the best place to look for possible current extra-terrestrial life.

The October planetarium show for the general public is "Dawn of the Space" which covers the first 50 years of the space age, from the launch of Sputnik in 1954 to the International Space Station and the first step toward space tourism with Spaceship One. It is on Thursday, October 21st at 7:30 PM (door opens at 7 PM and they are locked at the start of the program at 7:30 PM). You much purchase your tickets in advance from the BC Ticket Office and do it sooner than rather later as this is a popular show!

On November 18th (a Thursday) is the ever-popular "Black Holes: The Other side of Infinity". Besides using the best-available 3D models of the Milky Way and computer simulations of the beginnings of our universe and galaxy collisions, the show includes a trip into the black hole that lies at the center of our galaxy. December 2nd and 9th are two showings of the winter holiday show "Season of Light", another favorite of audiences. All of the Planetarium shows require you to purchase your tickets in advance from the BC Ticket Office.

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