April 2, 2023

April 11 at 8 PM looking southwest

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Bakersfield College and the K12 school districts in our area are on spring break. I'm enjoying the break and I sure need it! Tickets are on sale for the “Black Holes” show (on April 13) and for the “Ice Worlds” show (on April 20).

This morning before sunrise, the waxing gibbous moon was next to the star Regulus at the heart or front of Leo. The moon will be at full phase on the night of April 5 among the stars of Virgo. Easter happens on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon which is usually the full moon after March 20 as based on observations from Jerusalem. That means Easter (and, therefore, the end of spring break for our schools in the Bakersfield region) is on Sunday, April 9. On April 6 the moon will be close to Spica, the bright star of Virgo. On the pre-dawn morning of April 13, the last quarter (a.k.a third quarter) moon will be among the stars of Sagittarius.

Jupiter is now lost in the glare of the sun. On April 11, it will be at conjunction with the sun. Venus is now the sole bright evening star in the west. On April 10 and 11, you'll see Venus next to the Pleiades cluster at the shoulder of Taurus in the west (see star chart below). Both of them will easily fit within the field of view of binoculars on those two nights. Mercury is also there low in the west after sunset and it's fairly bright too. On April 11, Mercury will be at its greatest “elongation” (angular distance from the sun on our sky) and it will be brighter than most of the true stars in the sky.

Mars is high in the southwest at sunset, just right of Gemini. On the night of April 14, it will be extremely close to the medium-bright star, Mebsuta, at the left knee of the twins. That will make a pretty sight in binoculars. Mars won't be that close to Mebsuta again until 2055! 

In the early morning sky, you'll see Saturn becoming visible a little over an hour before sunrise in the east among the stars of Aquarius. In town the stars of Aquarius will be hard to see because of all of the light pollution but Saturn is bright enough to still be visible even from the center of the city.

On Friday, March 24, a large Near-Earth Asteroid 2023 DZ2, nicknamed “Dizzy”, flew by Earth at slightly less than half of the distance between Earth and the moon. At between 125 feet and 280 feet in diameter, it's, by far, the largest of the ones that have flown by Earth in the past two months. I didn't see any wild, end-of-the-world predictions in my newsfeed about Dizzy, so that was good but then again, I stick with reputable sane sources and I've been a bit distracted by political controversies at work.

Something the size of Dizzy comes that close to Earth about once a decade. Smaller asteroids whizz by Earth many times a year. The two major ones that should be worth our attention are 153814 (2001 WN5) that is about a kilometer across and will pass by Earth at 155,000 miles on June 26, 2028; and 99942 Apophis (2004 MN4) that is about a third of a kilometer across and will pass by Earth at a much closer 23,600 miles on April 13, 2029. Ones that size hitting Earth would have global effects. As we explore the Near-Earth asteroids up close (e.g., Bennu with OSIRIS-ReX and Dimorphos/Didymos with DART), we're finding out what it's really going to take to nudge an asteroid out of harm's way. Those Near-Earth asteroids also hold great promise for mining operations that could extract minerals worth many trillions of dollars.

I hope you'll be able to experience in the near future, a truly dark sky filled with thousands of stars!

Nick Strobel
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com