September 3, 2023

Bakersfield night sky early September, 2023 at 9:30PM looking south

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Next Saturday, September 9 is the Dark Sky Festival at Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks. There will be a keynote address by Dr. Cameron Hummels, the Director of Astrophysics Outreach at Caltech, and educational presentations on astronomy and astronomy-related topics. The main event will be the star parties at Potwisha in the Foothills, Wuksachi near Lodgepole, and Big Stump in Grant Grove

The Kern Astronomical Society (Bakersfield metro area’s local astronomy club) hosts the one at Wuksachi from 9 to 11 p.m. and that one is the most popular event with over a thousand people cycling through the telescopes. KAS members will have their own telescopes plus club telescopes out for people to see Saturn and near the end of the night, possibly Jupiter. Telescopes will also be pointed at beautiful globular and open clusters, as well as objects that require a dark sky to see well: nebulae and galaxies. The attached star chart includes some possible targets. On that night the moon will be a very thin waning crescent, rising around 3 a.m., well after the star party is over. 

During the day (before the star parties), the talks at Wuksachi will include a couple of current astronomy research ones (studying super-distant galaxies with the James Webb Space Telescope and the atmospheres of exoplanets) and the always popular session about buying your own telescope, led by KAS’s equipment guru, Darren Bly. The last presentation will be retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA) engineer Terry Himes talking about how NASA learns from its mistakes to make the following space missions successful.

The day activities at the Giant Forest Museum area will include solar observing, a tutorial on astrophotography, NASA’s plans to go to Mars, space art, learning about the different research telescope observatories (both ground-based and space-based), and a walk of a scale model of the solar system. Day activities at Grant Grove will include a solar system walk, a talk about weather on Venus and Mars, constellations lessons, a talk about meteors and meteorites by KAS member Rod Guice, a tutorial on astrophotography, and a ranger talk about the creatures of the night at Sequoia/Kings Canyon. The festival schedule is posted on the Sequoia Parks Conservancy's Dark Sky Festival website. Scroll down on the page to see the online schedule, which is continually updated as they adjust to maintenance needs in the park. 

On August 23, India became the fourth nation that successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon with its Chandrayaan-3 robotic spacecraft. Chandrayaan-3 is also the first spacecraft to land at the lunar south pole that will eventually be where the first moon base is established. The lunar south pole has craters that have floors in perpetual shadow. Any comets and icy asteroids that hit the moon’s surface in those ultra-cold crater floors will have left their water stores there. Places that get sunlight get hot enough to vaporize the water ice. 

Transporting water from Earth to the moon is extremely expensive, so future lunar residents are going to need to get their water from the moon itself. They’ll also break the water molecules apart to create what they need for rocket fuel. Earlier missions by the U.S., India, and other nations have found signs of the water ice in the perpetual-shadow craters at the lunar south pole but we don’t know the amount of water ice there—Chandrayaan-3 will go a long way in helping us determine the amount. The lunar south pole is also the destination for the NASA Artemis program that hopes to land astronauts on the moon in 2024. The year 2024 would be 52 years since the last time humans walked on the moon in the Apollo missions.

Japan hopes to become the fifth nation to land on the moon with its SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) lander in January or February after a leisurely three-to-four month flight to the moon and orbiting the moon for another month. The SLIM lander is expected to launch to the moon sometime between August 31 and September 15 if the weather at the launch site permits.  SLIM will be going to a spot near the lunar equator, instead of the south pole region, but it’s going to try out a new pinpoint-landing system that promises at least a ten times better precision in landing and the ability to land on a sloped ground. 

In tonight’s sky the moon will be a waning gibbous rising at about 10 p.m. with the stars of Aries and just above the stars at the head of Cetus. To the lower left of the moon will be bright Jupiter. On the night of the Dark Sky Festival at Sequoia/Kings Canyon, the moon will be a slim waning crescent rising after 3 a.m.

The first show of the fall season at the William M Thomas Planetarium is “Mars One Thousand One” (Mars 1K1) on September 21 starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from Vallitix for $8 for adults and $6 for seniors/children plus the Vallitix service fee. On October 5, we’ll show “Incoming!” starting at 7:30 p.m.

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