Bakersfield Night Sky – July 17, 2010
By Nick Strobel
Tonight is the second in a series of public star parties at Barnes & Noble put on by the good folks of the Kern Astronomical Society (see the link for a map to the viewing location). Although there will be the light pollution to contend with, of course, the bright objects will still be well within grasp of the club's telescopes, so come take a look! Future star parties will happen on August 21, September 18, and October 16th. They start at sunset and end around 10:30 or so (depending on people traffic).
Brilliant Venus will be visible low in the west at the time the star party begins. In the telescopes Venus will appear in a gibbous phase, just slightly more than half lit up. It may shimmer a bit because of the air turbulence that is especially noticeable for objects near the horizon. Over the coming weeks, Venus' phase will turn to crescent and it will appear larger across in the telescope as Venus catches up to us in its smaller, faster orbit. Mercury is now making a brief appearance in our evening sky but it will be too low for tonight's star party. Mercury will be to the lower right of Regulus at the end of the sickle part of Leo—look west-northwest. Mercury's best appearance will happen near the end of the month but even then it will be quite low in the west-northwest. On July 27th, Mercury will be right next to Regulus with Mercury the brighter of the two (a nice sight in binoculars!) See the second star chart below. The First Quarter Moon below Spica in Virgo will be a popular object through the club's telescopes with the craters very distinctive near the day-night boundary.
Mars is now almost to the western edge of Virgo near Saturn. Mars will be to the right of Saturn. Mars will be just a small orange fuzzy dot in the telescopes but Saturn is always a gorgeous sight. The rings will appear thin but clearly visible. Will you be able to see any of Saturn's larger moons? To the far left of Saturn will be Titan, the largest moon of Saturn with an atmosphere 1.5 times as thick as the Earth's. It is a frozen example of what Earth might have been like before life radically changed the chemistry of our atmosphere. Closer to Saturn in order of their position in the telescope will be Dione, Rhea, and Tethys. On right of Saturn just beyond the rings (from our perspective) will be Enceladus, the moon that has geysers of water. The inset of the second chart below shows the Saturn moons' positions.
The first star chart below shows the clearer view: what you'll see high overhead during the star party facing southeast. The strongman, Hercules will be at zenith. On one edge of the keystone part of Hercules is the M13 Hercules Cluster, a nice globular cluster to see through the telescopes. Also at zenith is the backward C-shaped Corona Borealis (the northern crown). Next to it is Bootes, the shepherd with very bright Arcturus at one end of the kite-shaped constellation. Arcturus is the third-brightest star as seen from our solar system (not including the Sun). It will have an orange tint because it is cooler than the Sun. To the left of Hercules is Lyra. It has a parallelogram shape next to the bright, white-hot Vega. Opposite Vega on one edge of the parallelogram is a fuzzy patch called M57 (the Ring Nebula). It may be a bit too washed out because of the light pollution but give it a try through the club's telescopes because that is what our Sun will be like about 7 billion years from now when it dies. A little further down is a cross-shape on its side. Extend the cross-beams out a bit and you'll see they are the wings of Cygnus, the swan. Bright Deneb is at the top of the cross that is the tail of the swan. The bottom of the cross is the beak, Albireo, a nice double star to see through the telescopes. It is a nice double because the two stars have distinctly different colors. Under dark skies you would see that Cygnus flies down the length of the Milky Way.
Well, I've probably run out of space so I'll close with recommendation for you to ask one of the club members to point a telescope toward Sagittarius and Scorpio in the south for some other globulars and open star clusters. The galaxies in the Virgo Cluster above Saturn will probably be too faint to see with all of the city lights. Enjoy the star gazing!
The sky for the early morning sky (around 4:30 AM) is shown in the third star chart below.
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. See www.darksky.org for how.
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com