Bakersfield Night Sky – July 3, 2010
By Nick Strobel
Just one day before our nation's birthday and I'm looking forward to seeing the sky lit up with fireworks. As I write this, it looks like I'll have to travel to someplace else besides Bakersfield College to see some big displays. Well, wherever I go, I'll be able to see some fine displays put on every night this month by the stars and planets. The first chart shows the western sky where all of the planet action is happening. Venus will be the first "star" you'll see after sunset. You can't miss it—it is the brightest thing in tonight's sky until the Third (Last) Quarter Moon rises around midnight. Venus is closing in on the bright star, Regulus in Leo. It will be right next to it on July 9th and 10th.
Mars is now about halfway between Regulus and Saturn in the west side of Virgo. It will catch up to Saturn by the first of August. In the east you can now see the "Summer Triangle" formed by the brightest stars in Cygnus, Lyra, and Aquila. See the second chart below. Deneb, at the tail of Cygnus ("Deneb" comes from the Arabic word meaning "tail") is a white supergiant over 1400 light years away and it is the lower left end of the triangle (the Deneb link takes you to Jim Kaler's Deneb page on his "Stars" website). The top middle part of the triangle is Vega, a young white-hot star about 25 light years away. The lower right corner of the triangle is Altair in Aquila. Altair is also a white-hot star but only 17 light years away. Compare the brightness of the three stars. Although Deneb may be the dimmest of the three, remember it is almost 60 times as far away from us as Vega. If Deneb was as close as Vega, Deneb would be brighter than Venus and we would be able to see it in broad daylight! Deneb puts out over 54,000 times as much energy as the Sun and it is in its dying stages. It has enough mass so it will go supernova sometime in the future (sorry, we don't know when).
Jupiter and the Third Quarter Moon will rise a little after midnight. The Moon will be in the middle of Pisces and Jupiter will be to the lower right of the Moon (see the third chart below). On July 8th in the early morning, look for a thin crescent Moon just to the left of the beautiful Pleaides star cluster. The two will be close enough together to fit within the field of view of your binoculars. Three days later the New Moon will pass right in front of the Sun to make a total solar eclipse. I got clouded out at last summer's total solar eclipse in China. This year's solar eclipse will be visible in a more expensive part of the world (Tahiti, Moorea, Easter Island) so I'm going to miss that one. I hope you have a safe and festive 4th of July!
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