Bakersfield Night Sky – April 17, 2010
By Nick Strobel
Today (April 17th) is Kern County Astronomy Day at Foothill High School and our local astronomy club, the Kern Astronomical Society (KAS), will close the day with a free telescope viewing from 8 to 10 PM. What will be up at that time? The first star chart below shows the view for 9 PM looking south-southwest. The sickle part of Leo will be due south. To the right high up will the bright orange Mars just above a fuzzy patch that those with very good eyes under a very dark sky might be able to see is a star cluster at the heart of Cancer—the Beehive Cluster. I have to use binoculars to see any of its stars. Be sure to check out Mars and the Beehive Cluster through a KAS telescope. The Beehive has a number of pairings of colorful stars. To the right up very high in the west are the two bright stars of Gemini, Pollux and Castor. Below Gemini will be the bright star, Procyon of Canis Minor, a constellation of just three stars with which those with better imagination than me can see a little dog. Below Procyon, low in the southwest, is the bright star Sirius at the nose of Canis Major, the big dog (now, that one, you CAN make out a stick figure dog).
To the left of the sickle of Leo is a triangle of stars making up the back end of the lion with the bright star Denebola at the tip of the tail. Below that star is an even brighter object with a butterscotch sort of color. That's Saturn. Make sure to look at it through a KAS telescope. Even though we are now seeing the rings nearly edge-on, it is still a beautiful sight. At 9 PM Venus will probably be too low to see in the west so look for it starting about a half hour after sunset low in the west. The second chart below shows the west sky view at 8:30 PM. Venus will be the first star-like object you see after sunset since it is brighter than any other night sky object except the Moon. Speaking of which, look for the thin Waxing Crescent Moon above Venus next to the yellow-orange star Aldebaran at the eye of Taurus the bull. Between the Moon and Venus are the Pleiades, the star cluster at the shoulder of Taurus. Take a look at the Pleiades and the Moon through the KAS telescopes. The boundary between the day and night sides of the Moon will be a bit jagged where the boundary cuts across a crater. The Moon will be in First Quarter phase on April 21st and it will below Mars. A Waxing Gibbous Moon will pass below Saturn on the 25th and the Moon will be Full on the night of April 27th. Venus will be next to the Pleiades on the evenings of April 23rd and 24th. Up and to the right of the Pleiades is the bright star, Capella in Auriga.
At about the same height as Aldebaran will be the belt stars of Orion. Slightly below the belt is Orion's sword with the fuzzy patch Orion Nebula in the middle of it. That is another thing to check out in a KAS telescope! There are other objects including galaxies the KAS members or the Foothill astronomy club members will be happy to show you. Just ask!
My apologies to the early risers for the concentration on the evening sky in today's column. But not to leave them completely out: look for Jupiter low in the east starting about an hour before sunrise. It will be brighter than any other star in the sky, probably being the only object you see as the sky brightens with the approaching dawn.
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