Bakersfield Night Sky – April 3, 2010
By Nick Strobel
The close pairing of Venus and Mercury takes center stage this evening and tomorrow evening. The two inner planets will be just 3 degrees apart (easily within a binoculars' field of view) and both will appear as two very bright stars in the west between sunset and about 8:20 PM. After Sunday, April 4th, Mercury will begin to pull away from Venus and grow dimmer as Mercury plunges back toward the Sun over the following two weeks—see the first star chart below. On April 15th, the two will be about 7 degrees apart and a very thin Waxing Crescent Moon will be just above Mercury—a nice sight with binoculars. Mars is still as bright as the stars in Orion. In the early evening, look for it high in the south-southeastern sky to the left of Gemini and to the right of the fuzzy patch in dim Cancer called the Beehive Cluster. A star chart for the 9 PM view is given below. Mars will pass just above the Beehive Cluster on April 16th through 18th—another nice sight through binoculars! Below the tail end of Leo is Saturn on the upper end of Virgo. Saturn will be the bright star-like object about a quarter of the way up in the east at about 8 PM and about half-way up in the southeast at 9 PM. It will be as bright as the brightest stars in Orion.
Tonight the Waning Gibbous Moon will rise at about 1 AM (April 4th) and will be bright enough to wash all but the brightest stars of Scorpius and Ophiuchus. Very bright Jupiter is still very low in the eastern sky about 20 minutes before sunrise---see the third chart below. At a few minutes before 6 AM, Jupiter will have risen to the same altitude as Saturn in the opposite part of the sky so if you time it just right (and don't have any cloud banks blocking your view), you may be able to spot the two largest planets of our solar system at the same time (a nice Easter gift!). A very thin Waning Crescent Moon will pass above Jupiter on April 11th. The two will barely fit within the same field of view of typical binoculars on that morning. See the third chart below.
The third annual Kern County Astronomy Day is coming up---Saturday, April 17th at Foothill High School starting at 2 PM with star gazing at 8 PM. The Kern Astronomical Society puts on this free event with the help of the Foothill High School Astronomy Club. See www.kernastro.org for more details.
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