Bakersfield Night Sky – February 20, 2010
By Nick Strobel
Venus continues to climb upward from the Sun but it is still setting within 45 minutes of the Sun so it will be very low in the west this evening. Jupiter is now lost in the glare of the Sun for the next month or so. Mars will be already up at sunset in the east between the dim Cancer and the brighter Gemini. It is still the brightest thing in the eastern sky. It is not as bright as it was earlier this month because we are pulling out ahead of Mars in our faster orbit. However, we have not moved far enough ahead of Mars for Mars to have stopped its backward, retrograde motion. By mid-March it will stop its retrograde motion. Further south at a lower altitude will be the even brighter object, the dog-star Sirius in Canis Major. Above and to the right of Sirius is the familiar Orion constellation with the belt stars that point downward to Sirius. Along the line between Mars and Sirius look for Procyon in Canis Minor.
Further west is a fat crescent Moon to the right of the Pleiades cluster. The Moon will be at first quarter phase tomorrow. It will pass under Mars on February 25. At about 8:30 Saturn will be peeking up above the eastern horizon on the upper end of Virgo. The first star chart below shows the two evening planets for 9 PM. Between Saturn and Mars look for Leo with the distinctive sickle-shape at its head. Regulus is the bright star at the bottom of the sickle. The Full Moon will pass below Regulus on the 27th.
Early morning risers can see if they can pick out Mercury low in the southeast just before sunrise (see the second 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