Bakersfield Night Sky – October 1, 2016
By Nick Strobel
Yesterday, the Rosetta spacecraft ended its mission studying Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko with a controlled impact on the comet. The plan was to have it land on the small lobe of the comet taking ever higher resolution images as it descended along with information about the dust, gas, and plasma very close to the pits that produce some of the eruptions or jets of material when the comet was more active.
Rosetta is solar-powered and it is now heading outward too far for it to get enough sunlight to power the spacecraft. Also, it has endured the harsh environment of space for twelve years, the last two years of which it was close to an active comet. The spacecraft was near the end of its life. Finally, in early October, the comet and Rosetta would be behind the sun with respect our vantage point on Earth, so no communication would be possible. So the decision was made to get some new science out of the spacecraft while we could. Thanks Rosetta!
Earlier this week was the NASA press conference about surprising activity on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, that tells us more about subsurface water ocean. Europa is a moon just slightly smaller than our moon with an icy surface on top of a deep ocean of water. It is thought that the ocean of water is in contact with Europa’s warm rocky core which could supply nutrients to any possible lifeforms. In fact, Europa might be the best place for current extra-terrestrial life in our solar system, even better chance than Mars. Long ago, Mars was the better place.
Speaking of Mars, be sure to put Andy Weir’s public talk on Tuesday, October 25 on your calendar. On October 25 at 7 PM, the author of “The Martian” will give a public talk in the Simonsen Performing Arts Center (Indoor Theater) at Bakersfield College. The Cerro Author program of the Bakersfield College Library brings a prominent author to the BC campus each fall. Weir will be speaking to students Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. So totally, totally cool!
Tickets are on sale for the “Mars Travel Guide” on October 20 that will give you an idea of what it’s like on the surface of Mars before you go to Andy Weir’s talk. Tickets are also on sale for “Earthquake: Evidence of a Restless Planet” that will show this Thursday, October 6.
One last piece of solar system news that crossed my computer screen was the new e-digest from the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center that lets you know of any passing near-Earth asteroids. Called the “Daily Minor Planet”, the service sends you an email once a day with information about any passing near-Earth objects. On days with no near-Earth object whizzing by, the report will feature a recently discovered asteroid.
To get a level-headed report on an object hyped in various news outlets, subscribe to the Daily Minor Planet by clicking the “subscribe” button near the top of the page at http://minorplanetcenter.net/daily-minor-planet .
While reading stuff on a computer screen can be fun, be sure you give your eyes a break and go outside to see what’s up in the real sky. Although it is called the “Summer Triangle”, the asterism of the three bright stars, Deneb (in Cygnus), Vega (in Lyra), and Altair (in Aquila) is well-placed in the evening sky at a time when those you who are not night owls can appreciate. In the summer, the Summer Triangle is high up in the wee hours of the morning near midnight. In the fall, it is high up in the western sky around 9 PM.
The attached star chart shows you the sky for early October, including the position of the Moon on October 8 when the Kern Astronomical Society will hold its last public star party of the year. If it is not cloudy, the telescopes will be set up at Panorama Park for you to take a look until about 10 PM.
The star chart is for 9 PM and by then Saturn might be a bit too low to see through the Bakersfield haze. Mars will be right next to the lid of the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius. Above the two planets high in the southwestern sky is the Summer Triangle. Deneb is at the tail end of Cygnus. By 9 PM, the body of the swan will be pointed almost straight down. At the beak end of the swan is the gorgeous double-star Albireo. Through the KAS telescopes, you’ll see two stars with a beautiful contrast of blue and gold. Some observers say the colors are orange and sapphire. Let me know what colors you see. To the right of the Summer Triangle, check out the beautiful M13 globular cluster in Hercules.
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