Bakersfield Night Sky – October 15, 2016
By Nick Strobel
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. I’m putting on the finishing touches for this personal presentation and I’m eager to show it to you. The show will cover the hazards of the months-long flight to Mars, properties of Mars, the atmosphere and geology of Mars, weather on Mars, and the history of our explorations on the surface of Mars from Viking to Curiosity.
Putting it together, I’ve been reacquainted with the challenge of distilling down to the essentials the work of thousands of people’s research on Mars over the past decades into a manageable dose. To give it proper justice would probably require a whole semester’s worth of a class or at least a six-hour show but most people, I suspect, would find that a tad too long. (Just a tad.) However, distilling stacks of research down to a manageable bitesize presentation is the challenge facing all science teachers every lecture. I'll keep the Mars tour to at most 30 minutes.
On the following Tuesday, October 25 at 7 PM, Andy Weir, the author of “The Martian”, will give a free public talk in the Simonsen Performing Arts Center (Indoor Theater) at Bakersfield College. Weir is this year’s Cerro Author. The Cerro Author program of the Bakersfield College Library brings a prominent author to the BC campus each fall. Parking in the Administration lot will be free that evening for Weir’s free public talk. Weir will be speaking to students Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.
Tonight the Moon will be at full phase. By the night of the Mars Travel Guide show, the Moon will be a noticeably waning gibbous Moon. That night is also the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. The Orionid meteor shower has a broad peak with strong activity the several nights before and after the peak.
In fact, you may be able to see a few meteors from the Orionids up to several weeks before and after the peak. The Orionids are the result of the Earth running through the dust trail left behind by Comet Halley in its orbit. The comet bits, most as small as a tiny grain of sand, hit our atmosphere at a speed of 41 miles per second. Going that fast, they quickly burn up tens of miles above our heads.
Because we’re running into the dust trail of a comet, the meteors will appear to streak out of a particular direction in space. The Orionids will appear to radiate out of the upper part of the Orion constellation (hence, the shower’s name). Unfortunately, that waning gibbous Moon is going to wash out a lot of the meteors.
A couple of weeks later when the Moon is just a thin waxing crescent, you may be able to spot the meteors of the Taurid meteor shower. They are the dust-rock bits of Comet Encke hitting our atmosphere at a slower speed of just 17 miles per second. The attached star chart shows the sky at midnight on October 20/21 with the radiant locations of the Orionids and the Taurids.
Venus is catching up to Saturn in our evening sky. On the night of October 27th, Venus will pass midway between Saturn and Antares, the orange-red supergiant at the heart of Scorpius. The three objects will form a nearly vertical line low in the southwest shortly after sunset as shown in the inset of the attached star chart.
In the early morning sky, Jupiter is now visible as the bright star low in the east shortly before sunrise. Mercury is no longer visible as it passes behind the Sun.
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