Bakersfield Night Sky – December 6, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Were you able to see the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on November 30th? I saw them close together the day before but I got fogged out on the 30th. The thin crescent Moon joined them at the start of the month but I was fogged out again. That deserves an "aargh!" but I don't know if they can print that. Tonight, Venus is now far enough left and up of Jupiter that they won't be able to fit in the same field of your binoculars but they still make a spectacular two-some in the southwestern sky shortly after sunset (see chart A). The waxing gibbous Moon is well east of them in the southeast. The full Moon on December 12th will be the closest full Moon of the year at just 221,560 miles from us.
Later in the evening (around 8:30 PM) you will be able to see winter constellations like Orion and Gemini rising in the east (see chart B). Orion is one of my favorite winter constellations because it is so bright that it can be seen even in light-polluted skies, it is high in the southeast during the evenings of the upcoming holidays, and it has a number of interesting objects in it. Betelgeuse (pronounced "beetel-joos") is a red supergiant star that would swallow up all of the inner solar system planets out to Jupiter if it was placed right where the Sun is. It is a dying star that will go supernova sometime in the future. When it does, it will be bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. It is far enough away from us, though, that it won't be harmful to us. In the middle of the sword part of Orion below the belt, is a fuzzy patch called the "Orion Nebula", the nearest large star formation factory to us (there are smaller ones closer). Several hundred solar systems are forming inside of it. The bright star Rigel at Orion's left knee is so luminous that if we were orbiting it at the same distance that we orbit our Sun, the temperature on the Earth's surface would be a warm 6770ºF on average. For more on these objects and their kin, see www.astronomynotes.com.
Saturn is high up in the south in the pre-dawn hours below the left side of Leo. A waning gibbous Moon slides past Saturn between the mornings of the 18th and 19th.
This weekend marks the first of two weekend showings of the traditional holiday show, "Season of Light" at the planetarium. There may still be tickets left but the shows usually sell out. Tickets are available only at the BC Ticket Office and will not be sold at the door. See the planetarium's website www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium for information about the show and maps to the planetarium. Also, more Night Sky charts are available on the planetarium website.Save the night sky and save energy (and money) by keeping all the light from street and building lights shining down toward the ground where we need it. Check out www.darksky.org for what you can do to shield your lights
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com
last updated: December 12, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel