Bakersfield Night Sky – January 19, 2008
By Nick Strobel
(appeared January 19, 2008)
In the early evening sky 30 to 60 minutes after sunset, you may be able to spot Mercury low in the west-southwest for the next couple of weeks. Later this evening (around 9 PM), Mars is quite bright high up in the southern sky almost at the horns of Taurus. It will finish its retrograde motion on January 30th. After that it will grow dimmer as it drifts back towards Gemini in the following weeks. The almost full Moon (waxing gibbous) next to Mars will wash out most of the other surrounding stars. Looking south-southeast, below Mars and the Moon you'll see the brilliant winter constellation, Orion, with his two hunting dogs, Canis Major and Canis Minor, east of him (see chart A). The brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, is at the nose of Canis Major. Lepus the hare is just below Orion but you will probably need to be out of the city to see it. In the east, you'll see Saturn rising up just below Leo. Saturn will be getting brighter over the next couple of months as it closes in on the bright star Regulus at the right edge of Leo (see chart B). In the northeast, the Big Dipper part of Ursa Major will be standing straight up.
In the pre-dawn sky about a couple of hours before sunrise when Mars is about to set in the northwest, you will be able to see Venus, Saturn, and Mars spanning over 180 degrees across the sky with Venus just coming up in the southeast and Saturn high up in the southwest. Venus, Saturn, the Moon, and Mars will nearly trace the arc of the ecliptic, the projection of the Earth's orbit onto the sky that is also the path the Sun takes among the stars during the year. The ecliptic goes through all of the zodiac constellations plus Ophiuchus, the serpent bearer. Even though more of the ecliptic is in Ophiuchus than Scorpius, Ophiuchus is not included in the zodiac group because that would make 13 signs in the zodiac, a number that most astrology believers would not like.
Venus is now about to leave Ophiuchus and is drawing closer to Jupiter in Sagittarius. Throughout the next couple of weeks you will see Jupiter and Venus get closer and closer until February 1st they will be almost on top of each other—a spectacular conjunction in Sagittarius in the February 1st pre-dawn sky (see chart C). The thin sliver of a waning crescent Moon next to Antares in Scorpius will look like an arrowhead pointing to the conjunction.
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
last updated: January 20, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel