Bakersfield Night Sky – July 4, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Happy Birthday, America! I give thanks that I'm a citizen of the United States of America and that I live in a nation of great natural and especially people resources. Sure, there are plenty of things that could be better in our country and we have plenty of challenges, but the ordinary people of this nation like you and me actually have the power to make a difference. That's a good reason to celebrate our country's birthday! So what's in store for this evening's festivities?
Sunset is at 8:14 PM. The eastern sky will already be lit up by a very bright Gibbous Moon (Full Moon on the 6th). By the time the sky is dark enough to see fireworks in the sky, Saturn will be about a third of the way up in the western sky (below Leo). Saturn will set at 11:40 PM. Before then (after about 11 PM) you'll be able to see the larger jovian planet Jupiter rising in the east (next to Capricornus).
Chart A shows the evening sky looking south-southeast at around 9:30 PM. The fireworks at the BC Memorial Stadium should still be going on. Scorpius with the bright red supergiant Antares at its heart. Antares is so large that it would fill up the inner solar system out beyond Jupiter's orbit. To the left of Scorpius is Sagittarius, the brightest part of which looks like a teapot. Off the tip of the spout of the teapot is the direction to the center of our galaxy where a supermassive black hole about 4 million times the mass of our Sun resides. A lot of galactic fireworks are going on in near there but it is unfortunately blocked from our view in the visible band by a lot of interstellar dust. The dust doesn't block the infrared and radio energy though.
High overhead can you see the butterfly (or bow-tie) shape of the main part of Hercules (see chart B)? The one half of the butterfly/bow-tie part of Hercules is sometimes called the Keystone because of its shape. The bright orange star, Arcturus shines at the end of Bootes to the right (if facing south) of Hercules? Bootes looks something like a kite on its side. To the left of Hercules, the bright white star, Vega, is at one end of the tiny constellation Lyra.
In the pre-dawn sky Jupiter will be high in the south (see chart C). Venus and Mars are visible low in the east with Mars to the right of Venus and both are below the Pleiades in Taurus. Speaking of Mars, have you received the annual "Mars as large as the Full Moon" email? Sigh! It makes the rounds every spring promising an extra-close Mars in August. Mars was especially close in August 2003 (the year when the chain email started) and the email assumes that Mars is stationary because the email continues to give August as the month of closest approach. Mars is, of course, moving in its orbit so it takes the Earth a while to catch up to it again. We pass by Mars every 26 months. The last close approach of Mars was in December 2007 and the next close approach will be the end of January 2010. Because of Mars' elliptical orbit, it will still be fairly far from us in January. We'll need to wait until July 2018 for another really close approach of Mars. Another thing the chain email glosses over is that Mars at close approach appears as big as the Full Moon when Mars is seen IN A TELESCOPE. For more about the Mars hoax email, see the page on the Snopes site: http://www.snopes.com/science/astronomy/brightmars.asp . In fact before you forward any email about some extraordinary event or thing, check to be sure it isn't an "urban legend" at www.snopes.com .
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: June 15, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel