Bakersfield Night Sky – July 5, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Mars is now just 2.5 degrees (about the distance between two knuckles held at arms’s length) to the left of Saturn in the evening western sky and closing. Mars will pass just below Saturn on July 10th (see chart A). The day before that closest approach, Jupiter is directly opposite the Sun in our sky so it blazes brightly all night long on the left side of Sagittarius. Mars will speed by Saturn and July 19th will be the last night that both will fit in the same field of view of typical binoculars. This evening (July 5th) is also a good time to start trying to catch Venus just a little left (east) of the Sun after sunset. It will set just 30 minutes after the Sun but by the end of the month it will be setting 50 minutes after the Sun.
Besides being our nation’s birthday, July 4th was also the day that the Earth was farthest from the Sun (“at aphelion”). As the Moon orbits the Earth, the Earth wobbles about a balance point so that the center of the Earth is directly opposite that balance point from the center of the Moon. July 4th was also just a couple days after New Moon so the Earth was a little farther from the Sun at this aphelion than other aphelions this decade. Now our season of summer is so hot NOT because of our distance from the Sun but because of the steep angle of the sunlight hitting Kern County and the length of daylight. For more on the seasons, see the third chapter of my online astronomy book www.astronomynotes.com.
In addition to planets, the late evening sky is also a good time to view all sorts of clusters, nebulae, etc. in the southern sky because the direction of our galaxy’s center is northwest of the spout in the “Teapot” part of Sagittarius. Scan the area of Sagittarius and Scorpius with your binoculars. Chart B shows the location of some of the brighter clusters and nebulae to look for. Finally, about a third way up in the eastern sky look for the “Summer Triangle” made of Vega, Deneb, and Altair, the three brightest stars in Lyra, Cygnus, and Aquila, respectively (see chart C). See the planetarium’s website for additional charts.
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 10, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel