Bakersfield Night Sky – July 18, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Saturn is our early evening planet visible low in the west below Leo when the sky gets dark enough to see some stars. As Saturn sets turn around and see if you can see the very bright Jupiter rising in the east. They will be both visible at the same time for about half an hour starting around 10 PM. Jupiter is just left of Capricornus but the stars of Capricornus are probably too dim to see from the city. Higher in the eastern sky you will see the three bright stars of the "Summer Triangle": Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra, Altair in Aquila. The "Summer Triangle" is outlined with the green dashed lines in chart A below.
Chart A also shows the area of the sky now being examined non-stop for 3.5 years by the Kepler spacecraft that was launched by NASA in March. Kepler is looking for planets by looking for tell-tale drops in the starlight as a planet passes in front of the star. The likelihood that a planet's orbit will be nearly edge-on with our line of sight so that it passes in front of the star as seen from Earth is very small. To improve the odds of finding some planets, Kepler is looking at A LOT of stars—100,000 of them non-stop for 3.5 years. Why go to all this trouble? Because this technique is the only one we have now with today's technology that could detect a planet with a diameter as small as the Earth in our local part of the galaxy. The other planet detection methods are great for finding big planets like Jupiter or Saturn but they cannot detect something as small as the Earth. It is the small planets like the Earth that are more likely to have life on them (at least life that we could possibly detect from the Earth).
In the pre-dawn sky Jupiter will be high in the south-southwest. A beautiful Waning Crescent Moon will be rising in the east at the same time the very bright Venus rises a bit to the right of the Moon. Mars rises before Venus and it is below the Pleiades in Taurus---see chart B. The Moon is new on July 22nd and it will be exactly lined up with the Sun to make a total solar eclipse. The eclipse will be visible on the other side of the Earth and it will be the longest total solar eclipse that anyone alive today will see in their lifetime. Totality will last up to 6.5 minutes in some places. I've saved my money to travel to China to see it. I'm praying for clear skies!
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 27, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel