Bakersfield Night Sky – March 7, 2009
By Nick Strobel
Venus is plunging toward the evening Sun in the west this month passing nearly in front of the Sun on March 27th. As it gets closer to the Sun on our sky, those of you with good eyes may be able to see the thin crescent shape without any help. The rest of us will see the crescent bigger (vertically) but thinner in binoculars. Turn around to face East and you will be able to see Saturn below the back end of Leo (see chart A). Tomorrow night Saturn will be at "opposition" so that it is directly opposite the Sun on our sky. That is also when we are closest to Saturn and therefore will appear largest through a telescope. It will still be a great sight on March 28th when a number of telescopes will be set out at Foothill High School for Astronomy Day (& Night!). The chart also shows the position of the binocular object, the dwarf planet Ceres discussed in my previous column.
A Waxing Gibbous Moon is just below the Beehive Cluster in Cancer this evening and reaches full phase when it passes below Saturn on March 10th. Behind you in the west will be the more spectacular cluster the Pleiades about halfway up in the western sky.
Early morning risers will be able to spot the very bright Jupiter low in the eastern sky about half an hour before sunrise. Over the month of March Jupiter will climb higher and higher in the eastern sky. Mercury and Mars will probably too low for us to see them even closer to the eastern horizon than Jupiter (see chart B).
The season of spring officially starts on March 20th at 4:44 AM Pacific Daylight Time when the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading northward. On this day the Sun will rise due East and set due West. Over the next few months (up to June 21st), the Sun will rise progressively further and further north of east and set further and further north of west and the length of daylight will increase. And speaking of daylight: do not forget to set your clocks one hour ahead ("spring forward" vs. "fall back") this evening for daylight savings time!
Astronomy Day put on by the Kern Astronomical Society and the Foothill Astronomy Club will be held at Foothill High School on March 28th. There will be free afternoon sessions on solar observing, solar system scale model and telescope clinics followed by stargazing at night (check out Saturn in their telescopes!). See www.kernastro.org for more details.
Check out the Planetarium’s homepage for what will be the subject of the March planetarium shows for the general public on the evening of March 20th and afternoon of March 21st. I am hoping that the new show sponsored by the International Planetarium Society called "Two Small Pieces of Glass" gets here in time to show it at the March shows.
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: March 1, 2009
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel