Bakersfield Night Sky – May 3, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Tonight ends the retrograde (westward) drift of Saturn. Saturn is as close to the brightest star in Leo, Regulus, as it is going to get. Saturn is 2.2 degrees from Regulus, or about distance of two of your hand's knuckles when you hold your hand at arm's length. Look for it high in the south-southeast sky in the evening. Saturn is pretty pokey so it will remain close to Regulus for another few weeks. On Sunday evening, Mars will make a straight line with the two brightest stars in Gemini called Pollux and Castor, as it continues to draw closer to Saturn. Just after sunset, look for bright Mercury low in the west-northwest sky. It has now moved past the Pleiades cluster in Taurus and will be at its greatest distance from the Sun on our sky on May 13th. After May 18th, Mercury will fade quickly. The Moon will return to our evening sky on Monday, May 5th as a very thin crescent just east of the Sun. On the following evening, May 6th, it will be just above bright Mercury---a nice view in binoculars (see the first attached chart).
In the early morning sky very bright Jupiter has been drifting eastward among the stars of Sagittarius in the southeastern sky. It will begin its retrograde drift back toward the "Teapot" part of Sagittarius May 9th. On May 14th, Jupiter will rise before Mars sets so if you have a flat horizon, you may be able to see the bright, outer naked eye planets, Jupiter-Saturn-Mars spanning 170 degrees across the sky from east to west (see the second attached chart).
This weekend will find me and nearly a million other people looking at all of the cool stuff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) during their annual Open House event. JPL is the agency responsible for many of the planetary spacecraft missions such as the Voyager, Mars Exploration Rovers, Cassini, Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter, Dawn (among many others) as well as non-solar system missions like the WFPC-2 that saved the Hubble Space Telescope mission, Spitzer Space Telescope and a whole host of spacecraft studying the Earth. At the Open House you can talk with the engineers and scientists working on the various projects as well as seeing some really cool stuff (or did I already say that?). This is the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. satellite, in which JPL played a crucial role, so I'm sure JPL is going to have a big bash to celebrate it. See www.jpl.nasa.gov for more on this event.
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: April 28, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel