Bakersfield Night Sky – May 17, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Saturn remains close to the brightest star in Leo, Regulus, high in the southern evening sky. It is slowly moving eastward away from Regulus and will be overtaken by the much faster Mars in early July. Mars is now well past Gemini and is in the much dimmer constellation Cancer (the Crab), that is between the brighter constellations, Gemini and Leo. At the heart of Cancer is a fuzzy patch that resolves into a nice open star cluster with binoculars called the Beehive cluster (also called Praesepe). It is 577 light years away and is “only” 730 million years old. If you are curious about how we can date star clusters, then look up “main sequence turnoff” in my online astronomy textbook at www.astronomynotes.com. On Thursday, May 22nd, Mars will be skimming the northern edge of the Beehive cluster so that should make a nice view through binoculars (see first attached chart). Three days later Mars will receive another visitor from Earth as the Phoenix Lander is scheduled to touch down near Mars’ north pole on May 25th at 4:53 PDT. It will investigate the water ice and soil there.
Just after sunset, look for bright Mercury low in the west-northwest sky. It is now between the horns of Taurus. After tomorrow evening, Mercury will fade quickly as it moves between us and the Sun and gets lost in the glare of the Sun. The Moon will be full on Monday, the 19th. This is the most distant full Moon of the year and is a “Blue Moon”, according to the older definition that is third Full Moon of a season that has four Full Moons. Seasons usually have just three Full Moons. The next Blue Moon will be on November 21, 2010. The other newer definition of “Blue Moon” being the second full Moon of a calendar month is actually due to a mistake in the popular magazine, Sky and Telescope 62 years ago. However, the other definition is now so commonly used that we can’t take back the mistake.
In the early morning sky very bright Jupiter is slowly moving retrograde (westward) back toward the “Teapot” part of Sagittarius. A waning gibbous Moon will pass below it on Saturday, May 24th (see second attached chart).
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: May 12, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel