Bakersfield Night Sky – September 6, 2008
By Nick Strobel
Last month, the planetary trio was Venus, Mercury and Saturn. This month the trio is Venus, Mercury, and Mars. The three are visible low in west after sunset (see chart A) though you may need a pair of binoculars to pick out Mercury and Mars from all of the glow of the city lights. All three will appear in the same field of your binoculars from September 3rd through the 19th. On September 18th, the bright star, Spica, in the constellation Virgo, joins the show and all four are visible together in binoculars for a couple of nights.
This past summer the very bright Jupiter has been undergoing retrograde motion (drifting westward among the stars instead of the usual eastward motion). It stops its retrograde motion on Sunday night just above the handle of the “Teapot” part of Sagittarius (see chart B, highlighted in orange). Look for it about a third of the way up in the sky at around 8 PM. Tonight an almost first quarter Moon shines to the right of Jupiter in the constellation Scorpius, just below the heart of the scorpion, Antares. A waxing gibbous Moon passes below Jupiter on September 9th. The Harvest Moon (full moon closest to the autumn equinox) is on September 15th.
Since downtown Milky Way (the galaxy’s center) is in the direction of Sagittarius, that area of the sky is rich with a number of nebulae and star clusters. Only some of the brighter objects are shown in chart B including the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, and Eagle Nebula. Those three gas clouds are star formation factories. The iconic Hubble Space Telescope image “Pillars of Creation” is from the heart of the Eagle Nebula. You will need to wait until the Moon gets out of the way to look for the objects in binoculars or a telescope. Better viewing will happen in the latter half of the month when the Moon is well past full phase (third quarter is Sept 22nd).
Tickets are selling quickly for the Planetarium’s September show, “Dawn of the Space Age”. Tickets are available only at the BC Ticket Office and will not be sold at the door. See the planetarium’s website www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/planetarium for information about the show and maps.
Save the night sky and save energy (and money) by keeping all the light from street and building lights shining down toward the ground where we need it. Check out www.darksky.org for what you can do to shield your lights.
Director of the William M Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College
Author of the award-winning website www.astronomynotes.com
last updated: September 2, 2008
Webpage contact: Nick Strobel