Hello Fellow OCA club members!
The first BSC star party in 2008 is scheduled for this Saturday...so come on out and start the New Year off right. We are planning on having a number of guests from the Beginner's classes, etc. I will give an astronomy presentation and night sky tour and then turn them loose to mingle and see what other OCA members are viewing.
Sunset is about 5 pm so I plan to open the gate about 4:30 pm. First time visitors might want to get to BSC while it is still light out so they can find their way down the dirt road and into the parking area. Remember that you take the 2nd farm gate on the left after turning on Black Star Canyon Road. Weather reports indicate no rain, clear sky and cold temperatures.
Comet 17P/Holmes (Mag 4.2) has brightened dramatically and can now be seen again with the naked eye. It is now 186 million miles away up in Perseus near bright star Algol. Another comet 8P/Tuttle (Mag 5.8) has traveled south from up near the north star Polaris to the area near variable star Mira in constellation Cetus. It is now only 26 million miles from earth and moves about 4 degrees south every night. We might also want to try and locate large (580 mile wide) asteroid Ceres (Mag 8.3) in Cetus which right now is 215 million miles away.
We should see the Hubble Space Telescope (Mag 4.1) pass over starting at 6:37 pm WSW at 10 degrees. At 6:40 pm it will reach 17 degrees high SSW and then slowly glide down to 10 degrees SSE at 6:43 where it will fall into earth's shadow and fade out of view. We also will see satellite Iridium 66 (Mag -0) at 6:57 pm 29 degrees high in the SSE (166 degrees) that will flare up to Mag -7.
Mars (Mag -1.3) will steal the night sky show Saturday evening blazing bright and red as it glides through Tarus the Bull this month. If seeing conditions are good, we might see the icy Martian poles and some orange and brown plateaus regions. It is now just 59 million miles away but by the end of February, its size will dwindle. Saturn (Mag 0.5) will rise at 8:49 pm and be just under Leo as though the Lion is laying on it. This year will be that last to view Saturn's rings as they are narrowing and will be edge on in 2009. Moon Titan (Mag 8.5) will be farthest away and west of Saturn. Mercury (Mag -0.8) might be seen as the sun goes down low in the southwestern sky.
Uranus (Mag 5.89) will still be in Aquarius and sets about 9:30 pm. Neptune (Mag 8.) is still drifting along slowly in Capricornus setting just after 7:30 pm. The other planets Jupiter (Mag -1.7), Venus (Mag 3.9) and dwarf planet Pluto (Mag 14) can only be seen around dawn.
Besides Comet 17P Holmes, there are two Messier objects in constellation Perseus. M34 (Mag 5.2) is an open cluster of about 60 stars that can be seen with the naked eye in real dark skies. It is just one binocular view west of bright star Algol and is about 1,400 light years away from earth. Much more challenging is finding small planetary nebula M76 (Mag 10.1) which is 8,200 light years away. It is within a degree of Phi Persei (Mag 3.5) and is 2 degrees from 3rd Magnitude star 51 Andromedae. This is one of the toughest objects to find on the entire Messier list.
It should be pretty cold again this Saturday evening so wear warm clothes and bring your gloves, coats & sweaters. After you set up your telescope, there are three picnic tables where you can sit and drink hot chocolate or coffee you might bring, while waiting for it to get dark. Please remember to cart off all your trash as there are no garbage cans at BSC. Hope to see you there.
Your OCA star party host,