Hello Fellow OCA club members!
I plan to open the gate about 5 pm this Saturday a half hour before the sun sets at 5:30 pm. It should be pretty cold that evening with good seeing but maybe some clouds. 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. If you come in after dark, the road will be marked with red flashers and you can hold a flashlight out the drivers window to light up the road directly in front of your car.
Comet 17P/Holmes (Mag 4.9) is so big & diffuse now, it is very hard to see except in the darkest skies. It is now 233 million miles away, inside Perseus near bright star Algol. Another comet, 46P/Wirtanan (Mag 9.2) is gliding along in Pices in a northeast direction heading towards Aries. It is just 86 million miles from earth and passed by 10 magnitude spiral galaxy NGC524 February 5th. We might also want to try and locate the 6th asteroid discovered in 1847, the 120 mile wide Hebe (Mag 9) in eastern Cancer as it heads towards the Beehive star cluster M44 (Mag 3.1).
This is the first BSC star party that will not have an iridium flare or any bright satellite pass over like the HST or the ISS since I have been reporting these events. But that is all right as there will be plenty to see in the dark night sky after the moon sets about 8 pm.
Mars (Mag -0.4) is getting smaller and further from Earth, now 75 million miles away between the two stars (Beta & Zeta) that mark the horns of Taurus the Bull. It still shines with a reddish glow but don't expect to see any detail on the planet which has an apparent diameter of just 11". Saturn (Mag 0.3) will rise about 6:50 pm Saturday evening just under the body of Leo the Lion, 7 degrees from bright star Regulus. It is heading towards opposition February 24th when it will be closest to Earth (771 million miles) and appears biggest (20") and brightest. The only other planet we might see Saturday evening is Uranus (Mag 5.9) just after the sun goes down in Aquarius but we must hurry as it sets around 7:45 pm. The other planets Jupiter (Mag -1.7), Venus (Mag -3.9), Mercury, Neptune (Mag 8.0) and dwarf planet Pluto (Mag 14) can only be seen around dawn.
There are a lot of bright star clusters that orbit the Milky Way Galaxy which are tight spherical groups of stars. Probably the most famous star clusters is Pleiades (Mag 1.2), sometimes called the Seven Sisters. Binoculars or a small telescope are a great way to view these star clusters. Another star cluster containing about 100 stars is M38 (Mag 6.4), 2,800 light years away up in constellation Auriga. It has a span of at least 17 light years and can be found inside constellation Auriga as it forms the point of an isosceles triangle with Beta & Theta stars. Just under M38 is anther star cluster M36 (Mag 6.0), 3,700 light years away that contains about 60 stars which span about 13 light years. On the other side of Auriga Beta & Theta stars is M37 (Mag 5.6), another star cluster 4,200 light years away containing about 150 stars that span about 29 light years.
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,