Hello Fellow OCA club members!
I plan to open the gate about 5:15 pm this Saturday, a half hour before the sun sets around 5:45 pm. I expect a fairly cool evening with a dark clear sky, but bring warm clothes to stay comfy. 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, 46P/Wirtanen (Mag 9) is leaving Aries gliding along in a northeast direction about 1 degree a night heading towards Taurus and will end up in Auriga by month end. This comet was discovered 60 years ago and takes 5.4 years to loop from just outside Earth's orbit to just inside Jupiter's. This dangerous orbit keeps getting changed by Jupiter's powerful gravity so it could someday slip into an Earth-crossing orbit and slam into our planet. While looking around that area, we might spot the 595 mile wide asteroid Ceres (Mag 9), below Aries, moving eastward at about 1/2 degree a night. It will be just 5 degrees south of the Pleiades star cluster by month end. We might also want to try and locate the the 120 mile wide asteroid Hebe (Mag 9) in western Cancer as it heads towards the Beehive star cluster M44 (Mag 3.1) at about a quarter of a degree each night. This Saturday Hebe will be about 3 degrees east of M44.
We saw an iridium flare tonight at the outreach at South Elementary school in Anaheim and this Saturday, Iridium satellite #95 (Mag -5) will pass over Black Star Canyon at 6:40 pm at a height of 50 degrees SSW (167 degrees). It will flare up to a magnitude -8 which is very bright.
Mars (Mag 0.2) keep getting smaller and further from Earth, now almost 93 million miles away and crosses from Taurus into Gemini March 4th. 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 9". Saturn (Mag 0.2) will be up all Saturday evening just under the body of Leo the Lion. Saturn shines a full magnitude brighter than star Regulus in Leo and reached opposition February 24th. It is still about 771 million miles from Earth and spans 20" with the rings spanning 45" east to west. All Saturn's moons will be fairly close to the planet this Saturday, Titan (Mag 8.2) will be furthest to the west with Dione (Mag 10.3), Tethys (Mag 10.1) & Enceledas (Mag 11.6) while Rhea (Mag 9.6) will be on the east side of the planet. The other planets, Jupiter (Mag -1.7), Venus (Mag -3.9), Mercury, Uranus (Mag 5.9), Neptune (Mag 8.0) and dwarf planet Pluto (Mag 14) can only be seen around dawn.
For deep sky objects, maybe we will be able to see bright star cluster M35 (Mag 5.1) in constellation Gemini. This open cluster contains about 200 stars, the brightest shining at a magnitude 8.1, spans 23 light years and is 2,800 light years from Earth. Its age is estimated to be 110 million years old. As a bonus, there is another small star cluster, NGC 2158, just a little way from the center of M35. M35 can be found making the right angle of a small triangle with the last two 3rd & 4th magnitude “feet” stars in Gemini.
How about trying to find M46 (Mag 6.1) just outside constellation Canis Major. This open cluster contains about 100 stars, the brightest at magnitude 8.7, spans 42 light years and is 5,400 light years away. Its age is estimated to be 300 million years old. There is a planetary nebula NGC 2438 right in the heart of this star cluster. M46 can be found by pointing a telescope twice the distance that Gamma Canis Majoris (the bright star to the right of Sirius) is from Sirius along the line formed by these two stars. Don’t confuse it with the brighter M47 (Mag 4.4) open cluster nearby.
Right in that same area is bright open star cluster M47 (Mag 4.4) that contains about 30 stars, the brightest shining at magnitude 5.7, spanning 16 light years and is 1,800 light years away. Its age is estimated to be 78 million years old. Just north of M47, about a Moon’s width away is another star cluster called NGC 2423. You should be able to get M46, M47 & NGC 2423 all in the same view in a low power telescope eyepiece that has a 1 degree field of view. Try finding these star clusters in binoculars when the moon is down on a dark sky night
Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters just because it is getting warmer this week. After you set up your telescope, there are three picnic tables where you can sit and eat food 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,