Hello Fellow OCA club members!
I plan to open the gate about 6:30 pm this Saturday, a half hour before the sun sets, just after 7 pm. We are having warm weather now, but it is supposed to cool off by the weekend and maybe even get cloudy (let's hope not). First time visitors might want to get to BSC while it is still light 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, you should drive in with your headlights off. The dirt 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 10.6) is now right inside constellation Auriga, the Charioteer, a little more than 93 million miles from Earth. Then there is Comet 17P/Holmes (Mag 5.9) leaving Perseus and heading towards Auriga, and now over 300 million miles from Earth. While looking around that area, we might spot the 595 mile wide asteroid Ceres (Mag 9), just 5 degrees south of the Pleiades star cluster (M45). We might also want to try and locate the the 120 mile wide asteroid Hebe (Mag 9) as it heads past and above the Beehive star cluster M44 (Mag 3.1), moving at about a quarter of a degree each night.
No Iridium flares or HST (Hubble Space Telescope) passes will take place Saturday evening. But we should see the magnificent ISS (International Space Station) pass low across the sky, glowing at a magnitude 0.9, starting at 20:01:23 (8:01 pm) 10 degrees high in the WNW direction. It will move up to 12 degrees NNW and then drop back down to 10 degrees N at 20:03:57 where it will slip into the shadow or the Earth.
Mars (Mag 0.7) keeps getting further from Earth, now over 118 million miles away and right in the body of the left (Castor side) Gemini Twin. It still shines with a nice reddish glow but only has an apparent diameter of just 9'. Saturn (Mag 0.3) will be up all Saturday evening just under the body of Leo the Lion. Saturn is now about 783 million miles from Earth and spans 20' with the rings spanning 45' east to west. Saturn has a family of over 60 moons with a handful that glow bright enough for us to see in small amateur telescopes. This Saturday, Titan (Mag 8.2) will be far out to the west of Saturn with Tethys (Mag 10.1) much nearer the planet. The other visible moons will be on the east side of Saturn, including Dione (Mag 10.3), Enceledas (Mag 11.6) and Rhea (Mag 9.6). The other planets, Jupiter (Mag -2.0), Venus (Mag -3.8), Mercury, Uranus (Mag 5.9), Neptune (Mag 8.0) and dwarf planet Pluto (Mag 14) can only be seen just before or at dawn.
For deep sky objects, maybe we should consider looking at some nebulas, which are large gaseous clouds from stars that have blown up. After millions of years of gravity pulling the gaseous clouds of particles into large clumps, some get so hot inside that nuclear fusion takes place causing new stars to light up. The Orion Nebula (Mag 4) is actually the middle bright object (not a star) in the Sword of Orion the Hunter and is well over 20 light years in diameter and 1,500 light years from Earth. We can easily see the four small stars (the Trapezium) at 75 power in the middle of The Orion Nebula (also known as M42) which are only a million years old. These stars are considered babies as the stars should burn for about a billion years. But they are big babies as each star is a thousand times bigger than our Sun.
Another smaller nebula, about 9 light years by 7 light years in size, is M43, just above M42 (The Orion Nebula) and also 1,500 light years away. This circular nebula has one bright Mag 6.9 star in its center which causes the gas to glow. This nebula may be hard to distinguish from M42 as they are both in the same field of view.
The Little Dumbbell Nebula (Mag 11), designated as M76 by Messier clear back in 1780, is very faint at a distance of 8,200 light years away. It spans 5 light years and the central star created in this nebula has a dim magnitude of 15.9. Only try to locate this nebula in dark moonless nights and even with a 4” refractor scope at 48X power, you should see a little two-lobed object even illuminated which does resemble a dumbbell weight.
Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters just because it was warmer this week as it will get cold as the night goes on. 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,