Black Star Canyon star party Saturday 12/20/2008
By: Steve Short
December 17, 2008 1:00AM PDT
Views: 4981

Hello Fellow OCA club members!
This Saturday I plan to open the gate at 4:15 pm, about a half hour before the sun sets. Today's weather report for this Saturday indicates it will be clear and very cool. The Moon won't rise until after midnight so we should have a nice dark evening for observing even dim objects. 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 driver’s window to light up the road directly in front of your car. 


Did you hear about the tool bag that slipped away from an astronaut on the International Space Station? Well, it will be visible in binoculars this Saturday morning when it will be a magnitude 5.5 at 5:29:47 AM 53 degrees high WSW and will rise to 73 degrees NW at 5:30:19 and then drop to 10 degrees NE at 5:33:12. The tool bag orbit will slowly decay and it will someday fall into the earth’s atmosphere and burn up like a meteor.


There will be no visible evening ISS (International Space Station) passes on Saturday but there will be two that morning. The 1st pass (Mag  0.3) will be at 4:46:45 AM 21 degrees altitude ESE and will rise to 21 degrees ESE by 4:46:45 and then drop back down to 10 degrees ENE at 4:48:23. The 2nd pass (Mag  -0.8) will be at 6:18:58 AM 10 degrees altitude W and will rise to 20 degrees NW by 6:21:13 and then drop back down to 10 degrees NNE at 6:23:29. There will be no visible evening passes of the HST (Hubble Space Telescope) but there will be one Iridium Flare Saturday evening.  Iridium satellite #34 will become visible at 5:33:01 PM 28 degrees high SSW (194 degrees) where it will go from a magnitude -3 to -7.  


~Mercury (Mag -0.7) sets about 5:30 PM and be hard to see in the solar glare this Saturday. It will be 12 degrees below and to the right of Jupiter. It is 125 million miles from Earth in constellation Sagittarius.

 ~Venus (Mag -4.1) sets just after 8 PM, in constellation Capricornus and is very bright and easily seen shortly after sunset. It is traveling well above Jupiter now after being just two degrees away from the big planet at the end of November. It is now about 83 million miles from Earth.

~Mars (Mag 1.3) is in Constellation Ophiuchus and now is about 229 million miles away.  Mars sets about 4:30 PM and is low and impossible to see in the glare of sunset on its way to conjunction with the Sun on December 4th.

~Jupiter (Mag -1.8) sets about 7 PM as it continues to creep above constellation Sagittarius, high above the “Teapot’s” handle. It now is about 553 million miles away and on Saturday all 4 Galilean Moons will be clearly visible in a telescope. Callisto will be far to the left of Jupiter in my scope while Ganymede (the largest moon in the entire solar system) will be mid way between Callisto and the big planet. Europa & IO will be next to each other and close to Jupiter on the right.

 ~Saturn, (Mag 1.0) rises at 11:20 PM so is finally visible in the evening sky this month. It is about 860 million miles from Earth, still moving slowly below the body of Leo the Lion. Despite pulling closer to Earth during December, it will fade slightly because the angle of the rings to our line of sight is decreasing. Next year the rings will be seen (or not) edge on.

~ Uranus (Mag 5.9) will be up when the sun sets, in constellation Aquarius this week, 1.878 billion miles away and won’t set until about 11:15 PM. It shows up as a blue-green disc in a telescope.

~ Neptune (Mag 7.9) will also be up when the sun sets this week in constellation Capricornus. It is about 2.843 billion miles away and won’t set until about 9 PM. It is seen as a bluish disc in a telescope.




The Ursid Meteor shower peaks December 22nd so we should see some Saturday night, that radiate from the Ursa Minor (Little Dipper) constellation. 

Now Comet C/2008 A1 McNaught (Mag 10.5) is in constellation Hercules and is 211 million miles from Earth.

There is another much brighter magnitude 7 Comet 85P/Boethin between Aquarius & Pisces traveling towards Pisces.  

The magnitude 7.4 Minor Planet 4 Vesta has moved to the middle of the knot of Pisces the Fishes. This asteroid has a period of 3.63 years and is 174 million miles away. Just below Aries and the Ecliptic is a magnitude 9.4  Minor Planet 9 Metis. It has a period of 3.69 years and is about 124 million miles away.


Deep Sky:

This week let’s look above the Triangulum constellation for a star cluster, double star and galaxy that are about 10 degrees apart in the Andromeda constellation.


NGC 752 (Mag 5.7) is an open star cluster with about 60 stars of magnitude 8.96 or fainter. It is 1,300 light years away and estimated to be 1.1 billion years old. You can find NGC 752 by looking about 4 degrees NW above the bright Beta star in the Tiangulum. You can also see the pretty yellow-orange double star 56 Andromedae at the southwest corner of the star cluster.


M33 (Mag 5.7), the Pinwheel Galaxy, is a spiral galaxy 2.2 million light years away and seen face on. It is 40,000 light years in diameter and not far from the famous M31 Andromeda Galaxy. It is located 4.3 degrees WNW of Alpha Trianguli (the Triangulum point) and is a challenge to see in our city night sky.



Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters because it may get very cold (35 F) as the night approaches midnight when we close.   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,


| Search