Saturday 03/21/09 Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve Short
March 18, 2009 1:13AM PDT
Views: 4503

Hello Fellow OCA club members!

This Saturday I plan to open the gate at 6:30 pm, about a half hour before the sun sets. Today's weather report for this Saturday indicates it will be sunny and clear. We will have a 3rd Quarter Moon Wednesday and are heading for a New Moon March 26 so Saturday night should have a nice dark sky for observing 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.


There will be no visible evening passes of the ISS (International Space Station), the ISS Toolbag, the HST (Hubble Space Telescope) or any Iridium flares this Saturday evening.


~Mercury (Mag -0.7) sets about 6 PM so will not be seen this Saturday evening. It is 124 million miles from Earth in constellation Aquarius. It can be seen in the early morning as it rises about 6:40 AM.

~Venus (Mag -4.2) sets about 8:15 PM, in constellation Pisces and is very bright and easily seen shortly before sunset. It is just a sliver so looks like a thin crescent moon in a telescope and now is about 27 million miles from Earth. Venus is also visible in the morning sky as it rises at 7 AM due to it’s conjunction with the Sun.

~Mars (Mag 1.2) is in Constellation Aquarius and now is about 207 million miles away. Mars sets about 5 PM so will not be seen this Saturday evening. It rises at 6 AM so can be seen low on the horizon 30 minutes before sunrise.

~Jupiter (Mag -1.9) sets about 3:45 PM in constellation Capricornus and now is about 539 million miles away. It rises about 5 AM so can be seen a few hours before dawn but we won't see the big planet Saturday evening.

~Saturn, (Mag 0.5) rises at 6 PM so will be up when the Sun sets Saturday. It is about 782 million miles from Earth and is about 6 degrees below the hind end of Leo the Lion. The rings are tilted just 2 or 3 degrees but will widen over the next few months and then reverse course tilting edge-on by late summer. The moons also orbit edge-on so are seen more in line now and sometimes seen in the rings. Brightest moon Titan will be east of Saturn on Saturday as will Rhea fairly close by and Tethys will be very close to the planet. Moons Dione & Enceladus will be to the west and very close to Saturn.

~ Uranus (Mag 5.9) will set by 6:30 PM in constellation Aquarius this week so cannot be seen Saturday evening. It shows up as a blue-green disc in a telescope. A noteworthy event happened February 27th when the planet reached aphelion (the farthest from the sun, about 1.868 billion miles) for the 1st time in 84 years.

~ Neptune (Mag 8.0) will be in constellation Capricornus about 2.871 billion miles away this week. It is seen as a bluish disc in a telescope but we will not see it this Saturday as it sets about 4:25 PM.



Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin (Mag 7) will be deep in the middle of Constellation Gemini this Saturday evening. We should find it directly between the two stars that begin the Twin’s legs about 87 million miles from Earth. This will be our last chance to see this comet as it pulls away from the Sun and will not pass this way again.

Another dimmer Comet C/2008 T2 (Mag 9.7) is passing between Auriga and Perseus so we might be able to spot it Saturday evening even though it is 161 million miles away.

Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 7.1), the very first asteroid ever discovered, is floating over the center of Leo the Lion‘s back at the same height as the top of the Lion‘s head. This asteroid has a period of 4.6 years and is about 147 million miles away. It was discovered back in 1801 and is the largest asteroid we have found having a diameter of 580 miles.

Did you hear about the 100 foot wide asteroid that was discovered Friday February 27th named 2009 DD45 which came flying past Earth Monday March 2nd three days later just missing our planet by 48,800 miles? They knew within an hour of its discovery that it would miss Earth but if it had hit, it would have probably leveled 800 square miles.

Deep Sky:

How about trying to split double star Castor this Saturday into magnitude 1.9 Castor A and 3.0 magnitude Castor B at about 100X in a 5” scope like an ETX125 (hey-that is what I use). This was the very first double star ever discovered which is attributed to William Herschel in 1802. The stars orbiting period seems to be about 450 years. You may also see very dim magnitude 9 red dwarf Castor C south of the main pair.

While we are in Gemini, why not drop below Pollux looking for the Delta star where that twin’s two legs start and go left a few degrees to NGC 2392 (Mag 9.2) which is the very famous Eskimo Nebula. This is a planetary nebula that at about 200X will look a bit like an Eskimo if you can see the 10.5 magnitude center star which is supposed to be his nose. An O III filter helps a lot.

Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters because it may get fairly cold 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,


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