Saturday January 28th Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve & Bonnie Short
January 25, 2012 2:20AM PDT
Views: 3410

BSC Star Party Notice  - Saturday January 28th, 2012


Hello Fellow OCA club members!


This Saturday, I plan to open the gate around 4:45 pm, which is about a half hour before the sun sets. The weather report for this Saturday indicates that Orange County will be sunny, clear and warm. But keep an eye on the OCA website where I will post a notice on the home page should the star party be cancelled for any reason.


The small 1st quarter moon, just to the right of Jupiter, will not set until 11 pm but we should still have fairly dark skies Saturday. 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 (the 1st farm gate is the Xmas Tree farm). 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.


Warning:  No Pets allowed!  (This is an Irvine Ranch Conservancy property rule)



  The ISS (International Space Station) will not make any visible passes Saturday evening.

  The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) will make two visible passes Saturday evening with the first 2.1 magnitude pass starting at 6:19:11 pm 10 degrees high SW rising to 30 degrees high SSE at 6:22:55 and then dropping down to 17 degrees ESE at 6:25:28.  The second HST 3.6 magnitude pass will start at 8:00:17 pm 10 degrees high WSW and then rise to 16 degrees WSW at 8:01:15 where it will then slip into Earth’s shadow and fade out of sight.

  We will not see any Iridium flares Saturday evening but I am sure we will see a few dim satellites pass overhead as we are looking up in the sky.

Planets & Pluto:

~Mercury, (Mag -0.7) sets at 4:30 pm so won’t be seen this Saturday evening and  now also cannot be seen in the morning sky even though it rises a half hour before dawn. It is about 131 million miles from Earth in constellation Sagittarius with a 5.7” diameter disk.

~Venus, (Mag -4.0) should be seen Saturday evening as it does not set until about 8 pm in constellation Aquarius, and will be about 15 degrees above the horizon 1 hour after sunset. Venus is now about 107 million miles from Earth, is 75% lit with a 15” disk.

 ~Mars, (Mag -0.4) is now in Constellation Virgo rising about 9 pm. It is about 78 million miles away with over an 11” disk so small scopes can now see some detail on the red planet like the white north polar cap and maybe some dusky markings on the planet’s surface.

~Jupiter, (Mag -2.2) will rise about 11 am in constellation Pisces so will be high in the sky when the sun sets Saturday evening. It now is about 458 million miles from Earth getting a little farther every day. It will outshine any other point of light in the sky, after Venus sets, and now has shrunk to a diameter of 39”. We should see moon Callisto far East of the big planet while moon Europa will be half as close. Moon Io will be to the west of Jupiter and in transit starting about 7 pm while largest moon Ganymede will be farthest west.

~Saturn, (Mag 0.6) will be in constellation Virgo this Saturday but won’t rise until almost midnight so don’t expect to see it at the star party.  Saturn is about 890 million miles away slowly moving closer to Earth. Saturn’s globe measures 18” and the rings span 36” and tilt 15 degrees to our line of sight. That is the healthy tilt so will provide observers with a good look at the dark Cassini Division that separates the two brightest rings. Largest moon Titan will be far East of Saturn while moons Rhea & Tethys will be above (North) and just east with moons Enceladus & Dione just east and below Saturn.

~ Uranus, (Mag 5.9) will be visible as the sun sets this week in constellation Pisces so can be seen Saturday evening at BSC until it sets about 9:45 pm. It shows up as a small 3.4” blue-green disc in a telescope. It is about 1.962 billion miles away, moving further from Earth. Uranus is easy to find using the two stars on the eastern edge of the Great Square of Pegasus and look along that line about 15 degrees south.

~ Neptune, (Mag 8.0) is in constellation Aquarius, about 2.873 billion miles away this week slowly moving farther from Earth. It is seen as a bluish gray 2.2” disc in a telescope and we should be able to see it at BSC this Saturday evening, as it doesn’t set until just before 7:15 pm.

 ~ Pluto, (Mag 14.1) sets at 3:20 pm so cannot be seen Saturday evening.  It is 3.073 billion miles from Earth in constellation Sagittarius slowly getting closer to Earth. Since it is so dim, you will probably need a 10” or larger telescope to see it visually when it rises about 5 am.  The 2011 July issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine shows the path Pluto is following on page 64.



The Quadrantid meteor shower peaked January 4th but competed with a waxing gibbous Moon which drowned out some faint meteors.  The radiant was near Bootes and one would expect to see 120 meteors per hour. We normally see a few stray meteors at every BSC star party even when no meteor shower is expected.



The magnitude 7.2 Comet C/2009 P1 Garradd is in the southern section of constellation Hercules so might be viewed this Saturday evening before 8 pm. The comet is now heading north and if it brightens as expected, it will become visible to the naked eye in early 2012. It is now 153 million miles from Earth and can be found one third of the way between M13 and Vega. The 2011 November issue of Sky & Telescope Magazine shows the path this comet is following through February 6th on page 52.


The magnitude 7.4 Comet P/2011 Y1 Levy is in the middle section of constellation Cetus, near variable star Mira so might be viewed this Saturday evening. It is now 22 million miles from Earth and has an orbital period of 5.29 years.


Brightest visible asteroids:

Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 8.2), the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt, can be found in constellation Capricornus about 5 degrees below and east of Venus. Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles and was discovered in 1807. It is about 285 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 3.63 years. It should become visible shortly after sunset so might be seen at the BSC star party up to 8 pm. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is in orbit around this asteroid and has been sending back stunning close-up pictures.


Minor Planet 15 Eunomia (Mag 9.2) is a potato shaped 200 mile wide rock still close enough to Earth this month that it is the 3rd brightest asteroid we can see. It is passing through Taurus, sliding along the Hero’s feet. It is about 156 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 4.30 years. It should become visible shortly after sunset so might be seen at the BSC star party all the way up to midnight and later. It is found just a few degrees above M45, the famous Pleiades star cluster.


Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 9.2) is the biggest object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 590 miles. It is in constellation Cetus and can be found just above the Whale’s nose. It is about 309 million miles from Earth and has a period of 4.60 years. It was discovered in 1801 and for 50 years was classified as the 8th planet. It will be visible Saturday evening after the sun sets up to midnight so might be seen at the BSC star party. This asteroid will be the next stop for the Dawn spacecraft.


Deep Sky:

This month let’s consider looking at some objects in and near Taurus the Bull:


M1 (Mag ) is the one and only Super Nova remnant in Messier’s 110 item catalog noted in 1758. It is the famous Crab Nebula which is 4,000 light years from Earth and is 7.6 by 4.6 light years in size.  The super nova exploded on July 4th, 1054 and was recorded by the Chinese, Arabs and Japanese. It was visible for 22 months and for awhile could even been seen during the day. It is found 1 degree northwest of 3rd magnitude Zeta Tauri, the southern “horn” star on the Aldebaran horn.


M35 (Mag 5.1) is an open star cluster 2,800 light years from Earth. It spans 23 light years and contains about 200 stars. Its age is estimated to be 110 million years and was observed by Messier in 1764. It is found about half way between Aldebaran and Gemini twin star Castor.


M45 (Mag 1.2) is the famous open star cluster called Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. It is 395 light years from Earth and spans 13 light years. It contains about 100 stars and is estimated to be 78 million years old. The nebulosity around the stars is from the Merope Nebula gas cloud that the star cluster is passing through but was not the gas cloud that formed these stars. M45 can be seen with the naked eye so is easy to find 15 degrees northwest from Aldebaran. Messier catalogues this object in 1769.


Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters because it can get very cold after the sun sets and 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 the sky 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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