Saturday December 8th Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve & Bonnie Short
December 5, 2012 5:34AM PDT
Views: 2876

BSC Star Party notice  - Saturday December 8th, 2012


Hello Fellow OCA club members!


This Saturday, I plan to open the gate around 4:15 pm, which is about a half hour before the sun sets. The weather report for this Saturday indicates that Orange County will be cloudy with humidity at 70%.  With all the bad weather we have had, you might want to keep an eye on the OCA website “Home” page (below the next speaker info) where I will post a notice should the star party be cancelled for any reason.


We should have fairly dark skies as the first quarter thin crescent Moon will not rise until after midnight Saturday. First time visitors might want to get to the star party site 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 OC Parks and Nature Conservancy rule).



  The ISS (International Space Station) will make one (magnitude -1.7) visible pass Saturday evening starting at 6:03:24 10 degrees high in the South, going to 21 degrees high SE at 6:05:36 where it will fade from view.

  The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) will not make any visible passes Saturday evening.

  We won’t get to see any Iridium flares Saturday evening at BSC 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 -.3) sets at 3:30 pm in constellation Libra so would not be seen at BSC.  It will rise at 5 am so could be seen early in the morning at dawn this month. Mercury will be about 93 million miles from Earth Saturday.

~Venus, (Mag -3.8) will not be seen Saturday evening as it sets about 3:30 pm in constellation Libra. Venus is now about 134 million miles from Earth and can be seen early morning as it rises about 4:30 am.

~Mars, (Mag 1.3) is now in Constellation Sagittarius, so is visible at sunset until setting at 6:45 pm. The red planet will be just to the right of the “Teapot” all month long. Mars is about 200 million miles away now with a 4” disk so none of our scopes should be able to see any detail on the red planet until it is closer.

~Jupiter, (Mag -2.6) will rise about 4:30 pm in constellation Taurus Saturday evening about 5 degrees due north of 1st magnitude star Aldebaran. It now is about 378 million miles from Earth getting a little closer every day with a diameter of about 48”.  At 6 pm Saturday, Moon Callisto will be far east of Jupiter with moon IO much closer. Moon Europa will be about 5 planet widths west of Jupiter. Largest Moon Ganymede will be twice as far west of Jupiter as Europa.

~Saturn, (Mag 1.1) will be in constellation Virgo this Saturday but cannot be seen as it sets at about 3:45 pm. This planet is about 995 million miles away slowly moving closer to Earth. Saturn rises about 3:45 am so can be seen a few hours before dawn.

~ Uranus, (Mag 5.8) will be in constellation Pisces this Saturday evening rising at 1 pm so will be up high at sunset. It shows up as a small 3.6” blue-green disc in a telescope. This planet reached opposition on September 29th, when it was opposite the Sun in our sky. It will remain visible from sunset to 1:15 am and glows bigger and brighter than at any other time of the year. It is about 1.830 billion miles away from Earth.


     Note: The September Sky & Telescope magazine shows the 2012 paths of Uranus and Neptune on page 50.


~ Neptune, (Mag 7.9) is in constellation Aquarius, about 2.807 billion miles away this week slowly moving farther from Earth. It is seen as a bluish gray 2.3” disc in a telescope. We should be able to see it at BSC this Saturday evening (it is bright enough to even be seen through binoculars), as it does not set until 10:30 pm.

 ~ Pluto, (Mag 14.1) rises about 8:30 pm so could be seen Saturday evening up to about 6:30 pm when it sets.  It is 3.090 billion miles from Earth in constellation Sagittarius. Since it is so dim, you will need a 10” or larger telescope to see it visually. The June 2012 Sky & Telescope magazine shows Pluto’s path for all of 2012 on pages 52-53.  


The Geminid Meteor Shower peaks on December 13/14th. The radiant is near bright star Castor and this Saturday we might see a few as this meteor shower is active from December 4-17.


Brightest visible Comets:

This month all the comets orbiting the Sun are very dim so will be extremely difficult to find and see. 


The magnitude 12.4 Comet C/2012 K5 Linear might be seen Saturday at the BSC star party in constellation Cygnus using a 10” or bigger telescope.  Look for it just 4 degrees southwest of Big Dipper handle end star Alkaid. It is about 744 million miles from Earth at this time.



Brightest visible asteroids:


Bright asteroids Ceres and Vesta are still close to Jupiter this month so can be seen Saturday evening after 10 pm.


Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 6.5), the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt, can be found in constellation Taurus, about 9 degrees east of Jupiter just 6 degrees below the Ecliptic. It is 8 degrees NE of Bellatrix, Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles and was discovered in 1807. It is about 148 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 3.63 years. It will become visible shortly after sunset so might be seen at the BSC star party. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was in orbit around this asteroid and sent back stunning close-up pictures.


Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 7.2) is the biggest object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 590 miles. It is in constellation Taurus and can be found about 14 degrees east of Jupiter. It is about 160 million miles from Earth and has a period of 4.61 years. It was discovered in 1801 and for 50 years was classified as the 8th planet. It will be visible Saturday evening shortly after sunset 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 Messier Open Star Clusters near Cassiopeia:


M103 is a magnitude 7.4 open star cluster about 8,500 light years away that spans 15 light years. You can find it in constellation Cassiopeia just 1 degree from Delta Cassiopeiae. It is shaped like an arrow in a very thick area of the Milky Way and contains about 25 stars. Its age is estimated to be 22 million years. Messier’s friend Mechain discovered this object and Messier didn’t have time to observe it himself before adding it to his 1781 catalog.


M52 is a magnitude 6.9 open star cluster about 3,000 light years away that spans 11 light years. You can find it in constellation Cassiopeia along a line from Caph and Alpha Cassiopeiae, about the same distance from Caph as Caph is from Alpha Cassiopeiae. It is shaped like a triangle in a sparse area of the Milky Way and contains at least 100 stars. Its age is estimated to be 35 million years. Messier discovered this object in 1774 while observing a comet he discovered that year




Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters as it gets cold now after the sun sets and even colder 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 the sky to get dark. Please remember to cart off all your trash as there are no garbage cans at BSC. There is also one portable restroom on site should nature call.


Hope to see you there.


Your OCA star party host,


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