Saturday March 29th Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve & Bonnie Short
March 26, 2014 3:53AM PDT
Views: 2838


Black Star Canyon Star Party notice - Saturday March 29th, 2014


Hello Fellow OCA club members!


This Saturday, I plan to open the gate around 6:45 pm, which is about a half hour before the sun sets. The weather report for this Saturday indicates that Orange County should be warm, partly cloudy with humidity inland at 30%.  So please keep an eye on the OCA website “Home” page (below the next speaker info) where we will post a notice should the star party be canceled for any reason.


We should have fairly dark skies as the 3rd quarter Moon will not rise until after midnight. 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 may 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.

Try to park two cars in each slanted slot between the rock turning circles so we can get 20 cars into that area. I will help guide the first cars into the slots and then expect that others will follow that pattern. The first car in each slot must stay back, about a foot, from the road that leads out of the parking area so cars that leave early with headlights off will not accidentally bump into parked cars.


WarningNo Pets allowed(This is an OC Parks and Nature Conservancy rule).



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

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

  Iridium flares: There will be one magnitude -6.6 visible Iridium Flare this Saturday evening nearly due north (3 degrees), 27 degrees high near Polaris at 8:36:11 pm from Iridium satellite 86.

I am sure we will also see a number of satellites pass over in the early evening.


Planets & Pluto:

~Mercury, (Mag 0.1) sets about 5:15 pm in constellation Aquarius this Saturday so won't be seen at the BSC star party. Mercury will be about 107 million miles from Earth and might be seen in the morning when it rises just before 6 am.

~Venus, (Mag -4.2) will not be seen Saturday evening as it sets about 3:25 pm in constellation Capricornus. Venus will be about 69 million miles from Earth, dropping to about a 23” in diameter but will be 53% lit. Venus rises about 4:30 am so can be seen before sunrise.

~Mars, (Mag -1.3) is now in Constellation Virgo rising about 8pm so can be seen at BSC this Saturday evening. It is now about 60 million miles away and doesn't set until 7:30 am. So now we can start looking for the white northern ice cap and other detail now that Mars is close to Earth once again with a disk size about 15”.

~Jupiter, (Mag -2.0) will rise about noon Saturday in constellation Gemini so can be seen high in the sky this Saturday evening until it sets about 2 am. It will be about 475 million miles from Earth getting a little further every day with a diameter of about 42”. At 8 pm, we should see moon Ganymede east of Jupiter by 5 planet widths and then Io half way closer to the big planet. To the west of Jupiter we will see moon Ganymede a few planet widths away with Europa another planet width further west.

~Saturn, (Mag 0.9) will be in constellation Libra this Saturday so cannot be seen Saturday evening until 10:30 pm. It has a disk measuring 18” with rings spanning 40” and tilting 23 degrees. Saturn can be seen all night after it rises as does not set until 9am. It will be about 852 million miles away Saturday. When Saturn becomes visible around 1:30 pm, we should be able to see some of it's brightest moons starting with brightest moon Titan far to the west. Then Enceladus will be just west under the rings while Tethys will be just on top of Saturn. Rhea will be just east and above the rings while moon Dione will be several planet widths east of Saturn.

 ~ Uranus, (Mag 5.9) will be in constellation Pisces low in the sky this Saturday evening. It shows up as a small 3.5” blue-green disc in a telescope so look for it early Saturday evening. Uranus can only be seen until setting about 7:15 pm, right after sunset. It will be about 1.956 billion miles from Earth.

~ Neptune, (Mag 8.0) is in constellation Aquarius, about 2.866 billion miles away this week slowly moving closer to Earth. It is seen as a bluish gray 2.3” disc in a telescope but we won't be able to see it at BSC this Saturday evening as it sets about 4:30 pm. It could be seen in the early morning before sunset as it rises about 5:20 am.

 ~ Pluto, (Mag 14.1) sets just after noon in constellation Sagittarius so can't be seen Saturday evening. Since it rises at 2:15 am, it could be seen early in the morning until sunrise It is 3.040 billion miles from Earth and since it is so dim, you would need a 10” or larger telescope to see it visually.


There are no major meteor showers in March but an occasional sporadic meteor can appear at any time. We usually see a few stray meteors during every Saturday evening BSC star party.

If you ever wanted to do some real scientific meteor counting, the International Meteor Organization (IMO) always needs more observers. You will need to follow the IMO's standards so your counts will be meaningful. See for more information.

Brightest visible Comets:

There are no comets bright enough to view this Saturday evening according to the Heavens-above website.

Brightest visible asteroids:

Finding an asteroid at the BSC star party this month will be very challenging as they are dim and not well positioned for early evening observing. The February Sky & Telescope Magazine, on pages 50-51 shows the circular paths that Vesta and Ceres will be taking in 2014 through July 2nd. Note that they will be only about 3 1/2 degrees apart Saturday evening and only a few degrees from Mars. But on July 1st, these asteroids will be less than ½ degree apart. The circular paths are between Spica and Arcturus, closer to Spica than Arcturus.

The brightest asteroid this month is Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 6.1), the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt. It can be found in constellation Virgo this month 10 degrees above and east of bright star Spica. Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles and was discovered in 1807. It is about 121 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 3.63 years. It should be visible at the BSC star party at sunset. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was in orbit around this asteroid and sent back stunning close-up pictures.


Minor Planet 2 Pallas (Mag 7.6), is the second asteroid to have been discovered (after Ceres), and one of the largest in the Solar System. It can be found in constellation Hydra this month between bright star Alphard and Leo's brightest star Regulus. This asteroid has a diameter of about 338 miles. When Pallas was discovered by astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Matthaus Olbers on March 28, 1802, it was counted as a planet, as were other asteroids in the early 19th century. The discovery of many more asteroids after 1845 eventually led to their re-classification. It is about 130 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 4.62 years. It will become visible at sunset so might be seen at the BSC star party.

Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 7.3) is the biggest object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 590 miles. It is in constellation Virgo and can be found just ahead of Vesta about half way from Spica to Arcturus. It is about 158 million miles from Earth now and has a period of 4.61 years. It was discovered in 1801 and for 50 years was classified as the 8th planet. But don’t expect to see anything more than a small dot. It will be visible Saturday evening at sunset so might be seen at the BSC star party. This asteroid will be the next stop for the Dawn spacecraft.

Deep Sky:

During March, there are many Messier Marathons going on where people are trying to find every one of the 110 objects in his catalog during one night. That will be going on at the Anza star party but not at the BSC star party as we close at midnight.

If Messier came back and saw people doing a Messier Marathon, he would say “STOP! Why is everyone wasting time trying to find objects he catalogued so they would not mistake them for comets?”

So this month at BSC, let’s consider looking at some lesser known Messier objects that will be in the winter evening sky:

M40 is nothing but an optical double star in Ursa Major. It consists of a magnitude 9.6 and 10.1 star at an unknown distance. The separation of these stars is a wide 52”. Some thought Messier thought this object had some nebulosity but not according to his 1760 notes. You can easily find M40 by pointing to bright dipper star Megrez, and then move north 1 ½ degrees where you will pass 70 Ursae Majoris and the two faint stars will become visible in a direct line from Magrez to 70 and just beyond. Messier observed this object in 1760 and logged it on October 24, 1764.

M78 is a magnitude 8 nebula in Orion, not the famous Orion Nebula, about 1,600 light years away that spans 4 light years. This nebula is conical in shape and has a magnitude 9.5 star just within the nebulosity. There is also another star just 15' away with some nebulosity that is NGC 2071. It is easy to locate M78 as it forms a right angle with far left belt star Alnitak and is as far from Alnitak as the width of the three belt stars. Its age is estimated to be 2 million years old so is quite young and forming new stars. Discovered by Pierre Mechain early in 1780 and then Messier logged this object 1780 on December 17th, .

M79 is a magnitude 7.7 globular star cluster about 4,200 light years away that has a diameter of 106 light years. You can find it in constellation Lepus, well below Orion, along a line formed by the alpha & beta stars, at a distance of that length from the beta star. It has a double star just ½ degree away. This is really the only globular cluster visible in the winter and is slightly more compact than average. Its age is estimated to be 11.7 billion years so that means it is in a dwarf galaxy making a very close encounter with the Milky Way. Discovered by Pierre Mechain in 1780 and Messier observed this object later in 1780 and logged it December 17th.


Don't forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters as it can get cold 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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