Saturday March 14th Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve & Bonnie Short
March 11, 2015 1:52AM PDT
Views: 2324


Black Star Canyon Star Party notice - Saturday March 14th, 2015


Hello Fellow OCA club members!


This Saturday, I plan to open the gate around 6:30 pm, which is about a half hour before the sun sets. The weather report for this Saturday indicates that Orange County should be unseasonably warm, have clear skies and humidity near 25%.  But 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.


The 3rd quarter moon begins March 13th so the Moon will not be up during our star party. 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.


Warning:  No Pets allowed!  (This is an OC Parks and Nature Conservancy rule).



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

  The X-37B (Air Force Boeing space plane) will not make any visible passes as it has landed.

  The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) will make one magnitude 2.4 visible pass Saturday evening starting at 8:26:35 pm 10 degrees high SSW rising to 20 degrees S at 8:29:17 where it will fade from sight.

  Iridium flares: There will be no visible Iridium Flares this Saturday evening but I am sure we will see a number of satellites pass over in the early evening.


Planets & Pluto:

~Mercury, (Mag -0.1) sets about 5 pm in constellation Aquarius this Saturday so will not be seen at the BSC star party. Mercury will be about 112 million miles from Earth and rises about 6:15 am so might be seen an hour before sunrise, but very low in the horizon.

~Venus, (Mag -3.8) must be seen early Saturday evening as it sets about 9:30 pm in constellation Pisces. Venus will be about 122 million miles from Earth with a disc size of 12” and 80% lit.

~Mars, (Mag 1.4) will be in Constellation Pisces about 20 degrees high an hour after sunset so might be seen at BSC this Saturday evening in the southwestern sky. It will be about 215 million miles away with a disk size of about 4.0”, about the size of a star so don't expect to see any detail on the red planet. Mars sets about 8:45 pm so better view it early.

~Jupiter, (Mag -2.2) will rise about 3:30 pm Saturday in constellation Cancer so can be seen Saturday evening. It will be about 425 million miles from Earth getting a little farther every day with a diameter of about 42.5”. It can be seen almost all night as does not set until 5:15 am. At 8:30 pm we should see moon Ganymede far to the East of Jupiter while moons Callisto & Europa will be grouped together about a planet width to the East. Moon Io will be just west of Jupiter. After passing in front of the giant planet.

~Saturn, (Mag 1.1) will be in constellation Scorpius this Saturday so will not be seen Saturday evening as it does not rise until just after midnight. It has a disk measuring 17.5” with rings spanning 39” and tilting 25 degrees. Saturn will be about 895 million miles away Saturday.

 Uranus, (Mag 5.9) will be in constellation Pisces this Saturday evening setting about 8:30 pm so we might see it at the BSC star party when it gets dark. It shows up as a small 3.4” blue-green disc in a telescope. Uranus will be about 1.947 billion miles from Earth this Saturday.

Neptune, (Mag 8.0) is in constellation Aquarius, about 2.876 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 will not see it at BSC this Saturday evening early as it set about 5:30 pm. It could be seen early morning as it rises about 6:30 am.

 Pluto, (Mag 14.2) sets about 1:30 pm in constellation Sagittarius so will not be seen Saturday evening. It is about 3.086 billion miles from Earth, rises about 3:30 am and is so dim, you would need a 10” or larger telescope to see it visually.


There are no major meteor showers in March. But we always see a few stray meteors during every 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:

All the comets in the sky are very dim again this month, including for the one everybody is still talking about, Comet Lovejoy.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is a 10th magnitude (according to the March Astronomy Magazine) and will be 145 million miles from Earth Saturday in constellation Cassiopeia. It can be seen about 1 degree West of M76 and right next to Delta (&) Cassiopeiae. The path it is taking in March is shown on page 50 of the March Astronomy Magazine.

This comet was discovered on August 17th, 2014 by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy from Brisbane, Australia, his 5th discovery. It looks to have a period of 14,234 years.

Brightest visible asteroids:

Finding an asteroid at the BSC star party is always very challenging as they are dim and are just small dots.

The brightest asteroid this month again is Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 8.0), the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt. It would be found in constellation Capricornus this month, just below the Ecliptic about a degree from Delta (&) Capricornus. Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles and was discovered in 1807. It is about 282 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 3.63 years. It will not be visible Saturday evening as is too close to the Sun. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was in orbit around this asteroid and sent back stunning close-up pictures.


Minor Planet 3 Juno (Mag 9.1) is another big object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 170 miles. It will be in constellation Cancer below the Ecliptic about 20 degrees east of Procyon in a direct line toward Jupiter.. Juno will be about 156 million miles from Earth Saturday and has a period of 4.36 years. It was discovered September 1, 1804 by German astronomer Karl Harding. But don’t expect to see anything more than a small dot. It will be visible Saturday evening and the path it was taking in February is shown in the February Astronomy Magazine on page 43.

Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 9.1) is the biggest object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 590 miles. It is in constellation Sagittarius just below the Ecliptic and half way to Capricornus. It will be about 302 million miles from Earth Saturday 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 not be visible Saturday evening as is too close to the Sun. The Dawn spacecraft has just reached this asteroid and will be orbiting it taking pictures for at least a year..

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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