Saturday Dec 5th Black Star Canyon star party
By: Steve & Bonnie Short
December 2, 2015 12:13AM PDT
Views: 1825

Black Star Canyon Star Party notice - Saturday December 5th, 2015
Hello Fellow OCA club members!
This Saturday, we 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 Black Star Canyon should get cold fast, but have clear skies and humidity near 20% inland.  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.
With a 3rd quarter Moon rising after midnight, our star party should have a dark night sky. 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. Or just park along Black Star Canyon Road and walk down to the star party site.

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

The BSC star party site has a Latitude of 33.7520N, Longitude 117.6745W and Elevation 297'.
Warning:  No Pets allowed!  (This is an OC Parks and Nature Conservancy rule).
  The ISS (International Space Station) will make one visible magnitude -2.8 pass Saturday evening at BSC starting at 5:38:10 pm 10 degrees high WSW going to 56 degrees high NW at 5:41:24 and then dropping to 17 degrees high NE at 5:43:46 pm where it will fade out of sight.
  The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) will not make any visible passes Saturday evening .
  Iridium flares: There will be one magnitude 0.2 visible Iridium Flare this Saturday evening at 5:38 pm 29 degrees high in the SSW (192 degrees) from Iridium satellite 57. I am sure we will also see a number of satellites pass over in the early evening.
Planets & Pluto:
~Mercury, (Mag -0.4) sets about 5:10 pm in constellation Ophiuchus this Saturday evening so will not be seen at the BSC star party as it will be too low in the SW sky. Mercury will be about 130 million miles from Earth and does not rise until 7:36 am so will not be seen in the morning sky. Mercury reached superior conjunction with the Sun November 17th. It may be visible about 30 minutes after sunset on the 15th of December when it is just 4 degrees above the horizon.
~Venus, (Mag -4.1) will set at 2:25 pm in constellation Virgo so won't be seen this Saturday evening. Venus will be about 93 million miles from Earth with a disc size of 17” and about 67% lit. Look for it just before dawn when it rises about 3:15 am below Leo the Lion and the crescent Moon.
~Mars, (Mag 1.5) will be in Constellation Virgo setting about 1:30 pm so will not be seen Saturday evening. It might be seen just above bright Venus and to the right of the crescent Moon near dawn as it rises about 2 am. It will be about 180 million miles from Earth Saturday evening. In may, Mars will appear brighter and bigger than it has been since 2005.
~Jupiter, (Mag -1.8) will not be seen Saturday evening as it sets at 12:30 pm in constellation Leo It will be about 508 million miles from Earth getting a little closer every day. Jupiter will have a disk size of 36”. It will be visible 15 minutes after midnight when it rises.
~Saturn, (Mag 1.4) will be in constellation Ophiuchus this Saturday setting about 4:20 pm so will not be seen this Saturday evening. It rises at 6:15 am so might be seen at dawn in the SE. Saturn will be about 1.022 billion miles away Saturday evening .
---The 2015 September Sky & Tel magazine shows the paths Uranus & Neptune are taking on pg 49.--
 ~ Uranus, (Mag 5.8) will be in constellation Pisces this Saturday evening rising about 1:40 pm so should be seen at the BSC star party. It shows up as a small 3.6” blue-green disc in a telescope. Uranus will be about 1.807 billion miles from Earth this Saturday. It can be seen most all night as does not set until 2:15 am.
~ Neptune, (Mag 7.9) is in constellation Aquarius, about 2.796 billion miles away this week. It is seen as a bluish gray 2.3” disc in a telescope and might be seen at BSC this Saturday evening as it rises about noon. It can be seen most of Saturday evening as does not set until about 11 pm.
 ~ Pluto, (Mag 14.2) will rise in constellation Sagittarius about 9 am so could be seen Saturday evening low in the sky after sunset It is about 3.150 billion miles from Earth and is so dim, you would need a 12” or larger telescope to see it visually. Pluto sets early at 7 pm so look for it early. The New Horizons probe reached Pluto July 14th and the path Pluto & the probe are taking through December is shown in the July Sky & Telescope Magazine on pages 52-53.

The Geminid meteor shower is active between December 4 – 17 peaking December 14. This year we can expect to see 120 meteors/hour at peak in dark skies. The radiant for this shower is a couple of degrees above bright star Castor in Gemini. This meteor shower is created by debris from asteroid 3200 Phaethon. I am sure we will also see a few stray meteors Saturday evening as we always do at 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:
There are several magnitude 11-12 comets in the sky this month, but the best one that will be visible Saturday evening might be Comet Panstarrs or Comet Lovejoy. Later in December, we might want to look for magnitude 6.0 Comet Catalina that is flying between the Libra & Virgo constellations heading North.

Comet C/2014 W2 Panstarrs is shining at a magnitude 11.5 (according to the Heavens-above website) and will be 225 million miles from Earth Saturday in constellation Ursa Minor just to the left of the middle of the Little Dipper's handle. This comet was discovered on 22 September 2014 by the Pan-Starrs 1 telescope (Haleakala). The latest calculations show a period of 63,254 years.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is shining at a magnitude 12 (according to the Heavens-above website) and will be 445 million miles from Earth Saturday in constellation Hercules just 5 degrees below the lower side Delta star of the Hercules Keystone. This comet was discovered on 17 August 2014 by Terry Lovejoy using an 8” telescope and was his 5th comet discovery. The latest calculations show a period of 13,352 years.

Brightest visible asteroids:
Finding an asteroid is always very challenging as they are dim and are just small dots.

Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 7.6), the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt is the brightest asteroid again this month. It is still found in constellation Cetus this month, just below the Ecliptic near the Whale's nose (Iota star). Vesta has a diameter of about 330 miles and was discovered in 1807. It is about 188 million miles from Earth at this time and has an orbit period of 3.63 years. It might be seen Saturday evening as would be visible just after sunset. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft was in orbit around this asteroid and sent back stunning close-up pictures.
Minor Planet 1 Ceres (Mag 9.3) is the biggest object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of about 590 miles. It is in constellation Capricornus just 10 degrees below the Ecliptic along the bottom of the Goat. Ceres will be about 316 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 be visible Saturday evening starting after sunset. The Dawn spacecraft has reached this asteroid and will be orbiting it taking pictures for at least a year. The path Ceres is taking through November is shown on page 50 of the July Sky & Telescope Magazine.

Asteroid 15 Eunomia (Mag 9.0) is the largest of the stony (S-type) asteroids and somewhere between the 8th - 12th largest main-belt asteroid. It is estimated to contain 1% of the mass of the asteroid belt and will be in constellation Pegasus Saturday evening so visible all evening long. This asteroid has a diameter of about 162 miles and is about 359 million miles from Earth. Eunomia was discovered by Annibale de Gasparis on July 29, 1851. It has an orbit period of 4.30 years and is inside the great “Square” near the bottom left side and to the right of the Gamma star so might be seen at the BSC star party.

Deep Sky:
This month let’s consider looking at some Messier objects in the greater Andromeda area:

M31 is the famous magnitude 3.5 Andromeda Galaxy, a nearby spiral galaxy like our Milky Way. It is about 2.4 million light years away and spans at least 120,000 light years. It contains about 300 billion stars and is heading towards our galaxy at 60 MPS so should arrive in about 2 billion years. On a dark clear night this galaxy can be seen with the naked eye. It is found along the middle strands of the Andromeda constellation. This nebula was discovered in 1612 by Simon Marius and observed by Messier in 1764.

M33 is the famous magnitude 5.7 Pinwheel Galaxy, another nearby spiral galaxy like our Milky Way. It is about 2.2 million light years away and spans at least 40,000 light years. It is large and seen face on with faint arms. This galaxy is in constellation Triangulum and is found at least 10 degrees below M31. Look for it in a line from Mu & Beta Andromedae almost twice the distance from Beta as Beta is from Mu. This nebula was observed by Messier in 1764.

M34 is a magnitude 5.2 open star cluster about 1,400 light years away that spans 14 light years. You can find it in constellation Perseus as it forms the apex of a shallow isosceles triangle with Algol and gama Andromedae. It fills about the space of a Full Moon and contains at least 60 stars, some red in color, the brightest shines at a magnitude 7.3. Its age is estimated to be 190 million years. Messier discovered this object in 1764.

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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