Black Star Canyon star party Saturday 01/17/09

Posted On January 13, 2009

Hello Fellow OCA club members!
This Saturday I plan to open the gate at 4:30 pm, about a half hour before the sun sets. Today’s weather report for this Saturday indicates it will be clear, warm but cold later that night. The 3rd Quarter Moon won’t rise until after midnight so we should have a nice dark evening for observing even dim objects. 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. 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. 


Did you hear about the tool bag that slipped away from astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshn-Piper on the International Space Station? Well, it will be visible in binoculars this Saturday evening when it will be a magnitude 7.9 at 6:36:45 PM 10 degrees high W and will rise to 20 degrees NW at 6:38:57 and then drop to 18 degrees NNW at 6:39:36. The tool bag orbit will slowly decay and it will someday fall into the earth’s atmosphere and burn up like a meteor.


There will be one visible evening ISS (International Space Station) pass on Saturday which will be a bright (Mag  -2.3) at 5:47:53 P, 10 degrees altitude SW and will rise to 86 degrees NW by 5:50:51 and then drop back down to 12 degrees NE at 5:53:31.  There will also be one visible (MAG 4.0) evening pass of the HST (Hubble Space Telescope) starting at 7:17:03, 10 degrees altitude SSW rising to 16 degrees S at 7:18:32 when it will fade out of sight.   There will be no visible Iridium Flares this Saturday.


~Mercury (Mag -0.1) sets about 6 PM and be hard to see in the solar glare this Saturday. It is 69 million miles from Earth in constellation Capricornus.

 ~Venus (Mag -4.3) sets about 8:50 PM, in constellation Aquarius and is very bright and easily seen shortly before sunset. It is about 50% lit so looks like a half moon in a telescope and now is about 64 million miles from Earth.

~Mars (Mag 1.3) is in Constellation Sagittarius and now is about 223 million miles away.  Mars sets about 4:10 PM and remains out of sight all month. It passed on the far side of the Sun  December 4th and won’t be visible until the predawn twilight in February.

~Jupiter (Mag -1.8) sets about 5:40 PM in constellation Capricornus and now is about 566 million miles away. On Saturday all 4 Galilean Moons will be clearly visible in a telescope. Callisto will be far to the right of Jupiter in my scope while Europa is half way closer and then little IO will be right next to the big planet. Ganymede (the largest moon in the entire solar system) will be seen far to the left of Jupiter.

 ~Saturn, (Mag 0.9) rises at 9:30 PM so is up early in the evening sky this month. It is about 819 million miles from Earth, and is the brightest object between Leo’s brightest star Regulus and Virgo’s bright star Spica. The planet brightens slightly this month as it moves closer to Earth and the rings are edge-on so can barely be seen. The moons also orbit edge-on so are seen more in line now and Titan should be near Saturn on Saturday.

~ Uranus (Mag 5.9) will be up when the sun sets, in constellation Aquarius this week, 1.920 billion miles away and won’t set until about 9:30 PM. It shows up as a blue-green disc in a telescope.

~ Neptune (Mag 7.9) will also be up when the sun sets this week in constellation Capricornus. It is about 2.873 billion miles away and won’t set until about 7:20 PM. It is seen as a bluish disc in a telescope.




The Quadrantid Meteor shower peaked January 3rd near the Ursa Minor (Little Dipper) constellation so we probably won’t see many meteors. 

Now Comet C/2008 A1 McNaught (Mag 11.4) is in constellation Cygnus right next to the Swan’s head, Alberio and is 229 million miles from Earth.

Another brighter magnitude 8 Comet 85P/Boethin is below Pisces traveling towards Aries and will be heading directly towards galaxy M74 where it will be on January 25th but on Saturday evening, will be 8 degrees away.  

The magnitude 7.9 Minor Planet 4 Vesta has moved to the east of the knot of Pisces the Fishes. This asteroid has a period of 3.63 years and is 207 million miles away. Just above Cetus, right on the Ecliptic is a magnitude 9.9  Minor Planet 9 Metis. It has a period of 3.69 years and is about 150 million miles away.


Deep Sky:

Lets look at two of the most famous star clusters, the Hyades & Pleiades star clusters. You can find the Hyades by following a line from Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) through the 3 Orion “belt” stars as far as Sirius, and it will show up in binoculars next to bright red star Adebaran in Tarus the Bull. Follow that line a bit further to the Pleiades which can be easily seen with the naked eye. 


The Hyades (Mag 0.5) is the nearest open star cluster to planet Earth at about 150 light years away. It contains 300-400 dim stars that span about 17.6 light years across. This star cluster is estimated to be 625 million years old.


M45 (Mag 1.2), the Pleiades, is a bright open star cluster that is 395 light years away and spans 13 light years across. It contains about 100 stars but has 7 very bright stars so has been nicknamed the 7 Sisters. The bright star pattern looks like a dipper so some people mistake this star cluster as the Little Dipper. This star cluster is estimated to be 78 million years old.



Don’t forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters because it may get very cold (42 F) 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 it 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,