BSC star party this Saturday (03/06/2010)

Posted On March 3, 2010

BSC – Saturday 06 March 2010
Hello Fellow OCA club members!

This Saturday I plan to open the gate about 5:30 pm, nearly a half hour before the sun sets. The weather report for this Saturday indicates that Orange County will be cloudy that day with a chance of rain. Let’s hope the weather report is wrong but watch for a notice on the OCA website home page in case the star party has to be cancelled.  The 3rd Quarter Moon will not rise until after midnight giving us dark skies. 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.
The ISS (International Space Station) will make one visible (Mag -0.9) evening pass this Saturday starting at 06:11:50 pm (shortly after I open the gate) 10 degrees high in the West going to 20 degrees NW at 6:14 pm and dropping back to 10 degrees high NNE at 06:16:16 pm. The HST (Hubble Space Telescope) will only make morning passes this Saturday & Sunday so won’t be seen Saturday evening. There will not be any visible Iridium flares this Saturday at BSC but I am sure we will see a few other dim satellites pass over as we are looking up in the sky.

~Mercury (Mag -0.8) sets about 5 pm so should not be seen this Saturday evening. It is about 127 million miles from Earth in constellation Aquarius. Mercury rises about 6 am so might be seen just before the sun rises. It will be 10 degrees high March 31st  a half hour after sunset and just 3 degrees from Venus.
~Venus (Mag -3.8) reached superior conjunction January 11th, when it was on the far side of the Sun from Earth. It sets about 6:40 pm, in constellation Aquarius low in the horizon so might be visible Saturday evening. It is now about 155 million miles from our planet.
~Mars (Mag -0.6) is now in Constellation Cancer, soon to be traveling eastward getting further from Earth and is now about 73 million miles away. Mars sets about 4:30 am but rises around 2:15 pm so will be seen high in the sky this Saturday evening at BSC. Bill Hall has posted some nice pictures he took of mars on the OCA website showing the large white polar cap which is tilted in Earth’s direction. You might also be able to see some of the dark features which lie near the center of the planet.
~Jupiter (Mag -1.9) rises about 6:15 am in constellation Aquarius but the big planet will not be seen until late this month at dawn. Jupiter sets around 5:30 pm so is lost in the sun’s glow. It now is about 556 million miles from Earth and getting further every day.

~Saturn, (Mag 0.6) rises about 7:15 pm Saturday in constellation Virgo so will  be visible soon after sunset at BSC Saturday evening.  It sets in the East at 7:30 so can be seen in the morning too. Saturn reaches opposition March 21st and will then be opposite the sun and visible all night long. It is about 796 million miles away moving closer to Earth. The rings tilt about 4 degrees to our line of sight but will drop to 3% by late march and dwindle to 2% from mid-April through early July. But they will open again this summer and tilt 10% by year end. Big moon Titan will be seen just above Saturn while moon Enceladus will be to the east and moon Dione to the west with moon Rhea even further west.  Moon Tethys will be passing in front of Saturn so would be very difficult to see.
~ Uranus (Mag 5.9) will rise about 7 am in constellation Pisces this week hidden by the sun and then sets about 6:50 pm washed out by the sun’s glare. When we can see this planet, it shows up as a blue-green disc in a telescope and is about 1.959 billion miles away moving farther from Earth. This planet reached opposition September 17th.
~ Neptune (Mag 8.0) will be in constellation Capricornus about 2.881 billion miles away this week slowly moving farther from Earth. It is seen as a bluish disc in a telescope but we will not see it this Saturday as it rises about 5:30 am in the sun’s glare and sets about 4:30 pm. Meteors/Comets/Asteroids:

There are no major meteor showers in March but the minor Gamma Normid shower peaks before dawn March 13th where you can expect to see 4 meteors per hour. Look to the south under the Scorpion in constellation Norma for the radiant.

Comet 81P Wild 2 (Mag 9.5) is in constellation Virgo just 6 degree east of Spica. It’s orbit lies close to the plane of our solar system so we see this comet edge-on. That causes us to see the dust tail as a sharp streak rather than the typical fan tail. This comet has closed to about 71 million miles from earth and has a period of 6.42 years. Samples of this comet were returned to earth and contained an amino acid, one of life’s fundamental building blocks.

Comet C/2007 Q3 Siding Spring (Mag 10.8) is now about 213 million miles away from Earth in constellation Bootes heading north towards Draco. On Saturday, it forms a right triangle with end Big Dipper handle star Alkaid and the top Bootes Beta star. This comet was discovered August 25th, 2007 (thus the designation C/2007) by D. M. Burton from the Siding Spring Survey.

Other comets are even dimmer so would be next to impossible to find in any of our scopes.

Minor Planet 4 Vesta (Mag 6.4) is the 2nd most massive object in the asteroid belt with a diameter of just over 329 miles. It is the brightest of all the asteroids and can be found in the head of Leo the Lion about 3 degrees from Regulus. It is getting closer, 26 million miles closer than in January and now is about 132 million miles from Earth and has a period of 3.63 years.

Minor Planet 2 Pallas (Mag 8.8) can be found about 20 degrees SE from Arcturus in constellation Serpens. It is about 202 million miles from Earth and has a period of 4.62 years.

Minor planet 532 Herculina (Mag 8.9) is in constellation Coma Berenices  behind Leo the Lioin about 23 degrees north of Saturn. It has moved closer to earth and is only about 127 million miles away with a period of 4.61 years. It was discovered in 1904 by Max Wolf and is about 138 miles in diameter. This was the first asteroid to have a confirmed asteroid moon about 45 km orbiting at a distance of about 1,000 km.


Deep Sky:
This month, lets point a scope at some objects around the Perseus constellation, some which are great binocular objects too:

Planetary Nebula M76 (Mag 11) is called the “Little Dumbbell” as it is a small two-lobed object that is just 1 degree above 3.5 magnitude star Phi Persei with a nearby reddish star. It is 8,200 light years away and spans 5 light years. The central star which created this nebula has a magnitude of 15.9.  Messier observed this small & faint object clear back in 1780.
Open Cluster M34 (Mag 5.2) forms the apex of a shallow isosceles triangle with Algol and Gamma Andromedea. It is thought to be 1,400 light years away and spans 14 light years. The cluster contains about 60 stars, the brightest being magnitude 7.3 and it’s age is estimated to be 190 million years old.  Messier observed this object in 1764.
Double Cluster NGC 869/884 (Mag 3.5-6.1) are found a few degrees above M76. They are 7,100 & 7,500 light years away and span 62 & 65 light years. Theses clusters contain about 200 & 115 stars with the brightest being magnitude 6.6 & 8.1 for NGC 884. The cluster ages are thought to be about 5.6 & 3.2 million years old. Messier observed these objects  back in 1772 but they did not make it into his 1784 catalogue.

 Don’t forget to bring your gloves, coats & sweaters because it will get very cold as the sun sets and 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,