Stargazers will enjoy seeing globular clusters, planetary nebulae and open clusters on Friday during Westmont College’s free monthly viewing of the stars.
The college’s powerful Keck Telescope, a 24-inch reflector, is housed in the observatory between the soccer and baseball fields.
The viewing, held in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, will begin about 7:30 p.m. and last several hours, weather permitting. In case of inclement weather, please call the telescope viewing hot line at 805.565.6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.
The moon will rise at 9:15 p.m. and will be 85 percent illuminated, drowning out some celestial objects with its glow. But Tom Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says there will be a chance to see a number of objects before then, including the Owl Cluster, NGC 457.
“Surprisingly bright at 9,900 light-years and in the Perseus arm of our galaxy, it looks like an owl with its wings outstretched,” he said. “The owl has two bright eyes, with one that shines with a warm, golden glow. Some people see E.T. in this cluster of 80 to 100 stars, so it’s also known as the E.T. Cluster.”
“It’s illustrative to show these two globular clusters, one after the other, to the public because of the closer concentration of stars in M92 as compared to M13,” Whittemore said. “They each lie about 26,000 light-years away.”
“The Blinking Nebula is so named because when viewed through a small telescope it appears to blink or disappear as the observer scans the eyepiece,” Whittemore said. “This is because the nebula is faint compared to the inner relatively bright, white dwarf star. When viewed directly the star is easily visible through the cones of the eyes, while the faint, outer nebula is seen with peripheral vision using the more sensitive rods of the eye. I showed this one to a small group of folks at the August viewing, and they really liked it.”
— Scott Craig is the media relations manager for Westmont College.