Saturday, July 21 , 2018, 4:29 am | Overcast 64º

 
 
 
 

Westmont’s Keck Telescope to Zoom In on Moons Around Saturn

Features of the planet's rings might also be visible if the weather cooperates

Westmont College’s powerful Keck Telescope will be the focus of attention for Central Coast stargazers at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

The observatory opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their own telescopes to Westmont for the public to gaze through. The viewing lasts for several hours. In case of inclement weather, call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at 805.565.6272 and check the Westmont website to see whether the viewing has been canceled.

The nearly full moon rises about 8:30 p.m. in Sagittarius, dominating the night sky and forcing the Keck Telescope to focus its attention to points in the sky away from the moon. Although now lower in the southwest, Westmont physics instructor Thomas Whittemore said Saturn will still thrill the public.

“We’ll have the opportunity to see five of Saturn’s brighter moons — Rhea, Dione, Tethys, Titan and Iapetus,” he said. “If the weather cooperates, we should also be able to see the shadow of Saturn’s rings on the ball of the planet and maybe the division between the A and the B rings known as the Cassini Division.”

The Great Globular Cluster, M13, is now well-positioned for viewing since it lies at the top of the sky at sunset.

“It’s some 26,000 light-years away and contains upwards of a million ancient stars,” Whittemore said, adding that he hopes to take a peek at another globular cluster in Hercules, M92, which he says is often overlooked at star parties. “Discovered by Johann Bode in 1777 and cataloged by Charles Messier in 1781, M92 was first resolved into stars by William Herschel in 1783. It’s more compact than its neighbor, M13, but still a spectacular object.”

The Ring Nebula, M57 in Lyra, is now sitting high in the northeast sky at night.

“M57 lies 2,300 light-years away and is the remnants of a dying star — a fate that will someday be our sun’s,” Whittemore said. “What we will see is the gaseous envelope of what used to be the central star’s atmosphere. The central star, a white dwarf, is faint and can only be seen under pristine, dark-sky conditions.”

Westmont students and faculty use the 24-inch reflector telescope to conduct astronomical research. The Keck Telescope is housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.

— Scott Craig is the media relations manager for Westmont College.

 

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