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Viewing at Westmont Observatory to Feature Celestial Heart, Owl and Christmas Tree

This month’s public viewing of the stars will feature astronomical glimpses of a heart, owl and a Christmas tree on Friday, Nov. 21, beginning after 6:30 p.m. and lasting for several hours at the Westmont Observatory.

The free event is held every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at 805.565.6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been canceled.

Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says he hopes to aim Westmont’s 8-inch refractor telescope at the northern part of the sky where there’ll be a number of open clusters with interesting patterns of stars.

“NGC 225, the Broken Heart Cluster, is a beautiful open cluster that lies some 2,000 light-years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia,” Whittemore says. “To many it does seem to have the shape of a heart. Interestingly, others see a sailboat in this one.”

The public viewing may also focus on NGC 457, the Owl Cluster.

“I have shown this one to the public many times and it’s still a popular target,” he says. “Most people see the owl-like pattern in this distant group of stars that lies some 10,000 light-years away, so its stars must be intrinsically very bright.”

Stargazers may also catch a seasonal favorite, Messier 103, the Christmas Tree Cluster.

“Come and see if you can see the star on the top of the tree,” Whittemore says.

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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