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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 3:48 pm | Fair 62º


Viewing at Westmont Observatory to Feature Christmas Tree Cluster

The Westmont Observatory opens for a free, public viewing that will include a cluster of stars resembling a Christmas tree on Friday, Dec. 19 beginning after 6:30 p.m. and lasting for several hours.

In case of inclement or overcast weather, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at 805.565.6272 and check the Westmont website by clicking here to see if the viewing has been canceled.

Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, will operate the powerful Keck Telescope, a 24-inch reflector, while several members of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit offer celestial views with additional smaller telescopes.

“We’ll turn our attention to a number of objects in Cassiopeia and Perseus, including Messier 103, the Christmas Tree Cluster,” Whittemore says. “It’s hard to believe that, as bright as this object is, it’s about 8,000 light-years away.”

The viewing will also feature NGC 457, the Owl Cluster.

“Last month most people were able to see the owl in the pattern of stars, even though the bird was upside-down,” Whittemore says.

Stargazers may enjoy NGC 869 and 884, the Double Cluster in Perseus.

“This is probably the most magnificent of open clusters in the winter sky,” he says. “It’s surprising that Messier didn’t include it with his list of 109 objects when he was scanning the heavens for comets.”

NGC 225, the Broken Heart Cluster, may also delight visitors.

“Last month there was a lot of discussion whether this grouping of stars looked like a broken heart or a sailboat,” he says.

The observatory, which opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month, sits between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex at Westmont. There will be plenty of free parking nearby.

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


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