Telescope to Zoom in on the Blue Snowball

The Westmont Observatory

The Westmont Observatory

Westmont’s powerful Keck Telescope will focus on a planetary nebula known as the Blue Snowball (NGC 7662) during the monthly viewing of the stars, Friday Oct. 19. The free event is held every third friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit and begins after 6:30 p.m. and lasts several hours. The best viewing generally occurs later in the evening. 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.

“The Blue Snowball, located in Andromeda about 1,800 light-years away, is a wonderful object that should appear as a blue haze with its white dwarf at its center,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.

The viewing may also feature the Double Cluster in Perseus, which is generally easily visible to the naked eye. “This twosome is a beautiful sight in a telescope at low power,” Whittemore says. “They are both located in close proximity towards the Perseus arm of our galaxy about 7,000 light-years away, which is very young for open star clusters. Their apparent size is about the diameter of the full moon, so they fill the field of an amateur telescope.”

Whittemore says he also hopes to show off the Blinking Planetary (NGC 6826) in Cygnus, the Swan. “This planetary nebula plays tricks on your eyes,” he says. “If you focus on its central white dwarf star, its haze vanishes. However, if you pay attention to the haze, the star’s atmosphere shooting out into space, you see the white dwarf. You be the judge. Is it really blinking?”

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. Here is a pdf of the campus map.