Telescope to Spy on Jupiter, Orion Nebula

Westmont’s Keck Telescope, one of the most powerful along the Central Coast, will offer glimpses of Jupiter and the Orion Nebula (Messier 42) at a free, public viewing Friday, Feb. 15, beginning about 7:30 p.m. at the Westmont Observatory. 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, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565-6272 and check the Westmont website to see if the viewing has been cancelled.

Early in the viewing, Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says he hopes to focus the 24-inch reflector telescope on the planet Jupiter. “We may be able to see the shadow of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, cast onto the surface of the planet,” says Whittemore, who earned a master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the University of Arizona. “It will lie close to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.”

The viewing may also focus on the Orion Nebula, regarded as one of the most photographed objects in the night sky. “Located some 1,400 light-years distant, this is one of the winter sky’s most spectacular stellar nurseries,” Whittemore says. “If the view is good, we may be able to discern the six hot, blue stars that make up the Trapezium Cluster in the center of the Orion Nebula.”

The viewing may also include a glimpse of Messier 35 in Gemini, the Twins. “Messier 35 is an open cluster of stars located 2,700 light-years away from Earth,” Whittemore says. “Dominated by young, hot, blue stars, this weakly bound cluster is scattered over a 24-light-year-wide region and appears about the same size as the full Moon in the night sky.”

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.