Westmont’s Keck Telescope, one of the most powerful along the Central Coast, turns its attention to the ringed planet Saturn and the Needle Galaxy at a free, public viewing Friday, April 19, 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 canceled.
Although Saturn rises after sunset, Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says Saturn should be in a good position as the night progresses. “If the seeing is good this evening, we should be able to see some details on the ball of the planet as well as several of Saturn’s moons,” says Whittemore, who earned a master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the University of Arizona.
The evening may also include views of the Needle Galaxy, NGC 4565. “This beautiful, spiral galaxy lies in Coma Berenices and is estimated to be 30 to 50 million light-years away,” Whittemore says.
Another highlight of the viewing may be the globular cluster M3, which was discovered in 1764 by Charles Messier. “It’s probably one of the most studied globular clusters,” Whittemore says. “Some amateur astronomers consider it to be one of the finest globular clusters in the northern sky, second only to the Great Globular Cluster, M13, in Hercules. M3 is unusual in that it contains a very large number of variable stars.”
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.