Harvest Moon Stargazing at Westmont Observatory

OakObservatoryWestmont’s powerful Keck Telescope will aim for a double star and two globular clusters during a free, public viewing Friday, Sept. 20, beginning at about 7:30 p.m. and lasting several hours.  The best viewing generally occurs later in the evening. 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.

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.

Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says he hopes to turn the 24-inch reflector telescope toward the blue-gold double star Albireo, which will be near zenith an hour after sunset. “The two stars circle one another every 100,000 years,” he says. “It is interesting to note that the light you see from this binary system is 400 years old.  You are looking at light that has traveled since the time of Galileo.”

Not too far from the moon the viewing may also feature the globular cluster M15 in Pegasus. “A 12 billion-year-old ball of stars, M15 is a magnificent object  especially when you consider that it houses a black hole in its center,” Whittemore says. “Although we won’t be able to see the black hole, we can still admire M15’s twinkling members.”

The telescope may also zoom in on another globular cluster, M2, which has about 150,000 very old stars and a noticeable elliptical shape.

Most of the viewing will be away from the moon, which will be a day or so after its full phase (The Harvest Moon). Also, early in the evening the planets Venus and Saturn will be very close to the western horizon. They will be visible, but not through the telescopes because they will be too low in the 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.