Viewing to Feature Celestial Double Double

The Westmont Observatory

The Westmont Observatory

Westmont’s powerful Keck Telescope will aim for the Double Double star system during a free, public viewing Friday, Nov. 15, 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 viewing, which will be challenged with a close-to-full moon in the eastern sky, will focus on objects in near the zenith or to the west. Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says he’ll zoom in on Epsilon Lyrae, the Double Double, which is a quartet of stars about 200 light-years away. “One pair of stars takes 600 years to orbit each other and the other pair takes about 1,000 years,” he says. “Now, imagine the fact that the two pairs are separated by 0.2 light-year and would likely take a half million years to complete one orbit.”

Whittemore, who earned a master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the University of Arizona, says stargazers will also be able to spot some wonderful globular clusters during the viewing, including M2 in Aquarius and M15 in Pegasus. “These beautiful balls of 13 billion-year-old stars lie 35,000 to 40,000 light-years from us,” he says. “Each cluster contains 100,000 stars or more and always delights the public at the viewings.”

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 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.