Stargazers might enjoy views of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot at this month’s public viewing at the Westmont Observatory on Friday, Feb. 21, beginning after 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours. The free event is held every third Friday of the month in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit. 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.
“Jupiter will be near the top of the sky during the early hours of the public viewing, so we should get some clear and steady views of the planet and maybe the ancient storm,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.
The Great Orion Nebula may also be a highlight of the viewing. “If the weather cooperates, we may be able to see all six of the Trapezium stars in this distant stellar nursery,” he says.
Last month, visitors enjoyed testing their color sense with several binary stars that Whittemore targeted. “One of my favorites was the green-reddish pair in the system, Eta Cassiopeiae,” he says. “These stars are about 20 light-years away and take 500 years to orbit one another. Although they may look like they are on top of one another in the telescope, the two stars of Eta Cassiopeiae are separated by more than twice the distance Pluto is from our sun.”
Westmont students and faculty use the Keck Telescope, a 24-inch reflector, to conduct astronomical research. The observatory sits between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.