Public Viewing to Be a Mission to Mars

The Westmont Observatory

The Westmont Observatory

Westmont’s powerful Keck Telescope will zoom in on the planet Mars during a free, public viewing Friday, May 16, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The best viewing generally occurs later in the evening. 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.

As Jupiter continues to get lower in the western sky, Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor, says the target this month will be Mars. “Last month, because of the steady skies, we were able to see, at high power, one of Mars’ polar caps,” he says.

The viewing may also include the globular cluster M3. “Made up of about 500,000 stars it is estimated to be 8 billion years old and located at about 33,900 light-years away,” Whittemore says.

Stargazers may enjoy another open cluster, M35 in Gemini.  “This is one of the most stunning open clusters in the spring sky,” he says. “M35 covers an area of the sky almost the size of the full moon. It’s always interesting to hear what patterns observers see in this collection of stars. Come and take a look.”

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.