Stargazers to Glimpse Open Clusters

The Westmont Observatory is open to the public every third Friday of the month

The Westmont Observatory is open to the public every third Friday of the month

The Westmont Observatory, which opens its doors to the public every third Friday of the month, will focus on several open clusters that will be at the zenith Friday, March 17, beginning at 7 p.m. and lasting several hours.

Among these grouping of stars will be M35 near the ankles of Gemini, the Twins.  “This cluster is particularly interesting because of how brightly it shines despite being about 2,800 light-years away,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.

Later in the viewing, Whittemore says he would like to zoom in on other open clusters in Auriga, the Charioteer, including M36 (4,100 light-years), M37 (4,400 light-years) and M38 (4,200 light-years). “Of these last three, I am particularly fond of M38 with its splashy patterns of stars,” he says. “As usual, it will be fun to ask the viewers to talk about the patterns they see in each of these wonderful objects.

“It’s always illuminating to ask the stargazers to imagine placing our sun in the midst of these clusters, given their great distances. The cluster stars would far outshine our sun.  In fact, our sun would be barely visible among these far younger, blue-white giants.”

The viewing at Westmont occurs in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit, whose members bring their own telescopes to Westmont for public use.

The Keck Telescope, a 24-inch F/8 Cassegrain reflecting instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics, is housed in the observatory between Russell Carr Field and the track and field/soccer complex. Free parking is available near the baseball field.

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