Star Party Features Christmas Tree Cluster

The Westmont Observatory shrouded by oak trees is open for public viewing of the stars with the Keck telescope

The Westmont Observatory shrouded by oak trees

The Westmont Observatory, home of the powerful Keck Telescope, opens its dome toward the skies for a free, public viewing on Friday, Dec. 21, beginning about 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours. The observatory is available 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.

“We are now in a third-Friday cycle of nearly-full moons,” says Thomas Whittemore, adjunct professor of physics at Westmont. “By 7 p.m., the moon will be high enough in the night sky, located in Taurus, to view through Westmont’s 8-inch refractor telescope.”

The viewing will also zoom in on other regions of the night sky.

“Toward the northeast, we will have the Double Cluster in Perseus and the spooky Owl Nebula in Cassiopeia,” Whittemore says. “And, although it will lie pretty close to the moon, we will try to pick out some detail in the Great Nebula in Orion. Of course my seasonal favorite is Messier 103, the Christmas Tree Cluster in Cassiopeia.”

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.