Jupiter Jumps into View this Month

Westmont ObservatoryThe gas giant Jupiter will be the star attraction at this month’s free public viewing on Friday, Feb. 20, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and lasting several hours at the Westmont Observatory. 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.

Rising in Leo, Jupiter will be in good position for viewing in the early evening. “Since Jupiter has passed through opposition recently — and now rising just before the sun sets — we may be lucky enough to see a shadow cast onto its surface by one of its large moons,” says Thomas Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor.

The viewing may also feature the Orion Nebula, M42. “Orion is high in the sky by 8 p.m.,” Whittemore says. “If the seeing is good this evening, we may be able to see six of the Trapezium stars in the heart of the nebula with Westmont’s 24-inch reflector telescope.”

The Milky Way, which contains a number of open clusters, is high in the winter sky and a popular viewing subject. “One of my favorites, M35 in Gemini, is a chain of stars with all sorts of subtle color variations,” he says. “This particular object will be best viewed in Westmont’s 8-inch refractor.”

Mars and Venus are putting on quite a show in the west, although their alignment will make them unobservable with Westmont’s telescopes. “By Friday evening, they will be about a degree or so apart in this chance alignment,” he says. “The proximity of the creamy-colored (and bright) Venus with the fiery-red (and much dimmer than Venus) Mars yields a wonderful color contrast between the two objects. The public will be able to see this pairing early in the evening and with their bare eyes, but by 8 p.m. both objects will have set in the southwest.”

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. Here is a pdf of the campus map.