Stargazers to See Red Giant

By Scott Craig   |   April 23, 2024
The Westmont Observatory opens April 19 (photo by Brad Elliott)

Less than two weeks after everyone’s attention was focused on the solar eclipse, the Westmont Observatory focuses on lunar craters and a red giant Friday, April 19, beginning after sunset at 7:30 pm and lasting several hours. The observatory, home to the powerful Keck Telescope, opens to the public every third Friday of the month in conjunction with knowledgeable volunteers from the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit.

The 11-day-old moon will be high in the east during the start of stargazing. “Rising in Leo – the lion – the moon will offer a host of prominent craters near its south pole, including Tycho and its neighbors,” says Tom Whittemore, Westmont physics instructor emeritus.

If you follow the arc of the handle of the Big Dipper, you will discover the red giant Arcturus, a seven-billion-year-old aging star in Boötes, the herdsman. “Nearby is a favorite double of mine, Cor Caroli, Latin for the Heart of Charles since it was named after an English king,” Whittemore says. “Gold and blue, this pair of stars lies 110 light-years from us. I like to remind viewers that the light they are seeing comes to their eyes from the start of the First World War. The binary stars are easily separated by a small telescope.”

If you bring your own binoculars to the star party, Whittemore says M3 will be visible high in the east, midway between Cor Caroli and Arcturus. “Sporting about 500,000 stars, M3 contains more variable stars than any other globular cluster,” he says.

In case of cloudy skies, please call the Telescope Viewing Hotline at (805) 565-6272 to hear if the viewing has been canceled.


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