My Witt's End

Get Your Party Pants On

Originally posted 22 September 2012

I know, you’re about partied out with all the celebrations surrounding the first day of autumn, kids going back to school and the opening of the professional football season, however, here’s a biggy you won’t want to miss. (Besides, it’s Saturday and you can sleep in tomorrow.) In case you missed earlier announcements, this is International Observe the Moon Night.

Right, an official night to do what humans (and other creatures) have been doing since before before.

Susan and I got a jump on the festivities last night by attending a pre-event party at Westmont College in nearby Montecito (still in California). The school opens its doors the third Friday of each month, giving us civilians an opportunity to see the world beyond anything we might imagine.

The keyhole through which we would peek was a 24-inch reflector telescope in the Westmont Observatory. The relatively new high-tech telescope is one of the more powerful on California's Central Coast. (For you tech-type readers, its an F/8 Cassegrain instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics.)

The Westmont College Observatory’s five-year-old 24-inch Keck Telescope, is already credited with confirming the existence of one supernova and is used by students to research meteorite trajectories, variable stars, and other celestial phenomena.

A half-dozen members of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit set up personal telescopes in the plaza surrounding the Keck scope, offering stargazers the chance to see various phenomena, including observations of the moon so close you could almost see footprints.

We spent several hours circulating from scope to scope, listening to astronomers talk in a language we could barely comprehend. And though we couldn’t speak their language, we were able to appreciate the mystery of places such as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (Messier 13, or NGC 6205) with its 300,000 stars, and the blue-green tinge of the Ring Nebula (M57, or NGC 6720) 2,300 light-years from Earth.

What concerns me is a conversation I had with one of the astronomers. He feels that there is a very real chance the Andromeda Galaxy (still 2.5 Million light-years away), which contains about one trillion stars, and the Milky Way (home base for planet Earth), which contains about three hundred billion stars, will collide in about four billion years. Shouldn’t we be doing something to prepare for this? I’m just sayin’.


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