Join Us at Autumn Starfest 2018

Illustration by Rori Baldari

Come and join AAA members and the Urban Park Rangers at the annual Autumn Starfest at the Sheep Meadow on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. This event will be held on through clear/cloudy skies. The event will only be cancelled if it rains. 

All ages welcome. Free gift bags and glow sticks to the first 250. Enter Sheep Meadow from W. 67th Street.

Starfest is free and open to the public but we’d like people to register in advance if possible. Register at Eventbrite or right from our Facebook event listing.

AAA’ers and Urban Park Rangers share their knowledge and views through their telescopes of planets, star clusters, double stars, and other objects in the night sky.

Scheduled guest speakers are Franck Marchis of SETI Institute and Al Nagler, Founder of Tele Vue Optics.

There will be a free raffle for a Celestron NexStar 60 SLT telescope and AAA t-shirts. Raffle tickets will be provided at the entrance.

What’s up in the sky that night? There will be several solar system objects to observe in addition to late summer deep sky objects: Jupiter, Saturn, asteroid Vesta, Mars, and nearly full moon. Beyond the solar system, bright globular clusters, open clusters, and multiple stars can be observed.

Prior to Sunset

For those with eagle eyes, Venus may be spotted naked eye (without any optical equipment) low in the southwest sky, if the horizon is unobstructed.

An experienced observer may find Jupiter, it is another planet bright enough to be seen during the day though binoculars or a telescope is needed. With Venus at the center of a clock face, Jupiter will be 15º in 10:30 direction.


Shortly after Sunset

A line up of planets awaits you when dusk begins to fall.

Credit Sky Safari annotated by Peter Tagatac.

Look low across the sky from southwest to southeast and four bright starlike objects will be spotted; a large gibbous Moon is the fifth object rising in the southeast. These are planets, two of which we discussed already. Starting from the southwest, Venus, the third brightest object in the sky, is in the constellation Virgo and about to set. Jupiter is in Libra, about 15º to east-northeast of Venus. Tonight, Jupiter’s retinue of four moons will be easy pickings; with steady air and some magnification at 150x or greater, the Great Red Spot can be seen.

Look due south, that somewhat bright, yellowish light is the ringed planet Saturn. Its ring inclination is about as great as can be. After it gets darker, if you want to look for features beyond your first gasp at the rings, amp up the magnification greater than 100x, ideally 150x or better if conditions permit. Look for the Cassini Division, a fine black line in the rings that separates the A-ring from the B-ring. The A-ring is the outermost ring, appearing narrow, smoky, and translucent. Contrast this to the B-ring, inside of the Cassini Division which is wider and more solidly white looking. Also look for the planet casting its shadow on the ring. If the seeing and transparency conditions are remarkable, and you have sufficient magnification, you may even discern the innermost C-ring. It, too, is ashy and translucent, but more fleeting than the A-ring. Lastly, look for Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, appearing on the leading side, just below the planet.

30º further east, Mars in Capricornus is the brilliant ruddy shine. It made its closest approach to Earth in late July, and appeared its largest since 2003. The distance to Mars increases by the day, it appears samller at 17 arc seconds—still respectable for those wanting to attempt any features. A global, Martian dust storm which obscured surface features has now settled. Mars will need magnification but you might see a dark banding running horizontally across the Martian disk. Syrtis Major will the darkest spot towards the western limb with Tyrrhenian Terra running horizontally.

A 12.5 day waxing, gibbous Moon in Aquarius rises in the east. Binoculars and a telescope offer impressive views of our planetary sibling. 

Around 9:00 ~ 9:30PM EDT, Neptune in Aquarius and Uranus in Pisces are two icy giants in orbit past Jupiter and Saturn; Neptune being the most distant planet form the Sun. The star charts below will help you locate Neptune since this magnitude 8 planet can be a little tricky to identify in the eyepiece. It should have a bluish hue and a tiny disk compared to stars.

Annotated Sky Safari star chart by Peter Tagatac.

Here is a more focused star hop.