California Stargazing in October

A hearty  bunch of twenty local folks gathered at the Veterans' ball field in Mokelumne Hill for an evening of stargazing on Friday, October 8. Two members of the Stockton Astronomical Society, Doug Christesen and Bill Litle, led the group in a romp through space. Both brought their own telescopes, one 8" and one 12". Rod Hanchet brought his 8" telescope as well.

Ass earth slowly rotated away from the Sun-star, the scattered blue light diminished and the atmosphere became more transparent. Venus and the moon were first to emerge to the naked eye. Both go through similar phases as they pass between this planet and the Sun's radiations. Through the 8" and 12" telescopes, the lunar landscape shined in vivid detail. Craters are inside craters telling us of the bombardment of that body as it grew from rubble of long dead bodies.

The lunar mountains cut a sharp line against the black background. We feel so much closer than ever before. We cannot "see" the surface of our sisters planet in colors our eyes can see, but we are motivated to search out images using radar's frequencies.

Soon Jupiter emerges farther to the East along the path that all planets follow. We observe the four largest of the eighty plus moons whirling around this giant changing position every night as we look. Tonight, three moons were on one side and one on the other.

Our guides Christiansen and Litle tell us that these moons are are tortured by the pull of Jupiter causing heat to build up as they are bent under the strain. One has liquid rock erupting from its surface, the other has a liquid salt water ocean under a mile of ice. The liquid bursts through cracks in the ice forming giant geysers. NASA plans to sample these spurts for possible life forms. If life can survive in hit minerals under Earth's oceans, then perhaps it also evolved under the ice far from the Sun's rays.

Next comes Saturn with its many prominent rings and strained surface. Pictures of this scene can be found, but none compare to this direct observation. The light reflected from these giant worlds took the better part of an hour to get here. The light from the Sun takes about eight minutes to get here. Clearly these planets are way out there!

By now many stars are visible. These stars are much bigger than our Sun. For many, if we were there, we would not be able to see our Sun! Light from these objects takes years to get here. We are really seeing how these looked way back then. All different distances, all different shots of history. So what does NOW mean? Three stars are easy to see if you look straight up. How many of us can still look that high and not tip over backwards? The grade school kids attending found it easy enough. It was indeed a pleasure to see kids NOT with their noses stuck in a handheld device. These three stars Vega, Deneb and Altair form a triangle that's as easy to recognize as the Big Dipper.

We observe star clusters each of which is comprised of many similar stars some of which are the oldest stars around having formed billions of years ago.

"Could these clusters have formed in even older galaxies now collected together into the larger group," one participant asks. "Could be," responds our guide. "Many, many possibilities."

Next planetary nebulae. A star in the middle of a stellar mass ejections as a star slowly dies to a white dwarf. This mass may someday contribute elements to the formation of future worlds with future intelligences seeking to understand space time and themselves in the process. Will these intelligences look at the sky and wonder?

We observe other galaxies many of similar shape to "ours." We learn that Andromeda galaxy along with its smaller companions will eventually merge with ours. That's gonna be a show to watch.

The party began at 6 p.m. and was over a little past 9 p.m. All participants expressed gratitude to our party leaders for their efforts and enthusiasm. We all look forward to Star Party 2 to be scheduled in early January 2022. Watch for fliers at the coffee house, around town, and in the Ledger Dispatch.

A big thanks to the Veterans for loaning us the ball field, Bill and Doug, Kathy for the pizza that fed the crew. A special thanks to the parents and grandparents that brought their generations and in doing so, opened up the greatest show on Earth (and off it) to our future citizens and scientists.