An evening with the stars in the SCV

Robi Mukherjee, a member of The Local Group Astronomy Club in Santa Clarita, calibrates his telescope for the quarterly Star Party at Vasquez Rocks in 2017. While equipment like this helps, it’s certainly not necessary to enjoy a night under the stars in the SCV — if you know where to look, according to the experts. Signal file photo
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It may seem like the millions of stars and constellations that light up the night sky are undetectable without the proper equipment, but local astronomy experts say the colorful nebulas and glowing galaxies that span hundreds of miles are detectable with nothing but your eyes and a dark night.

JPL Engineer Dave Doody said residents can look up at the night sky and see Jupiter and its bright moons from anywhere in the next few weeks.

“You can’t miss it these nights,” Doody said, explaining it’ll appear as a bright light in the south. Look a little over to the west and you’ll also likely see Saturn, which is another stellar sight.

As the Santa Clarita Valley has grown more populous, light pollution has hampered amateur astronomers’ ability to spot the stars, but Dave Flynn, president of the Local Group Astronomy Club of the SCV, said it’s still possible to spot them if you’re lucky, and you know where and when to look.

“There’s plenty of stuff to look for with nothing but your eyes when you’re out stargazing — satellites, shooting stars, nebulas,” Flynn said. “You can also look for constellations if you pick up a book or Sky and Telescope magazine, which always has a great ‘What’s Up This Month’ article available online, and talks about the constellations that are visible.”

Sometimes the local astronomy group will do sidewalk astronomy around town, which is when participants set up telescopes in the area, Flynn said, adding, “A perk of living in the Santa Clarita Valley is you don’t have to travel too far out of town to get to a really nice place.”

The darker the sky, the better, Flynn added, mentioning the local astronomy club has an agreement with Vasquez Rocks so it can host up to four star parties four times a year.

“It’s far enough out of town that it’s dark enough for us to see really interesting things like nebulas, galaxies, star clusters and, of course, planets and the moon,” Flynn said, “so pretty much everything you would see at a really dark sky sight, you can see at Vasquez Rocks.”

Whether it’s star parties hosted by College of the Canyons or the local group, telescopes are provided at all of the regularly occurring viewing events, according to Flynn. “There’s one coming up on Oct. 25 at COC, and Oct. 26 is the next Vasquez Rocks Star Party.”

The COC one is great, Flynn said, “because they have a lot of activities and a speaker. But if you want to go to a darker place, come on up to Vasquez. What I always tell people is bring a picnic dinner, enjoy the park and come down to where the telescopes are when it gets dark and look at some cool stuff. It makes for a wonderful evening.”

One of the important things to know before going is that humans have to allow their eyes to adapt to the dark to see better.

“It takes as much as 20 minutes for this to happen, but it takes less than a second to destroy somebody’s night vision, so star party etiquette is very important to follow,” Flynn said, instructing prospective visitors to: try to get there before the event at sundown; park with your headlights facing away from the viewing area so you don’t blind attendees; and avoid using flashlights with the exception of low-power red flashlights.

“This will allow everybody to continue looking up at the stars and have a good time,” Flynn said, adding, “It can be a really magical experience for all.”

Those who are unable to attend the upcoming star parties are invited to join The Local Group’s meetings at the Valencia Library on the second Thursday of every month.

“The best thing to do is check out the website and calendar at LGSCV.org,” Flynn said.

“Usually, events are open to the public, and going out with your eyeballs is great, but if you have a pair of binoculars that will add to the experience because you’ll be able to see a little bit more,” according to Flynn. “Most astronomers will let you look through their telescope even if it’s not a star party because we want to share our hobby with everybody. We love doing this. We want to share it.

“The thing that makes our night is having somebody who’s never seen a planet or galaxy before have that first look,” Flynn said, “and see the ‘oh my gosh. I had no idea’ expression that hangs on their face.”

If you go

“Star party etiquette”

  • try to get there before the event at sundown;
  • park with your headlights facing away from the viewing area so you don’t blind attendees.
  • avoid using flashlights with the exception of low-power red flashlights.

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