Gaze at nature’s wonders, Oct. 29

Mission will host its very own Star Party Oct. 29 at Fraser River Heritage Park.

These parties occur around the world — some even last several nights — as local astronomers line up their telescopes for the general public to view the wonders of the night sky. Mission’s organizers are praying for crisp, clear skies that night as members of the Fraser Valley Astronomers Society (FVAS) position their scopes at the south side of Heritage Park so viewers can watch the heavens parade their glories across the southern sky.

Fall is an ideal time for viewing as evenings often provide great seeing. This year’s event is timed so the moon is in a waxing quarter phase, the planet Jupiter is readily visible in the evening sky, and the Milky Way’s companion galaxy Andromeda is overhead. Depending on its path through the solar system, a comet may be visible that evening, and a new supernova may be glimpsed, too, through binoculars and telescopes.

Familiar fall constellations will move slowly across the evening sky. FVAS members will help viewers pick out special cosmic sites that night. Throw in the usual satellites passing overhead, the odd meteor, and perhaps even a transit of the International Space Station, if it’s in the neighbourhood, and you have an evening of fun and learning for the whole family.

If rain falls, FVAS astronomers will present a PowerPoint demonstration on the wonders of the heavens underneath the picnic shelter in the park, just behind the telescope viewing area. Refreshments will be available on site, as organizers will have supplies of hot chocolate, coffee and tea and nibblies on hand.
The Star Party has already generated significant interest and plenty of discussion around Mission amongst folks who have heard the event is being planned.

People who have participated in other such events rave about the sights they see through the scopes. It’s one thing to look at a particularly bright point of light and say, “I think that’s Jupiter,” but it’s another thing entirely to look through a large telescope and see the brilliance of our solar system’s largest planet, its bands, perhaps the Great Red Spot, and the four Galilean moons lined up across her equator. Jupiter has more than 60 moons, but the four seen by Galileo — Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa — can be watched making their regular transits beside the planet or across its disc.
Depending on the size of the telescope, some galaxies move from being a mere blur to actually displaying a defined shape. Andromeda will be visible high in the sky near the constellation Cassiopeia. A new supernova has erupted in the Pinwheel Galaxy which is located near the handle of the Big Dipper, and may be visible through binoculars or telescopes.

Participants are reminded to dress warmly. The event starts around 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.