Saturn the big star at last Saturday’s star party near Plevna

Written by  Wednesday, 20 September 2017 18:13
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Don Vaillancourt of the North Frontenac Economic Development committee and Alex Dolnycky and Frank Dempsey of the North York Astronomical Association get ready for Saturn to make an appearance at last Saturday’s star party on the pad near Plevna. Photo/Craig Bakay Don Vaillancourt of the North Frontenac Economic Development committee and Alex Dolnycky and Frank Dempsey of the North York Astronomical Association get ready for Saturn to make an appearance at last Saturday’s star party on the pad near Plevna. Photo/Craig Bakay

About 50 people showed up to the Sky Pad near Plevna Saturday night where the planet Saturn was the main attraction.

“This is a good night because you don’t always get to see Titan (Saturn’s largest moon and the second largest moon in the solar system after Jupiter’s Ganymede),” said Alex Dolnycky, who was visiting from the North York Astronomical Association.
It was also timely as the Cassini spacecraft ended its mission by burning up in Saturn’s atmosphere Sept. 15, the night before the star party.

Dolnycky said Saturn is especially interesting for him because another Saturnian moon, Enceladus, is covered in ice that is thought to cover a subsurface ocean and as such could be a good candidate for harboring primitive life. Dolnycky lectures on the possibility of life in the solar system with Enceladus and Mars being his top two candidates.

Telescopes were also trained on a number of Messier objects this night, with M13, the Great Globular Cluster in the constellation Hercules being particular spectacular. M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in the Summer Triangle was also worth a look.
The final star party this year is scheduled for Oct. 14 when our closest neighbour galaxy, Andromeda, will be well placed.

North Frontenac’s astronomer-in-residence, Gary Colwell, was also on hand and was more than willing to share his eclipse adventure this summer.

On Aug. 21, Colwell was in Grand Island, Nebraska to see to total solar eclipse. While eclipses themselves aren’t rare, being in the path of a total solar eclipse isn’t something most people get to do very often, so the 5,000 kilometre trip was something Colwell won’t forget.

“There must have been 3,000 people from Canada in the KOA campgrounds,” Colwell said. “And when the eclipse happened, we were all cheering like little kids.”
Colwell had his gear with him and got some spectacular video and photos, but they’re a bonus to the actual experience, he said.

“For two minutes and 34 seconds, it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “It was almost spiritual, seeing 360 degree twilight.
“It was a bit freaky seeing stars while the sun was out and the temperature dropped maybe five or ten degrees.

“The next one (totality) is in Mexico (2024) and I’m planning to go.”

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