Stargazers can take in winter wonders at Deer Lakes Park
By Julie Martin
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Among the heavenly highlights of Wagman Winterfest are sunspots, moon craters and stars — literally — being born.
The 20th anniversary of the annual Winterfest and the only winter star party offered by the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh, the event promises to share a glimpse of winter wonders sure to delight stargazers of all ages.
The star party is open to the public and begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Nicholas E. Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Park in Frazer.
Admission is free.
“Visitors will be able to see winter constellations such as Orion, Sirius and Gemini,” says Terry Trees of the association.
Lunar craters and mountains will be visible, too, as will galaxies in Ursa Major, the planets Mercury and Jupiter and Jupiter's moons.
Sirius — the brightest star in the night sky — and Rigel, the blue double star of the constellation Orion, will be observed.
“Many star clusters and nebulae will also be visible through the observatory's telescopes and telescopes provided by many of the club's members.”
“However,” Trees says, “the highlight of the evening is the Great Nebula of Orion, a stellar nursery where dust clouds are giving birth to new stars.”
That, he says, is his favorite, with its “complex dust clouds and young, bright blue stars.”
The star party gives guests a chance to see an area of the sky that spring, summer and star parties can't offer, says Tom Reiland, the observatory's director.
“There are more bright stars during the winter than any other season,” he says.
In the summer, according to Reiland, 20 or more of the stars visible at this time of year are on the other side of the sun and so, at that time, can't be seen.
A glimpse of brighter stars won't be all that one can see Saturday.
The timing of the star party offers a unique opportunity to see our sun, up close and personal. To take advantage of Winterfest's early start time — star parties in other seasons begin after the sun goes down — members will set up a special filter on telescopes so that star party goers can view the sun and sunspots.
“It's different because most people don't understand that the sun does not look the same all the time, and it's constantly changing,” Reiland says. “Sunspots are basically darker because those are areas that are actually cooler than other areas of the sun. They may be a few thousand degrees cooler, but they're still extremely hot, they just (appear) darker.”
Wagman's telescopes, the Brashear 11-inch refractor and the Manka Memorial telescope, are attractions in their own right.
“At the observatory, we have two fantastic telescopes,” association president John Holtz says. “One is a 21-inch reflector, so it gathers a lot of light, which is good for these faint objects like the Orion nebulae and other nebulae visible in the winter skies.”
The Brashear, he adds, has “exquisite refraction.”
“So, looking at something like Jupiter can take your breath away.”
Those going to the party are reminded that events are held weather permitting. They are also cautioned to dress for temperatures at least 10 degrees colder than the actual weather.
Guests are encouraged to bring their telescopes, too, if they have them. Members of the association will be on hand to demonstrate with their personal equipment to help the public learn how to hone in on the heavens.
“People attend AAAP star parties for both entertainment and educational reasons,” Trees says.
“One can not only learn about the structure of the universe by actually seeing it, one can easily appreciate its fantastic beauty.”
Julie Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Allegheny Township man accused of gashing girlfriend’s face with scissors
- Valley High Touchdown Club officers clash with parents over finances
- Fawn man convicted of firearm violation, which carries minimum 15-year sentence
- Freeport Area moves to seek permits for roadwork at site of school project
- Butler County hunter found dead in Cowanshannock
- ‘Welcome Christmas’ at Casino Theatre embraces the reason for the season
- Knoch High School, Penn United may join forces for tech class
- Casey wants answers on nuclear cleanup shutdown
- Apollo-Ridge superintendent receives $3,000 pay raise
- New Kensington no-kill shelter wants larger home
- Suspect eludes Freeport police by jumping into Buffalo Creek