The Coastal Star

Around Town: Widen your viewpoint with stargazing groups

‘All those times we looked up at the sky,  
Looking out so far  
we felt like we could fly.’
— Grace Potter
& The Nocturnals

By Steve Pike

The winter season in Palm Beach County is prime time for stargazing. And not the kind that involves Rod Stewart and Donald Trump. The heavens come alive in South Florida’s cool winter nights, and from Palm Beach to Boca Raton there are plenty of venues and programs to attract adults and children.
    Over the past couple of months, planets Mars and Jupiter were clearly visible without telescopes; but with a telescope, the heavens truly open up.
For example, the planet Uranus will cross a corner of Cetus the whale on March 3; on March 12, the PanSTARRS comet will appear 28 degrees away from Uranus.
    Mars will be in the western twilight sky until March, and Jupiter, although not as bright as it was in December, will be visible through June.
Here is a rundown of various places in Palm Beach County that offer night-sky viewing.

Science Museum
    A good place to start for families is the South Florida Science Museum’s observatory, which provides views of the night skies over the Palm Beaches through its 14-inch, F-11 Schmidt-Cassegrain Celestron Telescope.
    Damaged in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, the observatory reopened last year and offers public viewing from 6 to 10 p.m. the last Friday of each month through its “Nights at the Museum” program.     The South Florida Science Museum is the only public planetarium in Palm Beach County. The planetarium presents daily shows utilizing a traditional star projector, as well as full-dome digital video presentations on a variety of scientific topics.

Address: 4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach
Dates: Last Friday of each month
Admission: $11 for non-members; $7 for children non-members; $5 for members;  free for children 3 and under; free for members 12 and under
Phone: 832-1988

Astronomical Society
The Astronomical Society of the Palm Beaches conducts monthly observing sessions in dark-sky and urban locations. There is no age restriction for membership.
Meetings are held at 7:30 p.m. the first Wednesday of each month at the Motorola Science Theatre at the South Florida Science Museum just north of the Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach. They include  presentations on a variety of topics related to astronomy.
Address: 4801 Dreher Trail N., West Palm Beach
Dates: Meeting is first Wednesday of the month; viewings scheduled throughout month
Membership: $30 (single or family)
Website: www.palmbeach

The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach has a pair of Meade Instruments telescopes on its oceanfront property in Manalapan. Members of the Astronomical Society work with spectators (hotel guests and the public) to see the stars and planets.
    The Ritz-Carlton Palm Beach doesn’t charge for the telescope viewings, but there is a charge for the food and beverage services. (Don’t miss the caviar tacos at Angle Restaurant.)
Address: 100 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan
Dates: Select
Admission: No charge
Phone: 933-6000

Schoolhouse Museum
The Schoolhouse Children’s Museum & Learning Center in Boynton Beach offers stargazing as part of its “From the Oceans to the Stars” program. The stargazing, open to all ages, will be from 8 to 9 p.m. on select Fridays, on the lawn to the east of the museum building.
    “We have a very high-powered telescope that was donated to us a few years ago by the Hunter’s Run community in Boynton Beach. It’s really a lot of fun for families to come out and see things in the sky they can’t see with their ordinary vision,” said Lindsey Nuzzo, marketing and development manager for the museum and learning center.
    Address: 129 E. Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach
Dates: Select Fridays
Admission: $6.50 per class for members ($32 for all eight sessions);  $7.50 per class for non-members ($40 for all eight sessions)
Phone: 742-6786

In Boca Raton, the Astronomical Observatory at Florida Atlantic University is housed under a 4-meter dome. FAU students, faculty, staff and members of the general public can attend the observatory’s public viewing events. The telescope is mounted on a small platform, at the top of stairs, looking out of the roof of the building.
    Public viewing sessions are scheduled for 7 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday of each month. There is no charge.
Address: 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton (Science Building, fourth floor)
Dates: First and third Tuesdays
Admission: No charge
Phone: 297-3000

Science Explorium
    Also in Boca Raton, the Children’s Science Explorium has its “Eyes to the Skies” program ongoing through May 17. The program, free to the public, features a 16-inch Meade LX Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
Address: 300 S. Military Trail, Boca Raton
Dates: Through May 17, weather permitting
Admission: No charge
Phone: 347-3913


March 5: Comet PanSTARRS passes closest to Earth at 1.10 astronomical units (AU). One AU equals one Earth-sun distance, about 93 million miles. In other words, this comet will pass slightly farther from us than our distance from the sun. No worries about it hitting us.
March 10: The comet passes closest to the sun — as close as our sun’s innermost planet, Mercury — at 0.30 AU, or about 28 million miles. Comets are typically brightest and most active around the time they are closest to the sun, when solar heating vaporizes ice and dust from the comet’s outer crust. Not only will the comet quickly brighten, but it also should develop the long classic comet dust tail.
Throughout March: The comet could be visible in the northern hemisphere evening sky, low in the west, after sunset. It will move northward each evening during March as it moves from in front of the constellation Pisces to in front of the constellations Pegasus and Andromeda. At this time, the comet might have a bright dust tail, and perhaps be visible to the unaided eye or binoculars.

Source: South Florida Science Museum

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