The Woodward News

Local News

July 23, 2013

Here's your chance to learn about red stars

Woodward, Okla. — Do you know what a red star is?

If not, the Starcreek Astronomical Society is offering you an opportunity to learn all about these unique stellar objects through a special presentation at this weekend's public star party at the Selman Living Laboratory (SLL) Observatory near Freedom.  The presentation will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday followed by public star viewing, if skies are clear.

The presentation will be led by Kansas astronomer Richard Meredith, who has devoted so much time studying these celestial bodies that his nickname is Richard "Red Star," according to Bobette Doerrie, secretary for the Starcreek group.

"He (Meredith) has such an enthusiasm for red stars that it's contagious," Doerrie said.   "And he knows a lot about them.  He's spent years tracking and studying them."

Meredith told The News that most of his studying has simply been in viewing the stars.  He described his tracking of the stars as a hobby, but that one he enjoys sharing with others.

"Really I like showing people where they can find them," he said.

While Meredith may give a more technical description during his upcoming presentation, Doerrie described red stars as "gorgeous because they're really unusual."

"They change size and expand and contract down, and as they do so they also change color," she said.

The red stars get their name from the amount of carbon present in them which often gives them a red hue, at least when they are contracted down, she said.

"Because the carbon is more concentrated when they're contracted, and it's the carbon that makes them red," Doerrie said.  "Those that have just a little bit of carbon are more orange and those with not much carbon are more yellow, like our sun."

Sometimes the stars will shift from yellow and orange colors when they are expanded, and become more red as they contract, she said.

However, this color change will take at least a few hours to be noticeable, Doerrie said, and that is only for the rare stars that have a short color cycle.  Most take much longer, she said, noting "it could be weeks, months, or even years."

The length of the color cycle depends in part on the size of the star, with bigger stars taking longer to expand and contract, she said.

Meredith is expected to explain more about these color cycles and other aspects of these variable stars during Saturday's presentation.

Doerrie said Meredith's presentation will likely take about an hour and afterward Meredith will "lead us on a tour of red stars that are visible in July and August as long as the skies are clear."

But even if the skies happen to be cloudy on Saturday, she said Meredith will still give his presentation on the unique red stars.

The SLL Observatory will also be open for the public on Friday evening as well for another opportunity for star viewing, Doerrie said.  If there happens to be cloudy weather on Friday, she said Starcreek Astronomical Society will show a video, "we'll probably do a feature on Saturn because it's visible right now and its rings are actually tilted so it's an unusually beautiful sight."

So if skies are clear, participants will have the opportunity to not only view red stars, but also see Saturn and a number of other interesting celestial objects including binary stars, globular clusters, and even nebulae, which are clouds of gas where new stars are "born," Doerrie said.

There will be several telescopes set up for public use at SLL Observatory on both evenings for those who may not have their own, Doerrie said.

However, those with telescopes are "more than welcome to bring their own," she said.  "Particularly if they're not that familiar with them or they need help learning how to use them, we would love to help them out."

Doerrie said the whole purpose of this weekend's public viewing opportunities and Meredith's presentation is to foster a love of the majesties of space.

"We're hoping to help people gain a greater appreciation for the wonder of the skies," she said.  "These (red stars) are things that most people don't know exist, so we just love showing people some of the fascinating things in the sky that they can't see with just the naked eye."

Both the public viewing on Friday night and Meredith's presentation and the star party on Saturday are free and open to the public.  You just need to make the trek out to the SLL Observatory which is located southwest of Freedom along County Road E/W 21.

"The surest way to get there is to go to the Alabaster Caverns sign (along Highway 50) and then go a mile north and then 7 miles west," Doerrie said.  "The key to finding it is a short stretch of black top, because once you pass that, then you're at the turn."

She said there will be a red-blinking light at the turn and that the observatory will be located on the north side of the road.

For additional directions to the SLL Observatory, visit nwosu.edu/science/physics/sll/ and click the link on the left for "Map to Site."

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