CMC Sky Club event to showcase Saturn before it bids the night sky goodbye |

CMC Sky Club event to showcase Saturn before it bids the night sky goodbye

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Through the long lens, a planet can be seen. Pausing, blinking, the amateur astronomer looks through the telescope once more in disbelief as Saturn comes into focus.

Saturn, with its intricate system of rings, is one of the planets many astronomers say led them to stargazing.

"It's breathtaking," said Paul McCudden, new astronomy professor at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs campus. "The beautiful rings around the planet give it this classic astronomical feeling. It's so distinctive everyone kind of gasps when they see it through the telescope for the first time."

On Friday, CMC's Sky Club will host "Farewell to Saturn and Cassini," an astronomy night program for the community from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Albright Auditorium.

McCudden, who was an astronomy and physic professor in Los Angeles for the last 15 years, will give a presentation on the history of Saturn and talk about the discoveries made about the planet by the NASA spacecraft Cassini. Saturn, he said, will appear on Friday just after sunset and then will disappear temporarily until February.

Since 2004, Cassini has conducted close-up observations of the Saturn system, orbiting the planet and recording data about its atmosphere, rings and moons like Titan. On Sept. 15, the spacecraft made its final approach to Saturn and plunged into the planet's atmosphere.

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"Saturn is such a unique planet," said Katherine Kearney, CMC student and Sky Club member. "It's made up of entirely gasses, and its rings are not solid but rather made of dust, ice and rocks."

Viewers will also get a glimpse of things like the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way.

"No matter where you are in the world, the sky is different and there are always new stars and constellations to learn about," Kearney said. "It's why I love astronomy."

According to Astronomy Magazine's daily outlook, Saturn will be tilted at a maximum angle on Friday, which is significant because the planet’s rings haven't appeared this open since 2003.

"The excitement of seeing something with your own eyes and not just a picture, it's amazing," McCudden said. "Everyone gasps with excitement because they are seeing something that's in the sky every day, but they haven't seen it before like this. That's why we offer events like this to give people a better understanding of the natural world and help them learn the processes of the natural world."

McCudden replaces Jimmy Westlake, long-time CMC professor of astronomy and chemistry who retired last year. In his new role, McCudden said he hopes the Sky Club will offer these free events once a semester for the community.

Sky Club, one of CMC's largest clubs on campus, will also be hosting its annual Halloween event "Screamboat Chamber of Horrors" haunted house later this month.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1.



If you go…

What: Colorado Mountain College SKY Club presents “Farewell to Saturn & Cassini”

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13

Where: Allbright Auditorium, 1275 Crawford Ave.

Defining characteristics of Saturn:

According to Paul McCudden

  • Most people agree its most beautiful planet in solar system
  • It’s the farthest planet from Earth visible to the human eye, but through a telescope, it’s features can be seen
  • Its distinct visible rings are made up of gas, hydrogen and helium
  • It’s big enough to hold more than 760 Earths
  • It has the only moon in the solar system that has its own atmosphere
  • Titan is known as the planet’s largest moon