2014-8-29: So Many Magical Star Parties, 2014 ⬅︎
Never before have we had so many Star Parties in a row at Starry Hill, nearly all with perfect weather. Groups came from all over -- school groups, homeschool co-ops, National Park Service Rangers, Tacoma Metro Parks, etc. -- wow! All very magical.

Read what one of the Rangers from Mt Rainier had to say...

Heading north on Hwy 7 from the Eatonville Triangle, you come 'round a corner and begin a descent into Ohop Valley. Not long before you reach the intersection with Peterson Road, you can catch the briefest glimpse of the dome of Starryhill Observatory near the crest of the ridge on the opposite side of the valley. Below, the land is protected from development by the Nisqually Land Trust and a proposed State Park. Above, the vault of the heavens rises, devoid of light pollution except at its lower edge. The Milky Way flows through the night like a river and thousands upon thousands of stars shine to be seen over a celestial panorama not visible from the cities. It was my great privilege to have been invited to a star party at Starryhill Observatory last night, an event which kept me up well past bedtime and was worth every second of lost sleep.

Guests from Mount Rainier National Park's Interpretive Division gathered near sundown to await darkness, and were given an introduction to telescopes of various sizes and shapes before being taken into the planetarium for a display/sky map of our proposed targets. Key points for locating the stars and galaxies listed on our "passports" were explained in detail, most using an asterism called the Summer Triangle as a guide. Although I'd owned a small Tasco telescope when I was a teenager and had an interest in astronomy, the Summer Triangle was a new one to me. That was the first of my discoveries for the night, and from then on, I learned at every step.

Assisted by three teen-aged star guide interns, Tom and Gracie took their guests on a fantastic ramble among the stars. My favourite of the night was Albireo, a double-star system boxed within the Summer Triangle. Next was the Wild Duck Cluster, a grouping of stars so dense that through the eyepiece, it seemed there was more light than darkness. This cluster is the 'missing pearl' in the String of Pearls (a constellation which will now be obvious to me when I see it again).

Later in the evening, small groups were escorted into the observatory to observe the process of astrophotography. One of the star guides brought the Whirlpool Nebula to the screen and captured it in a 90- second exposure.

Starryhill Observatory is a private organization, dedicated to bringing science to kids (or rather, bringing kids to science). The enthusiasm of the star guides is a testament to their success at the project. And this kid, grey- haired though I may be, had the time of her life exploring the night sky in a fabulous new experience. Thank you so much, Tom and Gracie!


- Reprinted with permission of Crow Vecchio, Volunteer Coordinator, Mt Rainier National Park.
- Photos used with permission of Kevin Bacher, Interpretive Ranger, Mt Rainier National Park.