Dean Kelly’s star gazing interests grew out of looking at the night skies as a child.
“I grew up on a farm out between Jefferson and Scio,” Kelly said. “We had dark skies but weren’t really aware of how special that was and how rare it is becoming now.”
Kelly watched some of the very first satellites during his growing up years, and later as a Boy Scout, got to know a few of the constellations.
“But it was when I was in the Navy, stationed in Key West, Fla., that I got my first real taste of what was out there,” he said. “Several of us drove up to the Everglades one weekend to camp out. There was a fellow there from New York with a small telescope, and he invited us over to see Saturn. I had never looked through a telescope before. I’m sure I made what I refer to now as the ‘Saturn Gasp’.”
Old Ranch, Silver Falls State Park
Saturday, Aug. 27, 9 p.m. to midnight
Sponsored by Night Sky 45 Astronomy Club,
Silver Falls State Park and Friends of Silver Falls
Cost: $5 per vehicle day use fee.
Star gazing event is free.
Info: 503-873-8681 ext. 21
Kelly’s glimpse of the planet, complete with its circling rings, was life-changing.
“I’ve never forgotten that moment and that vision,” he said. “But it wasn’t until years later that I finally got my first telescope.”
About 15 years ago, Kelly attended a star party in Salem hosted by John Dobson, the inventor of the Dobsonian telescope mount and a strong promoter of amateur astronomy.
“Looking at the star clusters, nebula, and the moons of Jupiter convinced me that someday I needed to get a telescope for myself,” Kelly said.
In 1977, Kelly bought his first telescope and has been exploring the night sky ever since.
In 1999, he became a member of the Night Sky 45 Astronomy Club in Salem, serving as president of the club twice. Night Sky 45 was formed in April 1999 as a viewing club, allowing people who share an interest in astronomy and related topics to joining with others in sharing knowledge and observing experiences. Ownership of a telescope is not a requirement for membership.
This year, Night Sky 45 along with Silver Falls State Park and Friends of Silver Falls will host its seventh annual Silver Falls Star Party from 9 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 27 at the park’s Old Ranch. Participants will be able to enjoy a night of star gazing as well as learn about constellations, nebulas and other heavenly sights. Admission is free, but there is a $5 per vehicle day-use fee. Friends of Silver Falls will serve hot chocolate, coffee and cookies in the barn for a donation.
“We do this every August, but the date changes depending on when the sky is the darkest,” said Vicki Sink, park ranger and Cascades-Rogue District Interpretive Coordinator. “There will be a general introduction by park staffer, followed by a talk on the constellations. We usually provide red cellophane for flashlights, but if you have a red filter, that would be helpful.”
The Silver Falls event is scheduled so as not to interfere with the Oregon Star Party, east of Prineville, which a lot of Night Sky 45 members attend, Kelly said.
“People who arrive early will have a chance to walk about and look at the different types of telescopes that club members will bring,” he said. “This is an excellent change to learn about the equipment we use.”
Following the park presentation, people are welcome to look through members’ telescopes at “some of the brighter objects visible before the sky gets truly dark,” Kelly said.
“Once the constellations are clearly visible, I call everybody together and give a star talk where I point out different constellations and stars and talk about how they got their names,” he added, “some of the mythology behind them and what you can expect to see through the telescopes in these areas.”
About 300 people usually come out for a night of star gazing, he said.
“We’ll usually have about 20 telescopes set up so there is very little wait to take a look.”
Kelly expects to look at Jupiter and its moons, star clusters, the remains of stars that have gone nova or supernova (exploded leaving clouds of gas behind), nebula where stars and planets are being formed, and galaxies that are millions of light years distant.
“Most of us who live here in the Willamette Valley seldom if ever get a chance to view the stars under a truly dark sky,” Kelly said. “While there are definitely darker and clearer skies if you venture to Eastern Oregon, the Old Ranch at Silver Falls is exceptionally free of the glow of cities, street lights, and other lights that now rob of the stars.”
Club members will have telescopes with apertures of up to 16 inches – the width of a mirror – able to pull in distant objects such as galaxies or island universes that shed their light 20 or 20 million years ago, according to Kelly.
“That light has been traveling across the vast emptiness of the universe for all these millions of years until it finally reaches our tiny blue marble of a planet,” he said. “It would be an absolute shame to let that light go to waste without enlightening the back of your eyeball!”
For the more enthusiastic budding astronomers, Night Sky 45 meets the first Wednesday of every month except December at 7 p.m. at the Chemeketa Community College planetarium.
“We have members who are just getting started and learning about the sky to others who have worked professionally in the field of astronomy. Everyone is welcome.”
For information, on Night Sky 45 call Kelly at 503-881-1311 or visit www.nightsky45.com.
For information on the star party, call 503-873-8681 ext. 21 or 503-874-0201.
Most amateur observers like sharing their telescopes, according to the Once Night Sky 45 members. However, even small amounts of white light can interrupt the view. Consider:
Park away from the viewing field if you arrive after dark.
Set up telescope at least a few yards away from your neighbors.
Have a “red” flashlight for use at the site. Modify a regular flashlight by covering the lens with a filter made from red construction paper, fabric, colored cellophane, or tail-light repair tape.
Check before using lights or opening car doors to not ruin star gazing moments.
Let others know if you are taking photos (astrophotography/CCD imaging).
Bring sleeping bags for the kids who often get cold and tired early.
Bring warm clothes, even in summer.
Bring warm drinks and food.
Leave dogs at home.
Keep music low or use earphones.
Bring folding chair or chaise lounge.