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A Celestial Celebration

Star gazers from around the Pacific Northwest, and beyond, are gathering in the Ochocos this weekend for the 27th Annual Star Party event


Photo Credit: KEVIN SPERL - Jon Brewster, right, of Monmouth, a technology fellow with Hewlett-Packard, talks to Oregon Star Party Co-Director Jim Todd about his optical imaging system.

The stars are out in Central Oregon, and there is a party going on to celebrate them.

These stars are not of the celebrity type, but of the celestial variety, and there is no better place to view them than from deep in the Ochocos.

Claiming to be one of the three darkest and largest star parties in the United States, the Oregon Star Party takes place at the Indian Trail Spring, approximately 45 miles east of Prineville.

Co-director Jim Todd explained that the star party is an opportunity for amateur astronomers of all ages to be with a community and learn about the sky.

Averaging 600 attendees, Todd believes that the main attraction of the OSP is its proximity to cities such as Bend and Portland, making the site accessible to more enthusiasts.

“Despite the proximity to population centers, this location is also very dark,” said Todd. “The altitude (5,000 feet) helps and its location is on the east side, away from those populations. This location is one of the top star-viewing sites in the nation.”

This year marks the party’s 27th year and offers seminars, talks and walkabouts with telescopes lasting until 12:30 a.m., officially, and into the wee hours unofficially.

The event is hosted by OSP’s non-profit organization and is managed by a board of volunteers. It is permitted by the U.S. Forest Service and takes place in a field that provides a clear 360-degree horizon vantage point.

Prineville’s Leonard Bottleman is attending this year’s party and has been interested in astronomy since the age of 13, when he ground and polished his own mirror.

“I could not afford a telescope, so I built one the old-fashioned way,” he said. “I’ve been out and observing and doing astronomy ever since.”

Bottleman is a veteran of the star party, having first attended in 1988 when the event was held in the Steens’ Fish Lake campground, founded by Portland-based astronomer Chuck Dethloff.

“The driving distance to that location and the unpredictable weather made it a less than successful event every year,” said Bottleman. “Moving the party to this location in the Ochocos has significantly improved the quality of sky viewing.”

Bottleman described the event as a community of like-minded astronomers who get to spend a few days talking shop and sharing experiences.

“Someone might ask ‘have you seen NGC 5907?’” he said, explaining that NGC 5907 is a spiral galaxy located approximately 50 million light years from Earth.

Bottleman added that he would often sketch on paper the star formations he found, forcing him to pay more attention and making him a better observer.

The event includes what is called observing programs, providing lists of objects for star seekers to find using either binoculars, telescopes of any size, 8-inch telescopes, large aperture scopes and astrophotography instruments.

On Saturday, events will include a solar system walkabout and a youth vs. adult astronomy quiz along with the regular viewing activities.

On Sunday, the event wraps up with the observing program awards from 10 a.m. until noon.

Even though Todd is in the midst of this year’s party, he already has his eye, and telescope, on the upcoming total solar eclipse that will occur on Aug. 21, 2017.

“Oregon will be the first contact for the eclipse, and there is going to be a lot of interest,” said Todd. “We are expecting a very large crowd and this will be a prime spot.”

The crowds will be large since it will be the only opportunity for Oregon’s population to experience such an event, as the next viewable totality, from this state, will not occur for another 152 years.

“The cool thing about the eclipse occurring over Oregon is that we will be able to see the shadow move over the Cascades before it hits the city,” explained Todd. “That is a site to behold.”

Todd added that when the shadow moves out from the mountains, it will light up first before it leaves the city. Todd, who is director of Space Science Education at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, said the museum plans on taking over the Madras Airport for the event and is expecting huge crowds.

“Expect a traffic jam everywhere in Central Oregon unlike anything you have ever seen,” he warned. “There will be a line of cars on roads that are normally bare.”

But, that event is three years away, and Bottleman’s attention is on the August night sky.

“My favorite thing here is that the Milky Way, and the stars are so bright that they cast shadows on the ground,” he said. “You can see well enough to get around without a flashlight.”

Bottleman related that the field at the Indian Trail Spring is where he has been able to see large portions of the Veil Nebula.

“Parts of it are really bright, but it is huge and has parts that are very dim and difficult to see,” he explained. “Here it is easier to see.”

The Oregon Star Party runs through Sunday, Aug. 24 and registration must now be done on-site. Adult registration is $75 for adults, $25 for ages 12 through 17 and $15 for ages 6 through 11. Overnight camping is available on site for tents and RVs and is subject to Forest Service restrictions and rules. The gate to the event closes at 8 p.m. each night, reopening at 10 a.m. Those attending without a telescope have the opportunity to sign up for one located at the events “Telescope Park.”

For more information, and directions to the site, visit oregonstarparty.org.



Local Weather

Fair

32°F

Prineville

Fair

Humidity: 88%

Wind: 3 mph

  • 23 Nov 2014

    Partly Cloudy 43°F 27°F

  • 24 Nov 2014

    Mostly Cloudy 46°F 40°F