OROVILLE – Under the dark cover of night, they will come.
The star party – a gathering of astronomy enthusiasts, their telescopes, and vendors – was displaced from its typical location at Table Mountain outside of Ellensburg after fire damaged the area in 2012. Eden Valley Guest Ranch was selected as the annual event’s home for the time being. Last year, its first at Eden Valley, organizers weren’t sure how well the transplanted site would work or how many people it could accommodate, so advance publicity was almost non-existent save for regular attendees who mark their calendars months in advance.
Online registration and lots of information is available at www.tmspa.com.
Cost for the week is $60 for the first person, $40 for each additional adult, $15 for students ages 7-17 and free for kids 6 and under. Registrations are based on a “per vehicle” structure (one “first person” per vehicle) but not limited to family member groupings to encourage carpooling.
Meals are not included in the price, but some meals can be pre-purchased while registering, while a food vendor is also available on-site.
There are also one-day/night only passes available for $5 per person (maximum $20 per vehicle), primarily to give locals a chance to check out what’s going on; more than one day’s attendance requires full registration.
“We know after last year what we can handle there,” said Table Mountain Star Party Association Chairman Thom Jenkins. “It’s a further drive for a lot of the people that usually go (as opposed to the Table Mountain site), so we’re hoping to get the word out to the locals that they are more than welcome.”
If you are inclined toward or interested in science, the Table Mountain Star Party is an ideal vacation. Most who attend for the full week camp in tents, trailers or RVs (some will also stay in the Eden Valley Guest Ranch cabins, but those accommodation have already been reserved).
Many will bring telescopes to look skyward. Telescopes with special filters can view the sun, but most “observing,” as it is called, will happen after sundown. The sky at Eden Valley is remarkably dark, far as it is from city lights and helped by the altitude of the Okanogan Highlands.
While the moon and planets can be viewed by telescopes located just about anywhere with a view of the sky, fainter and more distant objects are best seen in dark skies that we in the Okanogan almost take for granted. For many TMSP attendees, it’s star parties like these that provide their only chance throughout the year to see all but the brightest such objects.
Most astronomy aficionados will bring their own telescopes, but most also will happily share the view with those who don’t have or can’t transport their own to the site. Binoculars are also handy to bring along.
The reason most regulars come to star parties is to take part in what happens at night.
- If you are an experienced user of your own telescope, you probably know what you’ll be doing after dark.
- If you have a telescope but never figured out how to see much through it, bring it. People will be happy to demonstrate the basics of telescope use; most also are willing to show off the views through their own telescopes.
- “Sky tours” will also be available to give basic information about the night sky.
- Things to see include several planets (Saturn and Mars will be in good position to see in the evenings); globular star clusters (basically, they appear like a ball of stars); nebulas (depending on the type, birth places or death throes of stars); and galaxies (massive groups of countless stars so far away that their light takes millions of years to travel here). Those pictures you’ve seen from the Hubble Telescope on the internet or TV? Put them out of your mind. What the camera sees and what the eyes see bear little resemblance to one another.
During the day
There is plenty going on during daylight hours as well. Activities include:
- Speaker presentations on a variety of topics ranging from the practical (making a mirror for a telescope, or learning techniques for taking pictures through a telescope) to historical (how “ordinary” citizens have contributed to scientific study) to the less easily defined (what is the true color of the universe?).
- Over the course of the week and with the purchase of a kit, you can be guided through the process of building your own telescope.
- Vendors are available on-site selling telescopes, accessories, and other paraphernalia. This could include “test drives” of telescopes available for purchase.
- The student program, available for kids age 5-16, has been a particular point of pride at the Table Mountain Star Party, including learning, crafts and fun events.
- A swap meet takes place on Saturday morning.
- Eden Valley Guest Ranch’s trail rides and nature hikes will also be available during the day (any fees required for Eden Valley-based activities are not included in the star party registration).
It’s hard to say how long the Table Mountain Star Party will continue to take place at Eden Valley Guest Ranch. Both the organizers and Eden Valley proprietors Patrick and Robin Stice were pleased with how last year went, but TMSP’s eventual goal is to return to the site for which it’s named and where the tradition of the star party has grown for more than 30 years.
In the meantime, it’s an internationally renowned event that has chosen the Oroville area as its home and a great opportunity for the area to see what it’s about without leaving our own back yard.