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Stargazing Scheduled for Great Smoky Mountains, Mount Rainier National Parks This Weekend


Here's hoping for clear skies Saturday night in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Mount Rainier National Park, where rangers will be leading stargazing programs.

At Great Smoky, the program at Cades Cove is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. It is being staged with help from the Smoky Mountains Astronomical Society. Experienced astronomers and numerous telescopes will be on hand to provide a discovery of the autumn sky’s position of stars, galaxies, and constellations, including the Milky Way. In case of rain or cloud cover where night skies are not visible, the program will be canceled.

“It’s a great opportunity to gaze at the star-studded sky without the obstruction of artificial light as seen in developed areas outside the Park," said Ranger Mike Maslona. "People will be amazed at the vast depths of this planetary world and all that they can see in the complete darkness. This program mixes astronomy, legends, and the beauty of the stars to create a worthwhile exploration into the wonders of the heavens.”

Participants for the program are being advised to park near the exhibit shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Road where they'll meet a ranger who will escort the group about one-third of a mile to a nearby field.

Those planning to attend should dress warmly, and bring a flashlight and a lawn chair or blanket to sit on. Also, it is suggested to bring binoculars that can be used for stargazing.

For further information, call 865/448-4104; or if there is any uncertainty about whether the event will occur because of weather conditions, call the day of the event for its status.

At Mount Rainier, the program starts at 8:00 p.m. in the lobby of the Paradise Inn with a short presentation about the National Park Service “Night Skies” program. At 8:30 p.m. there will be outdoor stargazing with Tacoma Astronomical Society volunteers and their telescopes. Volunteers will also assist visitors to make astronomy devices called star finders.

If weather makes star gazing difficult, the party will move inside the Paradise Inn lobby for star finder making and a 45-minute film about the Milky Way galaxy. If you have questions please contact Park Ranger Curt Jacquot at (360) 569-2211, extension 6426.


In the eastern USA, organized star parties are at the mercy of the weather. However, so far the weather forecast for this Saturday evening looks quite promising. If all goes well, we'll have a small forest of different telescopes out in Cades Cove. Each telescope will be pointed at a different part of the night sky and staffed by a knowledgeable amateur astronomer who will describe the objects to be seen in the eyepiece and answer questions.

A special treat will be the appearance of comet Hartley (103P) located in the constellation Cassiopeia. Although still rather dim and without a tail, it ought to be visible in binoculars or telescopes after dark. Jupiter, now just past its Sept. 21, 2010 opposition to the Sun, will appear very bright above the eastern horizon. Mounted binoculars will reveal Jupiter's four Gallilean moons; telescopes will reveal the equatorial cloud bands of Jupiter's dense atmosphere.

Some of the telescopes will be quite large. The Smoky Mountain Astronomical Society will put up their club-made 20" truss-tube Dobsonian called"Sasquatch." I'm also told that a visiting astronomer from Alabama will bring his personal 20" truss-tube Dobsonian built by Obsession Telescopes, so we may well have two of these fine beasts to show off. I'll set up my 10" Dobsonian (which does not require a step ladder to get to the eyepiece). Others will have refractors, computer-driven Schmidt-Cassegrains, or mounted astronomical binoculars. All in all, it should be an outstanding evening.

We set a record at Cades Cover this weekend. 829 park visitors were curious enough to stay out after dark and walk onto the meadow where 12 telescope stations composed of refractors, motorized and hand drivien reflectors, and large astronomical binoculars were set up to show various objects of the night sky. The weather was perfectly clear during the day, but clouds threatened at the begining of the program obsuring views above the western horizon. But, while we were making our introductory comments, a high pressure system appeared to develop overhead and the clouds which eventually obscured Jupiter in the east, simply evaporated completely by the time the Milky Way became totally visible. Great Smoky Mountains park ranger Michael Maslona left his large audience with a very important take-home message: ""The night sky is a precious natural and cross-cultural resource that can be saved immediately by doing two things: (1) pointing lights down, not up and (2)turning the switch off when the light is not needed." All in all, we had a great night out.

How did you guys at Mt. Rainer do?

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