It was a beautiful drive to the star party at Mount St. Helens last weekend. The event was coordinated by members of the Friends of Galileo Astronomy Club (Longview, WA), Rose City Astronomers (Portland, OR) and the Mount St. Helens Institute.
Friendly people when we arrived, and - what scenery!
Now, it's one thing to see diagrams or photos of the stars and galaxies and planets, and to read explanations of just what the "ecliptic" is. But looking at photos in print or online is just not the same.
Just after sunset, we saw Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars arcing in the sky from horizon to horizon. To see the planets in such a magnificent clear sky, with the volcano below, that was stunning!
And that was the beginning of the show.
Later, we turned to telescopes brought to the mountain by club members. They helped me see the Ring Nebula (2,300 light years away!) and the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million light years - the light left there long before there were humans here!). But thinking about light years is very abstract.
What really got me was seeing the planets lined up just after sunset, and later seeing the rings of Saturn and the cloud bands of Jupiter, even the Red Spot, with my own eyes (and a bit of magnification!).
After spending most of my life in the Big City, here I was away from city lights, with people who had the telescopes and the knowledge to help me see for myself large parts of our solar system. And, up there on Coldwater Ridge, the skies were big and clear enough I didn't look at one little bit or another but I could see the span of the solar system.
With my own eyes.
Friends of Galileo
We are astronomy enthusiasts who love to learn and to share our wonder at the amazing sights right overhead.