Many people don’t know that if you live within 15 statute miles of Palomar Observatory, you are in Zone A of the San Diego Dark Sky Ordinance. This circular area certainly includes Valley Center. If when you look up into the night sky and you can’t see the Milky Way, your “vision” is affected by light pollution.
There’s a new group in town called Valley Center Dark-Sky Advocates who are very interested in promoting dark sky awareness and helping to keep our skies dark in the face of all the community growth.
They are promoting two events, a prelude to a star party called “What’s up in Valley Center’s Night Sky,” this Saturday at 3 p.m. at the VC Library in the Community Hall, and a star party at Hellhole Preserve, Saturday July 30. , starting at 7:30 p.m. and until people get droopy.
The speaker on Saturday will be W. Scott Kardel, associate professor of astronomy and assistant director of the planetarium at Palomar College. He said The Roadrunner, “My talk is an offshoot of their work, but that talk isn’t exactly about dark skies. It’s more focused on things you can see in the night sky, although having dark skies helps to make everything easier to see. I’ll introduce some simple steps and free apps that will help people find prominent stars and constellations, how to see the Milky Way better, and how to find the bright planets in our sky.
John Downing is the de facto president of the Valley Center Dark-Sky Advocates, although, he says, “we haven’t really organized ourselves.” The group derives from a Facebook group called “Valley Center Eyes to the Sky”, which has 600 members. “Our founding member is 17-year-old Hunter Harling, who volunteers for NASA and Caltech,” Downing said.
The work they do for NASA is to help with the “exoplanet characterization” operation. They are looking for exoplanets. Exoplanets are the ‘strange new worlds’ star trek fame, planets that can be seen by telescopes several light years away. Others like Downing and Harling work with the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a space telescope for NASA’s Explorer program. When an exoplanet passes behind its host star, the satellite can measure the occultation time, its depth and its color. “We take photometries and time-lapse photographs and send them to the organization to help determine if it is an exoplanet orbiting the star or a false positive. I’m 71 and learning from a 17 year old.
The Valley Center Dark-Sky Advocates are almost all amateur astronomers and members of the International Dark-Sky Association. “Our goal,” Downing said, “is to get our community to limit light pollution.” That’s really what the star party is all about. It will be the group’s third star party of the year. “We have about half a dozen telescopes, sometimes more, where people can observe objects in the dark sky,” Downing said. “There will basically be the galaxies you can observe, nebulae, star clusters, including globular and open star clusters.”
The event, in other words, will be star-studded.