Tag Archives: Gov. Jay Inslee

Amateur astronomy in the age of coronavirus

Coronavirus and social distancing cannot deprive us of our enjoyment of astronomy. One can make the case that the best way to enjoy the hobby is with a telescope in your back yard in the middle of the night, as noted in my most recent tweet of Sky and Telescope’s weekly update of stuff to see.

On the other hand amateur astronomy is also a highly social endeavor. There are jillions of astronomy clubs all over the country with members devoted to putting on interesting meetings and to sharing their enjoyment of the heavens with their neighbors. The members of these clubs also rely on each other as answerers of how-to questions. Our last post was about Goldendale Sky Village, which is being designed as a spot in which it will be easy for members to observe the night sky together.

In the coronavirus era the comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko has been replaced on astronomy’s hardest-to-spell list by the word “canceled.” As astronomy groups call off their events one sees this AP-Style preferred spelling about as often as “cancelled,” which most dictionaries list as OK, too. Grammar police from both sides tend to weigh in with little impact.

Calling the whole thing off

Regardless of the spelling, a great majority of official astronomy events are being canceled these days. Part of the challenge is that many astronomy organizations hold their gatherings at schools or colleges, libraries, museums, and other sorts of places that are now buttoned up. Just this morning Washington governor Jay Inslee announced a ban on any confab of more than 50 people, and said even smaller meetings had to meet strict guidelines for hygiene and social distancing. Officials urged people to avoid any “unnecessary interactions” at least for the next couple of weeks. As much as I love them, astronomy events probably fall into that category.

The Seattle Astronomical Society has canceled its March meeting which would have been on the 18th. The club is looking at streaming more meetings, as it did with a remote guest speaker last month. Similarly, the Rose City Astronomers in Portland have ditched their regular meeting set for tonight, though club members can check out an online meeting via Zoom. Clubs in Bainbridge Island, Everett, Whatcom County, Island County, Tacoma, Bellevue, Tri-Cities, and Eugene also have nixed many of their events at least for March and some in April.

Taking it online

A couple of major events are planning to go virtual. The Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), perhaps the hobby’s biggest trade show, is switching to a one-day online event set for April 4. The next meeting of the American Astronomical Society, scheduled for Madison, Wisconsin May 31 to June 4, is looking at moving from an on-site/in-person conference to a fully remote/virtual one.

The author social distancing
Social distancing in astronomy! The author caught the 2012 transit of Venus by himself at a remote county park in northern California. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

These are hard times for astronomy bloggers, too. The Museum of Flight, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Pacific Science Center, and Town Hall Seattle are all closed, and these have provided many great astronomy events that we’ve covered over the years. In addition, we haven’t heard anything official from Astronomy on Tap Seattle about the status of its monthly gathering, but it typically draws way more than 50 people, is held in a beer garden, and all of those have been closed, so we can connect the dots on that.

Nevertheless we soldier on! We’ve got a little stretch of clear sky going, so social distance yourself and get out and enjoy it while it’s here. We’ll keep blogging it up and, once this virus is licked, we’ll see you at the next star party. In the meantime, wash your hands.

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Light pollution measure expected to win governor’s approval

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign a supplemental state transportation budget tomorrow that includes what may well be the first ever mention of light pollution to make it into state code. The transportation budget may seem an odd place for such policy matters to be considered, but state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) found an opportunity there.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

“The Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over a lot of facilities with a lot of light across the state, has some federal dollars to do a study on the impacts of light to night driving and vision,” Farrell told Seattle Astronomy. “I thought as long as they’re looking at the impacts of light on vision, why don’t we also look at the impacts on light pollution?”

Farrell had that directive inserted into the budget as a proviso—see our story from Tuesday for the exact language—and the governor has told her he will sign it.

(UPDATE: Gov. Inslee did, in fact, sign the bill, including the light-pollution language, on March 25, 2016.)

“A huge thank-you to Gov. Inslee,” Farrell said. “He is, as we all know, a great environmentalist. He cares a lot about the night sky and said that specifically when we spoke about this proviso. I’m very pleased that he’s going to sign the supplemental budget with this proviso in it.”

“I care about a visible night sky, so this is important,” she said.

As a proviso in the supplemental budget, it will only be in effect for about a year. Farrell said she plans to work next year on getting the department to make an on-going commitment to considering light pollution in its planning and operations. She said it might not even take legislation, but that the department could be convinced to make such considerations of its own accord.

Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee

“It seems like a straight-forward thing, and I’m surprised they don’t already have policies around light pollution,” she said, “but my hope is that ultimately this will allow them to start making different decisions around how they light their road facilities across the state.”

Farrell sponsored a bill this year to have the state Department of Ecology do a comprehensive study of the effects of light pollution and to make policy recommendations for reducing it. While the bill received a hearing, it did not win approval from the House Environment Committee. Farrell said cost was the main hangup. The legislature has been ruled in contempt of court over education funding, and is still in special session trying to wrap up the operating budget, which is under a great deal of strain.

“There was a great concern in doing anything that was perceived as extra in the general operating budget this session,” she said. She saw the DOT funding as a way to make some progress without making it a budget issue.

Farrell said she has long been interested in the night sky, and remembers not having to go very far to see things like the Perseid meteor shower.

“It is really a lot harder to see even really visible events like that, and I think that what’s interesting about light pollution is that its really something that we can address,” she said. She credited the amateur astronomy community for stepping up, noting that it was a constituent, David Dorais, who raised the issue at a community forum and spurred her to action.

“A lot of people care about this issue, so to be present at community forums and raise it and help educate the public that there are things that can be done, I think that’s really important,” Farrell said. “As we work through the various political processes at the different levels of government, having you present really matters.”

“This is only a first step,” she said. “There’s so much work that we can continue to do and I look forward to working with you.”