Category Archives: people

Goldendale Sky Village gives amateur astronomers dedicated observing site

Amateur astronomers in the Seattle area have been dreaming of a clear, dark place from which to observe the heavens since the clouds rolled in and light pollution obliterated much of the night sky. Those dreams are coming true at the Goldendale Sky Village just east of that south central Washington town.

om GSV
It’s dark at Goldendale Sky Village. This image made at the site was created by Mark Vinup.

The Goldendale Sky Village (GSV) is owned by a limited liability company (LLC) of the same name, made up of members with interest in astronomy. The effort to establish the GSV is the end result of a search several decades in the making.

Most recently, the Seattle Astronomical Society (SAS) took a run at establishing a dark-sky observing site beginning in about 2005. Three years later, the project was tabled because the society couldn’t reconcile two desired criteria for the site: clear, dark skies and convenient proximity to Seattle. (I wrote about the end of the project for the April 2008 issue of the SAS newsletter, The Webfooted Astronomer.)

In 2016 Stephanie Anderson, a co-owner of Seattle’s Cloud Break Optics who was president of the SAS at the time, wanted to re-start the initiative and recruited SAS member Christopher Smythies, who is now the general manager of GSV, to head up the search.

Searching for the spot

“For two years I went out east of the mountains and familiarized myself with the land,” Smythies said. His focus was on two areas: Cle Elum and Goldendale. He found Cle Elum to be prohibitively expensive, and most parcels of land available for sale there were intended for housing and carried restrictions.

“Goldendale had a lot of attractive things about it,” Smythies said. “It was darker, the land was much cheaper, the rules were much looser, but it was further away.”

Smythies figures he must have looked at more than 100 properties over the course of a couple of years. By the time of the annual SAS Spring Star Party in May 2018 at Brooks Memorial State Park near Goldendale, he had a list of five of them for attendees to check out. The last of those that they visited is the one that is now Goldendale Sky Village.

“I immediately knew that was going to be it,” he said. “It was very remote, it was relatively flat, there were low horizons. It was pretty land; it wasn’t scrub land or pasture land, it was very attractive land with nice vegetation on it. And it was relatively cheap.”

“I thought it was perfect,” Smythies added. Unexpected bonuses include a line of sight to a communication tower that gives the site Internet access, and a great view of Mt. Hood to the west. There is federal land and open prairie nearby that will likely remain unoccupied, so future light intrusion isn’t a big concern.

LLC created for site

By this time the Seattle Astronomical Society had cooled to the idea of owning and operating a dark-sky site. Current president John McLaren said cost was a big concern. SAS would have had to do a major, multi-year fundraising effort or raise dues drastically to cover costs. Neither seemed likely to fly given the varying visions SAS members have for such a site. They considered trying to build a coalition with other regional astronomy clubs.

“That looked like it would be a legal headache,” McLaren noted. Running the site also would have created administrative tasks, including IRS reporting, that would have placed a burden on the club. The SAS board opted out.

“At that point, I decided to go another route to form a private group of people, an LLC, and then make it available to the SAS later on,” Smythies said. In June he put out a call for possible investors in the site.

“Within six weeks, two of which I was on vacation, we had 21 people saying ‘I’m in,’” he said. Smythies believes that a turning point for the project was when Anderson and Cloud Break Optics co-owner Matt Dahl signed on.

“She and Matt have such a good reputation for being kind of the hub of the astronomy community because of Cloud Break Optics, that once they said they wanted to be a part of it it was like a stamp of approval and everyone else piled on,” he said.

Clearing the telescope field at GSV
Astronomy can be hard work. Goldendale Sky Village members clear rocks from the future telescope field, the National Dark-Sky Portal. Photo: Christopher Smythies.

Original members paid $1,000 per share in the new LLC. That entitled them to use of their own 2,500 square-foot parcel within the village. They sold more than 100 shares and by the end of July had the cash to buy the land. The purchase became final in September 2018. Since then they’ve made improvements to the road into the property, created parking space, and moved “a billion” rocks and boulders to create a smooth place for the village’s central telescope field, known as “The National Dark-Sky Portal.” They’re planning for improvements that include a big tent, the Red Light Lounge, for sharing refreshments and shelter from the elements. Work this summer may include bringing electricity to the site as well.

It takes a village

Smythies says the village aspect of the GSV is vitally important.

“I wanted to put together something where people have lots, sure, but then there’s common areas right in the middle where they put their telescopes out and they observe together,” he said. This differs from some large astronomy communities where people might build a home on a two-acre plot. “Goldenndale sky village is all close together to promote the community atmosphere and the learning.”

While the GSV is a private company they intend to invite guests often. They hope to be ready by this year to host the SAS and its spring and fall star parties, and would like to build a similar relationship with the Rose City Astronomers in Portland, which is actually closer to the site. Smythies dreams of an astrophotography school and other educational efforts at the village.

The SAS hasn’t given up on creating observing sites. McLaren, who is a member of GSV, said SAS members also crave a dedicated site within 30 minutes of the city and one perhaps in the Cle Elum or Ellensburg areas, that might offer better observing conditions and still be relatively convenient. He hopes the Goldendale Sky Village model can be a good template for creating more observing sites.

“That would be awesome if it happened,” McLaren said, “and if some day astronomy clubs were able to negotiate access to all three locations that would be amazing.”

Smythies says there is room for perhaps 60 to 70 members at Goldendale Sky Village. The current price to join is $2,500 per share with a minimum of four shares. You can check out the site at an open house on March 21. Contact Smythies if you’re interested.


Photos from Goldendale Sky Village

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Preserving the stories of Viking

Rachel Tillman has a scrapbook that is out of this world. What started out as a young girl’s effort to save a cool piece of space history has morphed into a project to preserve the artifacts of the iconic Viking program and the stories of the people who made it happen.

VMMEPPTillman is the founder, executive director, and chief curator of the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project, a Portland-based nonprofit that has a huge collection of photos, documents and artifacts from the Viking missions and aims to collect oral histories of some 10,000 people who had a hand in the project—the “Vikings,” as Tillman calls them.

Little kid heaven

Her interest in the mission started early.

“My father worked on the Viking mission,” she said. He is James E. Tillman, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington who was a member of the Viking meteorology team.

“He is an explorer; scientists often are explorers,” Tillman said of her father. “He was so engrossed in his work that lived and breathed it. He brought it home at night.”

What he often brought home was the latest problem or design or a new photo from the lander, and he would ask the kids what they thought about it. Rachel ate it up.

Viking on Mars

One of the more famous photos in planetary exploration history: the first sent from Viking 1 shortly after it landed on Mars July 20, 1976. The original is part of the VMMEPP collection. Photo: NASA/JPL.

“I was interested from the get-go,” she said. Often she would go to her father’s office after school and soak up all of the conversations he and other scientists were having about technical matters. She’d go look it up and figure out the language, and would often make drawings about what she was learning. She made a few trips with her father to the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, and then got to go to Florida for the launches of the Viking spacecraft in 1975.

“We were down there at Cape Canaveral for the launch with Carl Sagan and Gerry Soffen and my dad and the guys from KSC,” she said. “I saw the rocket fly off.”

That’s quite a crowd for a little kid to hang out with. Rachel recalls Sagan as intense and funny, but said Soffen, the chief scientist on the Viking mission, was her hero.

“He was thoughtful, funny, very smart, absolutely wanted to know whatever it was out there to know,” she said. “He was also a magician. I’m a kid, that’s really cool!”

“The makeup of the people of the mission was amazing,” she added: Hard working, dedicated, sacrificing, funny, intelligent, grumpy, passionate—all of those things that a kid really picks up on.”

“I couldn’t have dreamed a better life than I live,” Rachel said.

They were going to melt it down

Viking was in Rachel’s DNA, but her work as a preservationist started almost as an accident.

NASA built three flight-ready Viking landers, but the first two worked and so the third—VL3—was not needed. Several groups and companies fiddled with plans to turn it into a rover, but ultimately nobody had any funding to do anything, so the lander was set aside. Then around 1979 James Tillman was looking for some used filing cabinets and found some interesting items on the NASA surplus list: his own Viking meteorology instrument, and VL3.

VL3 at MOF

They didn’t scrap Viking Lander 3! The lander, owned by Rachel Tillman, is on exhibit at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“They were scrapping it,” Rachel said. “They were going to melt it down.”

She immediately said that they had to get it and save it. Her father thought it was a ridiculous idea, but she convinced him to do it anyway because she had a ready purpose for the lander.

“We’re going to put it in my school,” she told him, “and we’re going to teach kids about robotics and about Mars and about science and engineering.”

Rachel now owns the Viking lander VL3, and it actually was at her school for a while. It also was on display for some time in the electrical engineering department at the UW. For the last ten years it has been on loan to the Museum of Flight, where it is a part of the permanent exhibit Space: Exploring the New Frontier.

“That’s how my preserving began, was with the Viking Lander,” Rachel said. Though it started with a great piece of historic hardware, Rachel is now drawn to the human side.

It’s about the people

“My role as a kid who grew up with the mission is to honor the people who did it,” she said. “Everybody. Not just the rock stars.”

Greg and Viking stuff

The author in front of information boards the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project uses at outreach events. The box my arm is resting on contains James Tillman’s Mars meteorology instrument. Photo: Rachel Tillman.

“Every Viking represents a child today that may want to do something like what they did,” Rachel added. “They don’t have to be the mission director, they don’t have to be the principal investigator of a science instrument, they don’t even have to be the lead engineer.”

So many other people had important functions from keeping travel schedules to crunching numbers to designing small but important components of the landers.

“All of these people are so critically important to the mission, and 95 percent of them were forgotten,” Rachel said. “That’s my job: preserve the history and the individuals; not just the timeline events, but the people who did them. That’s what this is all about.”

The Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project was founded in 2008, but only really started doing any outreach in the last year. It’s been mostly underground work as Rachel met and interviewed as many of the Vikings as possible. She thought it was important to do some public events this year, the 40th anniversary of the Vikings’ landings on Mars. They held an open event in Denver—the landers were built there by Martin Marietta, which is now Lockheed Martin. NASA also held some events at Langley and at JPL, and the project held three “Science Pub” talks last month through the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The future of VMMEPP

To date the project has run mostly through donations from James and Rachel Tillman, some of the Vikings, and a few others, but in the next year or so they will be doing some more serious fundraising.

“Our plan is to create a trust fund around all of the artifacts of Viking so they can’t be given away or sold,” Rachel said. “As we get new donations they will stay in this trust.”

She said the fund will help with management of the artifacts as well as preservation. Then in the next year or two they plan to issue a request for proposals from institutions and organizations that would like to host the Viking artifacts.

“They’ll have to meet the requirements that we set for care of the artifacts and for creating access to the artifacts for the public, because that’s critically important,” Rachel said.

In the meantime, the project has established an online museum, where you can go page through raw documents from the Viking missions. The project website is a treasure trove of photos and facts and stories about the Viking missions.

Rachel plans an outreach event at the Hillsdale Library in Portland for December 20, but then will probably be mostly invisible for a little while.

“Doing the oral history interviews, creating access, and protecting the artifacts, those our our three really big pushes.”

It’s a fascinating and worthy cause. If you would like to help with the preservation effort, you can donate to the project online through Facebook (through December 13) or Amazon Smile, or simply send a check to:

Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project
5331 SW Macadam #258-504
Portland, OR 97239

Podcast of our interview with Rachel Tillman:

Reaching kids with “The Big Eclipse”

Those who are convinced that the stars do not affect our lives might wish to consider the story of Elaine Cuyler. Up until recently, Cuyler was minding her own business and working as marketing manager for Eola Hills Wine Cellars just west of Salem, Oregon.

“I never dreamed I’d be working on a kids’ book, let along one on eclipses,” Cuyler said. But that’s exactly what happened. When she learned that the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 will cross right over the vineyard, she decided an eclipse-viewing event would be a great way to attract visitors to the winery. As she researched the eclipse, it occurred to Cuyler that kids would really enjoy viewing a total solar eclipse.

“There was really no-one else talking to kids about the eclipse at the time,” she said. Out of that realization Orbit Oregon was born, and Cuyler became its chief eclipse officer. She teamed up with Nancy Coffelt, a well-known author and illustrator from Oregon, to create the book The Big Eclipse (Orbit Oregon, 2016).

“Although I had this concept in mind, it’s really Nancy’s drawings that brought it to life,” Cuyler noted. They also created a kids’ activity book; you can read our review of both, posted last month. Cuyler said there are a couple of purposes behind The Big Eclipse.

“First, I thought it was a great opportunity for kids to learn about astronomy and science and see something really cool,” she said. Secondly, she noted that adults often don’t know what’s going on, either. Her mother was a teacher in Portland during the 1979 total solar eclipse; they were told not to look up, and broadcasters ran public service announcements warning of the dangers of looking at the Sun. While it’s true that proper eye protection is needed to look at the partial phase of a solar eclipse, the warnings amounted to a missed opportunity.

“The concept of a solar eclipse is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Cuyler said. “That’s why there’s a lot of information [in the book] for parents, too, because they need to learn about it just as much as the kids.”

Providing inspiration

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to the kids.

“We felt that as soon as you can get kids interested in science the better,” Cuyler explained. “Maybe they’re not going to want to sit and listen to a lecture, but they do like crafts, they all know about the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. To get kids thinking about the world around them and how it functions, that’s really the start of getting them to think about why the world works the way it does, and you use science to explain that.”

As Cuyler and Coffelt worked on The Big Eclipse their research included talks with astronomers and folks from NASA who looked at their material. They also spoke with many people who had seen total solar eclipses, including one couple who had viewed 15 of them.

Greg and Elaine

Seattle Astronomy writer Greg Scheiderer, Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler, and The Big Eclipse. We thought it was fun to get a selfie in front of a sign that reads “Choose your own adventure.”

“Their feedback was so great because they shared photos with us and video footage, they told us about the different things that happen,” Cuyler said. “Talking with people who’d actually been through these was invaluable.”

They’ve already test-driven the book in school classrooms, and the kids seem to enjoy it, especially the part where they get to create and make a drawing of their own eclipse myths, just as ancient civilizations tried to explain this celestial phenomenon. Cuyler said the kids are creative and funny with their stories. Her own eclipse myth is a little more figurative.

“It would probably be the book completely eclipsing everything else in my life!” she laughed.

It’s a lot of work getting a book out there. The Big Eclipse is available on the Orbit Oregon website (which also features eclipse glasses and viewers) and, and it is being carried by a growing number of retailers. Cuyler is busy trying to get it into libraries, museums, schools, and summer reading programs, too.

What’s next?

As for the future of Orbit Oregon, Cuyler said The Big Eclipse is really all about the 2017 total solar eclipse, so the book sort of expires after next August 21. But she and Coffelt are considering other books, including volumes about solar eclipses in general, astronomy, and other science topics.

“We had so much fun doing this and we met so many great people that we may extend that,” Cuyler said. “Right now, we’re just focused on the eclipse.”

And on the kids. Cuyler hopes The Big Eclipse gets kids, especially girls, interested in science. When you mix in art and literature, you can grab their interest early.

“If you’re looking at science from an art perspective and crafts activities you can really start young,” Cuyler said. “It appeals to kids, and they’re learning while they’re enjoying the little story that they’re reading.”

Out of that story, and out of seeing a total solar eclipse, can come inspiration. They’ve heard many tales of science teachers who started on their career path when they saw an eclipse as a child.

“That’s what we’re going after, those young kids that might be inspired,” Cuyler said. “That’s really our mission, is to get kids to understand what they’re seeing, learn from it, and then be awed by this amazing spectacle.”

“Hopefully a new generation of science teachers will come out of it.”


Podcast of our interview with Elaine Cuyler:

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Edible optics and fun science for BPAstro Kids

Astronomy club members are sometimes heard lamenting the graying of the hobby; young kids today are too interested in their electronic gizmos to look up at the night sky. Erica Saint Clair and the Battle Point Astronomical Association (BPAA) have embarked on a new effort to hook the kids while they’re young. The association has recently started BPAstro Kids, a program for younger children that precedes its monthly planetarium shows in the John Rudolph Planetarium at its Edwin Ritchie Observatory on Bainbridge Island.

Erica Saint Clair

Erica Saint Clair presents BPAstro Kids programs for the Battle Point Astronomical Association.

Though education and the planetarium have been part of the BPAA’s mission since its formation in 1993, the program for kids came about recently as something of an accident. Saint Clair took her youngest daughter to story time at the local library, and met another mom there whose husband makes regular presentations at the association’s events. She was recruited to do a talk about Mars rovers.

“I have no background in astronomy—zero,” Saint Clair said. “I have a Ph.D. in physics, which apparently qualified me.”

She did the talk, which took a lot of time to prepare and bored her five-year-old terribly. Saint Clair also has a two-year-old, and decided that she would prefer to make presentations for younger children.

“My passion is for teaching kids science, and making it fun, and making them want to do it and beg me to do it,” Saint Clair said. “It helps to have a five-year-old who is really into and really excited about everything we do in science.”

BPAstro-kidsThus BPAstro Kids was born, presented by “Dr. Erica,” who figured if she was already creating science activities for her own daughters, she might as well share with others. The sessions feature short talks followed by hands-on activities. The kids have built edible optics, Valentine’s “love bots,” and marble particle accelerators. This Saturday they’ll make real, working telescopes they can take home. They started with one session before the monthly planetarium show, but so many people brought their kids they’re doing two now.

“I feel like we’re snowballing, and that’s fantastic,” Saint Clair said. She’s working on turning her presentations into a science-education business. She’s founded Rosie Research, with the aim of engaging kids in new types of science labs. They may eventually make tools such as telescope-making kits available for purchase. In the meantime Saint Clair goes about the business of inspiring youngsters.

“My goal is to get kids interested in all types of science, and I think space science is kind of the go-to for kids,” she said. “Every kid wants to go to the Moon, every kid wants to see what Mars is going to be like.”

Saint Clair is encoraged by the interest in BPAstro Kids and said she feels we are beginning to value “smart” again.

“I think we are as a culture shifting towards ‘science is cool and it’s sexy and it’s fun,’” she said.

Kids can build telescopes at BPAstro Kids at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. this Saturday, April 9 at the Edwin Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island. Suggested donation is $5 to help cover costs. A presentation about space telescopes will follow at 7:30. BPAstro Kids has received financial support from BPAA, the Awesome Foundation, and Rotary International of Bainbridge Island.

More info:

Podcast of our interview with Erica Saint Clair: 

Mixing science, art, and religion with Adrian Wyard

These days many folks would have the sciences go it alone. Education advocates repeat their mantra of STEM, STEM, STEMMMM while schooling in the arts is reduced or eliminated. Some scientists decry the so-called magic of religion. People of faith shun science because God is the answer. Adrian Wyard—software engineer, artist, astronomy buff, and Christian—believes science, art, and faith get along just fine.

Adrian Wyard

Adrian Wyard

“As a child I always had those three elements in my life,” Wyard said in an interview earlier this month. “I grew up going to church back in England, I had a strong science and engineering interest, which sent me on a straight line into computer science, computer software design. That was my first career.”

Wyard fesses up to a certain level of single mindedness about computers in his youth.

“I had very little time for anything else,” he said, though he had some interest in art in high school, and that crept into his work.

“There was always a design element,” he said. “I was never that good at coding but I loved the big picture, I loved solving problems for real people, so I ended up focusing on designing user interfaces.”

He was the program manager for Word 1.0 at Microsoft.

“I was lucky enough to be there when all the good stuff happened at the beginning,” Wyard said. “That took a lot of my time,” he added in something of an understatement.

Changing course

After leaving Microsoft Wyard decided to reboot and attended Seattle Pacific University.

“I went to SPU to essentially do exactly the opposite of what I did the first time. So I took liberal arts, I took theater, I took English, I took sociology,” he said. “I just got totally enamored by these connections between different disciplines.”

Wyard wanted to learn more about those connections. The research was out there, but it was hard to find. He started the Counterbalance Foundation in 1998 as essentially an online library exploring the intersections of science and faith. The site now has in the neighborhood of 300,000 links and 200 hours of video. The site helps readers of multidiciplinary texts find resources to understand the particular disciplines with which they may be less familiar, and facilitates discussion and education.

“The idea of using interactive technologies to teach, to help people understand multidisciplinary subjects, just struck me as an obvious move,” Wyard said. In a way, he sees counterbalance as pennance for his lack of multidisciplinarianism as a youth.

“The one subject I disliked the most was history, because as far as I was concerned everything happens starting with Turing in 1950 or thereabouts, and that’s it, and I did not want to be distracted from my main interest,” in computers, he said. “Counterbalance is basically me coming to realize the error of my ways.”

He also overcame his dislike of history, eventually going to Oxford to earn a master’s degree in the history of science, studying under John Hedley Brooke. While at Oxford Wyard specialized in the study of the tension between creation and evolution. His adult education gives him a better foundation from which to approach these knotty questions.

A search for the truth

Many people like to depict science and faith as warring factions, but Wyard sees both as having the same goal of seeking the truth.

“There is no religious person, as crazy as they may appear to other religious people, or athiests or scientists, who does not in their heart of hearts want to find what’s true and would be horrified to think that they were being misled. That will forever bind the religious inclination and the scientific inclination,” Wyard said. “On balance, what you find is just a compulsion to find out the way the world works, and almost always be in awe of that. There’s so much common ground, it’s hard to imagine it ever conflicts.”

Yet it almost has to at times. The tension between science and religion is a complicated one, Wyard said.

“If you want to talk about all the sciences and all of the religions, you can easily find examples among that huge landscape, of overt conflict, where one says this is the case and the other says the opposite,” he said.

Conversation at Taproot

Wyard will be giving a public presentation to discuss these ideas at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16 at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood. The theatre is running Lauren Gunderson’s play, Silent Sky, about the Harvard astronomer Henrietta Leavitt. The drama tackles some of these same questions, and Wyard said he’s been thinking about delving a little into postmodernism for the conversation.

“Sometimes that can be a rabbit trail that you really don’t want to go down,” he said of postmodernism. “For some people it’s a keyword for a lot of troubling things.”

But Wyard said that the modernist concept of knowledge, which was very much in play during the time in which the play is set in the early 20th century, held that knowledge accumulates, you reach a conclusion, and then you have the answers. Religion, he noted, sometimes operates in much the same way.

“At least what postmodernism has done is show that in the sciences, that does not work,” he said. “There are precious few lines of scientific inquiry that don’t require you to also understand the perspective” of which questions are asked and the context in which any experiment is being conducted.

Postmodernism, Wyard said, “recognizes that science exists in a socioeconomic political framework, and there is nothing that happens that doesn’t have some connection through to economics or politics or even just social mores and preferences.”

Learning more

Wyard suggests a couple of books that may be of interest to people wishing to delve into this line of inquiry. One is The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2007) by Francis Collins, who was lead of human genome project and is chair of the National Institutes of Health.

“That is a nice introduction because he takes us on the journey throughout his own story, which starts off as an athiest” though now Wyard said Collins identifies as evangelical. “He goes all the way through without losing any speck of his scientific interest and aptitude.”

The other book is Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (W.W. Norton & Company, 2013) by Terrance Deacon, an anthropologist and neuroscientist at Berkeley. Wyard said it’s a fascinating book, though a bit of a heavy lift at more than 600 pages. He is working with Deacon and his research team to try to bring it to a more accessible level. There are a couple of lectures about the book in Counterbalance’s Bridging the Gaps section.

The Planets Live

Wyard started doing art again about five years ago. He is getting into greater touch with his artistic side, collaborating on a multimedia presentation of Gustav Holst’s composition The Planets. The work, which Wyard describes as a live, choreographed video accompaniment of the piece, was first performed in 2014 at the Highline Performing Arts Center as a project with the Northwest Symphony Orchestra. It hit all the right notes with Wyard, “combining my knowledge of computers, computer technology, space, and also the photography side came in too,” he said.

While The Planets Live stands on its own as art—see the trailer below—Wyard is also excited about it as a “killer educational tool.”

The Planets suite is a very accessible piece of music,” he said, noting that even kids who came in thinking that classical music is boring dug it at the premiere.

“They loved it because not only were the visuals interesting and stimulating, but it allowed them to access the music,” Wyard said. “It was a positive introduction to classical music, plus an introduction to astronomy.”

They did several other performances of the work in Sioux Falls last year with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, one of which was recorded and later aired by PBS. Several other performances are on the schedule for this year Lakeland, Fla. and Ann Arbor, Mich., and Wyard said they hope to bring The Planets Live back to the Seattle area again sometime soon, though this has not yet been set.

Adrian Wyard is an interesting person taking on some big questions. We expect you’ll hear more from him on Seattle Astronomy.

Senators and astronomy

We’re not in the habit of running obituaries on Seattle Astronomy—this, in fact, is our first one—but the recent passing of former state Sen. Harriet Spanel at age 77 merits mention here for a couple of reasons.

Harriet Spanel

Former state Sen. Harriet Spanel passed away Feb. 2, 2016 in Bellingham. Washington State Senate photo.

The first is personal. Your correspondent served on the staff of the Washington State Senate during the 1990s, overlapping with Spanel’s first seven years as a member of that body. I found her to be a kind person and a pleasure to work with.

The second reason is more relevant to our usual subject matter. Spanel’s family has suggested a number of causes to which people could make contributions in memory of the late senator. One of them is the Dr. Leslie E. Spanel Memorial Planetarium Endowment at Western Washington University.

Les and Harriet Spanel met at Iowa State University when she was earning her degree in mathematics and he was completing a Ph.D. in physics. They married in 1961, moved to Bellevue in 1964 and to Bellingham in 1968 when Les began his teaching career at Western, where he was a member and sometime chair of the Physics Department and also was director for the planetarium. Les Spanel passed away in 2002. The planetarium, which was built in 1959, was named for him after Harriet made contributions in support of some major equipment upgrades in 2013. The planetarium is available for school groups, private shows, and also offers public presentations several times each month.

Harriet Spanel served three terms in the state House and four in the Senate before retiring from public office in 2009. She was chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus for a decade. A celebration of her life and a funeral mass are planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Church of the Assumption in Bellingham.

Please consider a contribution in memory of Harriet Spanel in support of astronomy outreach and education at Western. Contributions can be made online through the Western Washington University Foundation. Be sure to make a note that your gift is for the Spanel Planetarium fund.

More information

Local photographer published in S&T

A local astrophotographer has received a nice bit of global recognition for his excellent work. A photo of the Rosette Nebula by Matt Dahl, a co-owner of Cloud Break Optics in Seattle, has been published in the reader gallery section of the March 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine. Dahl has submitted a number of photos to the magazine in the past, but this is the first time one has made it into print.

Rosette Nebula

Matt Dahl’s photo of the Rosette Nebula is included in the reader gallery section of the March 2016 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

“It’s really neat, and a lot of people have seen it, which is cool,” he said. “It’s good exposure.”

Dahl created the photo from more than 13 hours of exposures collected over two nights about a year ago.

“It’s a lot of work, a lot of time in the cold, and even more time in the warmth post-processing,” he said. “It requires a lot of time to get the detail that you want.”

“It’s definitely a process but it’s nice when it pays off,” Dahl added.

Interestingly enough, the gallery includes two shots of the Rosette, making for a nice comparison of the different results photographers can get depending on the filters they use and other techniques.

Photos, or just looking?

Dahl enjoys visual observing as well as astrophotography.

“One of the things I really like about imaging is that I have a goal and I get a product at the end,” he said. “I like the visual aspect, I like to be able to look at stuff. But there’s this whole process I go through. It’s somewhat cathartic, despite the fact that it takes a long time to do it. I really enjoy, and I find very relaxing, just sitting with my scope—or having my scope running, and sleeping!”

Dahl feels that amateur astronomers are making images that rival what professional observatories were turning out two decades ago, and they’re doing it with cameras that can cost as little as a few hundred dollars.

“The technology, both in its advancement but also in its affordability to the amateur, has been impressive,” he noted. “It’s nice to have this available as a means for enjoying the hobby.”

The March issue of Sky & Telescope is on the newsstands now. You can see some of Dahl’s other images on his Flickr page.