Star Gazing Parties
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s the Sea of Tranquility! The Seattle Astronomical Society hosts star gazing parties at Paramount Park and Green Lake Park on the last Saturday night of each month this summer. Approximately a half-dozen members of the organization come to the parks at dusk to set up their telescopes. The public is invited to take turns looking through all the different scopes available.
The night we attended there were notable telescopes on hand, including two Orion and one Meade. Amateur scopes will magnify objects in the range of 20 to 200 times. The scope we spent the most time using was an Orion set at 75 power. With this much magnification, the moonscape came alive with craters, valleys and mountains.
Occasionally, the star gazing parties will correspond with dates when there are other viewing possibilities such as Venus. However, the moon, as an already known object, makes a great starting point for budding astronomers. My 8-year-old daughter was fascinated by the different views from different telescopes. The moon is like an old friend, and the telescope just helps you to get to know it better.
The Astronomical Society begins setting up around dusk and stays at the park as long as there are viewers, up to as late as 11 p.m. While the earlier times are certainly easier to do with kids, the later it gets, the better the viewing gets. Even my 11-year-old son was able to contrast the quality of the views upon our arrival to what he could see an hour or more into the gazing party. It really is amazing and ironic what the darkness brings to light.
The gazing parties usually draw a few intentional visitors, but most people come across the parties as a happy accident from just being out late at the park. The benefit of this is that the kids don’t have to wait in long lines and can linger at each scope looking as long as they want to. In fact, lingering is the best thing you can do at a star gazing party.
By showing that you have an actual interest beyond mild curiosity, the members of the Astronomical Society will begin to share more information with you. They are extremely knowledgeable about both the telescopes and the celestial bodies, and they are eager to share. Their enthusiasm can be contagious, and some of them are exceptionally good with children.
If you are considering purchasing a telescope, the gazing parties are a great way to try out different models and talk to the owners. We even witnessed a family with a new telescope learning how to use it by attending the parties and getting assistance from the Astronomical Society, who are so generous with their expertise and knowledge.
Having two locations for the star gazing parties means that it is an easy drive for almost everyone in the greater Seattle area. By having the parties in the parks means that other entertainment options for the kids are available as well. At Paramount Park, the playground is immediately adjacent to the viewing area. My kids were comfortable moving back and forth between the playground and the viewing area while I stayed in the viewing area chatting with the astronomers. Paramount Park also has the benefit of ample parking and a restroom right by the viewing party.
The only possible downside is that as the evening grows later, so does the age of the average kid in the park. By the time we left, there was some rough play in the playground area that I would prefer to avoid, but often an adult presence hovering nearby is enough to keep things in line. Remember to take something with long sleeves as it gets cooler in the evenings. The remaining summer dates are already on my family’s calendar, and we will definitely make an effort to go star gazing again.
Kelly Rogers Flynt is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and has two shining stars of her own, ages 8 and 11.
If You Go...
Where: Paramount Park in Shoreline can be found at the corner of Northeast 155th Street and 8th Avenue Northeast. Green Lake star parties are on the west shore at a grassy area southwest of the Bathhouse Theater, near the fishing piers on the lake.
When: Summer Star Parties: June 30, July 28 and Aug. 25 from dusk until 11 p.m. In the fall, they occur the third Saturday of the month.