May 2, 2011

Observatory Opens Later this Month. Yay!

This past Friday, we had our orientation meeting up at Pine Mountain Observatory. It wasn't warm down in Bend. It was less warm at 6300 feet. Yet it didn't matter. I hadn't been up there since we closed end of last September, so I was excited to get back up there. This will be my fourth summer working as a star guide at PMO. Not only is it my favorite place on Earth, it's also one of my most favorite things to do -- work up at PMO.

We officially open to the public Memorial Day weekend. We put on shows every Friday and Saturday night through the last weekend in September. I'm usually outside with a smaller telescope. Sometimes I have help out there, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I get to operate the 24.

Memorial Day and June are usually the coldest nights up there. Last year in June, we were always below freezing once the sun set. Brrrr. There were a few nights we just had to tell the public we were done outside due to excessive shivering and the like. The wind is almost always blowing at 6300 feet and after a few hours, I turn to ice no matter how bundled up I am. The 24 operator has it better in the dome. So, even if we quit outside, the big telescope is still going until our last guest goes home. Later, if we're not frozen solid yet and want to look at some objects.

It didn't start to warm up until mid July, but we had a lot of clear nights last summer. Hope we get a lot this year as two years ago we only got a handful.

The cold nights are all right. Means smaller crowds early in the season, which lets us get our bearings and spiels together after eight months off. And the sky is continuously shifting. It looks completely different in May than it does at end of September.

Click on any photo for a larger view.

Pine Mountain in the distance. The mountain is 30 miles east of Bend. Even from that far away, the patches of snow remaining are visible.

Sign says we're closed.

This part of the road is 5 miles. After the 3rd cattle guard, it's Deschutes National Forest and starts to climb upwards. Pine Mountain has multiple peaks. The observatory sits just below the patch of snow on the left side of the road. The other peak on the right is where the hang gliders jump off of.

Now inside the Deschutes National Forest and the road starts going up. This part is 3 miles. They're doing logging this year, so beware the falling trees and loggers running you off the road.

If you enlarge this photo, you can see a protrusion at the top which is what I call a yeti house [mentioned numerous times on this blog]. This photo was taken at about 4,000 feet as the road winds up.

I'm just glad the road was clear. I don't have 4 wheel drive. There are no guard rails.

This is the dome for the 24 inch telescope open to the public through the summer. It was undergoing some repairs, so we didn't get to do any star gazing through a telescope. :-( Oh well, it was dang cold. Was under 20 degrees once it was fully dark.

The smaller dome houses a 14 inch scope with a fancy new camera. We might get trained on it this year. Al will probably end up doing research on it as the 32 inch scope [in the larger dome] has to undergo some repairs. The 32 is normally the research telescope for the University of Oregon.

Inside the 32. My astronomy pals and a new recruit who we hope joins us this year. The past few years, the staff for public viewing has been down to 4 of us -- Kent, Eric, Gary and I. Al is in the plaid. The 32 doesn't use eyepieces. It's hooked up to a computer and takes photos. The U of O has been doing low luminosity galaxy studies in the recent past. You can read about what Pine Mountain Observatory is best known for here:

Sunset. Aaah. I've missed this view. They cut down a lot of trees, which will increase our visibility with the telescopes. They claim more trees are going. If so, we'll get clearer views of Saggitarius and Scorpius this year. We'll probably get to see the tail. Cool.

The spread of starry sky at a higher elevation out on the edge of nowhere is absolutely fantastic. It's something I never get tired of looking at with a telescope or without a telescope. There's a picnic table out in front of the 24 and I love to lie on my back on it, before the crowds come up from the tent, and just look at the sky. Or after they go home. I watch the stars and the planets and the periodic meteors and the satellites. There are 6-10 meteors every hour. Altogether, it puts on an amazing show.

Didn't see any strange lights or yeti or cougar or any other wild life. The loggers probably scared them all off.

PMO is how I spend my summers. Out in the wilds under the stars, teaching people about the skies and how to use a telescope and star charts. It's a blast, especially when I can fulfill people's dreams.

"It's been my lifelong dream to see a nebula, Mary."

"How'd you like to see four?"

"Now I can die happy."

Robert was only 9. I told him he needed a new lifelong dream. "You can't be done yet, Robert."

Last year I taught a five-year-old girl how to use my telescope. She screamed with glee every time she pointed it. "Come see my star. Come see my star." Perhaps she'll grow up to be the next Marie Curie.

Just getting to spend time at such an amazing place is enough, but doling out dreams and passion makes it even better.