Mountain Star Party provides celestial insight away from bright lights of civilization

By Alex Wilson 07/28/2011

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area visitors will peer into the nighttime sky and have an opportunity to camp out under the vastness of the universe for free during an upcoming Circle X Star Party.

In addition to a ranger-led tour of various celestial constellations, there’ll also be discussions of the dark-sky movement, which encourages people to keep electric lights from interfering with views of outer space.

Education Park Ranger Robert Cromwell learned about space though his involvement with a group called Astronomy From the Ground Up, which helps educators, park rangers and other interested amateurs teach about space.

“People have always connected with the night sky. And more so prior to populations clotting together in urban areas throughout the 20th century, where more and more electric light has limited the ability to see the night sky,” says Cromwell.

Curiosity about space has been reflected in different cultures over time, and there at the event will explore stories from Native American and ancient Greek mythology among other traditions.

“For instance, the Greeks had a constellation Delphinus that’s the story of a dolphin that was sent by Poseidon to woo a woman he was attracted to named, Amphitrite. That same constellation represents a camel that’s in a story for the Middle Eastern region of the world. Or in China, it would be a gourd,” says Cromwell. “So the night sky can kind of reflect experiences people are having on earth so that our imaginations work with those constellations to make stories.”

Event will speakers also teach how people can use electric lights more efficiently to minimize the impact of light pollution, which is the goal of the dark-sky movement. “For instance, street lights that don’t just point at the street, but also shine light up into an area where it prevents you from being able to see the stars. House lights that don’t just shine down on the porch or in front of the door, that can shine out and create light pollution and affect your night vision so you couldn’t see the light from the stars, only the light from the house,” says Cromwell.

The Circle X Ranch off Yerba Buena Road south of Thousand Oaks is an excellent spot for viewing the night sky because surrounding mountains, including Sandstone Peak, block out light pollution from nearby cities.

The event is suitable for people of all ages, and Cromwell says he hopes it will encourage the curiosity of young people about outer space, and lead them on a lifelong pursuit of discovering its wonders.

The formal program runs between 7:30 and 10 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, and people are welcome to bring tents and sleeping bags so they can camp out overnight and observe the changing views of the universe as the earth rotates.

Space enthusiasts are also encouraged to bring their own telescopes and star maps to share their knowledge with others after the ranger-led constellation tour. People with questions about the event can call National Park Service officials at 370-2301.


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