By Alice Enevoldsen
Special to West Seattle Blog
My favorite spots in West Seattle have changed a little since I first started suggesting places within the city for viewing the sky. Your first consideration needs to be whether your location of choice is open to the public at night. Most Seattle parks close at 11:30 pm, unless otherwise marked. So that makes stargazing difficult.
Within the city:
1) The Southern (upper) side of Myrtle Reservoir, on SW Myrtle Street between 35th Ave SW and 36th Ave SW.
Stand between the water towers outside the fences, and you’ll have a full view of the Northern sky. You’ll also have all the city lights, but no lights directly overhead or in your face. My recommendation is for the area that is just off Parks property, on the sidewalk.
2) Don Armeni Boat Ramp. Up until recently, many Seattle boat ramps were 24-hour parks. It looks like now you need to have a boat with a trailer and a permit to use the ramp area after 11:30 pm. No matter; this location works for viewing the Northern Sky, but there are more lights in your face than south of Myrtle Reservoir.
3) Sunset Ave SW & SW Seattle St is an intersection overlooking one of our landslide-prone bluffs. Local residents have installed a park bench, but this is not a public park. Please be respectful of the area and neighbors; don’t leave trash; and be quiet in the area. This is the prettiest and smallest location so far. It looks more Northwest than Northeast, but a beautiful view.
4) Green Lake Park. It’s not West Seattle, I know, but it is open 24-hours, which is necessary for Perseid viewing. The Perseids peak after midnight, which is after when most parks close, including all the ones in West Seattle.
Within West Seattle, but not facing North (so not as great for Perseids)
1) Solstice Park. You know this is one of my favorites, but with its lack of lighting it is perfect for stargazing before 11:30 pm as long as you’re not watching for events in the Northeast or East.
2) Lincoln Park also has some of the best views along the Western horizon.
Leaving the city?
If you’re willing to leave West Seattle or Seattle proper, get as far away from the city lights as you can.
1) Heading East — Campground on Lake Kachess: In the Cascades just off I-90. The boat ramp has a good view towards the Northeast (perfect for Perseid viewing). Be sure to talk to the ranger beforehand though, the boat ramp is in the “Day Use Only” section of the park.
2) Heading West — Staircase Campground: My favorite stargazing location, Staircase Campground in Olympic National Park. When you get there, sit on the bridge for the best open-sky views.
If you can go further… do it.
Anywhere I recommend is going to be dark. Please take proper precautions for your safety as well as being respectful of other stargazers around you. I recommend using the dimmest red flashlight that allows you to see trip hazards when you’re walking at night to a stargazing location. You can purchase ruby red theater gel to fix up your white flashlights at PNTA, which happens to be just beside where the West Seattle Bridge lets off onto Delridge.
PERSEID VIEWING BASICS
What: “Shooting stars” seeming to radiate from the constellation Perseus. In actuality, shooting stars are superheated air in front of speeding pieces of dust and sand as they impact the Earth’s atmosphere. These pieces of dust were left behind by comet Swift-Tuttle, and hit our atmosphere at about 37 miles per second.
Why: It’s pretty. And amazing. These are tiny pieces of dust 70 miles away from you and you can see them.
Where: North/Northeast, view as much sky as possible. This is where West Seattle is somewhat limited, since we’re South/West of Seattle. Don’t take your telescope or binoculars, just your eyes.
When: 12 am-4 am, as the Earth is hurtling into the stream of particles.
Before I go, a quick check in on what else you’ll see:
HEY, WHAT’S THAT?
I’ve been noticing Saturn lately, in the South. You’ll also see the Summer Triangle directly overhead.
If you have binoculars or a telescope, use this time to look up h and χ Persei (pronounced “aitch and kai Per-see-eye”), also known as the Double Cluster. It’s a surprising little cluster in the right part of the sky that you’ll be looking at during the Perseids anyway.
August 14th — New Moon: The day of the new moon, you won’t see the Moon at all, but a day or so before or after you might see a tiny sliver of a crescent Moon as the Sun rises or sets, and a few more days out, you can see the crescent Moon all day long.
August 23rd — First Quarter: The first-quarter moon is ideal for late afternoon and early evening observation (rising in the early afternoon, setting in the middle of the night).
August 29th — Full Moon (also a Supermoon): The full moon rises at sunset, sets at sunrise, and is visible all night.
September 5th — Last Quarter: The week around the last quarter moon, it is visible in the early morning sky (rising in the middle of the night, setting in the early afternoon).
Stellarium: Free planetarium software for your home computer, or Android device. Bring up the sky for anywhere in the world, any time and date in history or the future.
Clear Sky Chart: The astronomer’s forecast for the next couple days. Cloudcover, darkness, and “seeing” which is how nice it is to view the stars, all on one handy chart.
USNO: Dates and times of astronomical happenings.
International Dark Sky Association: How to help your neighbors enjoy the night sky.
WHO IS ALICE?
Alice is many things and works and volunteers for a few notable organizations, but the suggestions and opinions put forth in this article are her own and no one else’s. You can find more about astronomy at alicesastroinfo.com.