Astronomy: Kitsap County Has Plenty of Star Gazing Opportunities

The hype is on for the upcoming August 21st Great American Solar Eclipse. It seems everyone is heading to Oregon to catch the sun’s mid- morning, nearly three-minute total blackout. Oregon wineries are sponsoring eclipse parties, Salem’s minor league baseball team is hosting an A.M. game with an eclipse break and hotels/campgrounds/vacation rentals have been sold out for months at exorbitant prices. If your interest in the celestial skies is greater than an expensive trip south to stand in the dark for a few minutes, there are plenty of opportunities in our own community to learn about astronomy. Read about them here in my latest article in WestSound Home and Garden magazine.

Stargazing on the West Coast of Puget Sound

This past week I walked the trail of Bainbridge Island’s Battle Point Park to have a close encounter with the dome shaped building that I’d wondered about while spending hours on the sidelines of my now adult son’s soccer games so often played on the park’s pristine fields.

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Like many of the parks in Kitsap County, Battle Point was once the site of a military installation housing World War II structures used to facilitate communications to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The former Transmitter Building has been renovated for use as a building for the island’s Park and Recreation District’s various programs.

The local newspaper, The Bainbridge Review, published an excellent article on the history of Battle Point Park. Its name allegedly comes not from its use by the military but rather from a battle fought between the Suquamish Tribe and Canadian First Nation invaders. It was at this site that U.S. code breakers first intercepted a message indicating Japan was going to bomb Pearl Harbor.

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But it was the domed building that piqued my curiosity. The building minus the dome was called the Helix Building and it was part of the military’s complex that was donated to the Bainbridge Island parks by the Navy in 1972. It’s now a planetarium housing a 27.5 inch telescope, the largest public access telescope in the area. How, I wondered did THAT happen?

After the Navy donated the Helix Building to Bainbridge it stood vacant for 21 years until John Rudolph, a local community activist and amateur astronomer proposed turning the building into a planetarium.  Along with two other local enthusiasts and eventually a team of volunteers, the building was renovated to create a planetarium and observatory and a telescope was built. The planetarium is named after John Rudolph and the observatory and telescope after Edwin E Ritchie, one of the other early founders.

The Battle Point Astronomical Association was created to insure the building was used for the educational purposes as the founders envisioned. It’s website contains considerable information about classes, children’s activities, the current month’s astronomical events, how to check out smaller telescopes and some amazing celestial photography by Stephen Ruhl.

Finding out about Bainbridge Island’s organized night sky viewing led to more wondering. Where else in Kitsap County could one find enthusiasts?  I turned to The Google.

Further south in Bremerton, a group of local astronomy educators have opened the Pacific Planetarium for May through August Friday and Sunday presentations. Their May, 2016 schedule has topics such as Hubble Space Telescope photos, audience suggestion Sundays and an over 18 years of age uncensored Greek and Roman Star Stories presentation.

Also based in Bremerton is the Olympic Astronomical Society. Begun in 1969 by a group of high school students passionate about star gazing, today the organization is open to anyone and it encourages family involvement. It sponsors a variety of activities including monthly meetings, potlucks, star gazing parties at Port Gamble and Hurricane Ridge and its popular Camp Delaney Star Party at Sun Lakes in Eastern Washington.

For anyone wanting a formal educational experience, Olympic College offers an Astronomy Program that prepares students for entry level work in the field. The college’s popular astronomy instructor, David Fong teaches Introduction to Astronomy classes at all three of the college’s campuses in Bremerton, Poulsbo and Shelton. He can sometimes be heard as a guest speaker at local astronomy events. I heard him speak at Bainbridge’s John Rudolph Planetarium and can attest for his enthusiasm for his subject matter. In August, 2015, Olympic College sponsored Astronomy Talks, a series of lectures by nationally known astronomers and Astronomy Slam, short talks about astronomy subjects at art galleries, theatres and pubs in Bremerton. I’m bookmarking those two sites in hopes the college will repeat the events this summer.

What began as a close encounter with a dome shaped building revealed a galaxy of local possibilities for anyone interested in astronomy.

Make it so and you will live long and prosper.