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The Webfooted Astronomer - June 2000


Minutes: A Table Mountain History

by Leslie Irizarry


The May SAS meeting began with announcements. Frank Gilliland announced that the Table Mountain Star Party will be held July 27–29. Registration brochures will be in the mail soon, or you can register at Contact Frank at

Karl Schroeder asked for media contacts so that he can publicize the Dark Skies Northwest. Currently, Dark Skies Northwest is working on obtaining a star survey to determine what magnitude of star that can be seen by the naked-eye from what location. After this information is plotted on a map, it will reveal areas of relative light pollution. Contact Karl for copies of the survey.

Astrocon 2000 is on July 29-22. There will be interesting topics and people: science consultants, the director of Mt. Wilson observatory, Wayne Johnson on supernovae, Don Parker, solar eclipses, etc. It's in Ventura, California.

Table Mountain History

Randy Johnson introduced the speaker, long-time SAS member Tom Calwell. In the summer of l976, Tom was off riding his BMW road bike up to Canada. He stopped to rest in Oroville at "The Anarchist Mountain Estates," which was just a gated field. He went in and started playing the game of "what constellation is that?" He was surprised by what he didn't know. So he bought H.A. Rey's The Stars. It's a great book for star patterns, the solar system, right ascension and declination, etc. Then after he got hooked on astronomy, he got a telescope.

In l977 he attended the Northwest Astronomical League's regional convention in Tacoma. He wondered, "Why don't we ever have star parties out here?" He instigated the first observing event the SAS had for 8 years on some Issaquah property. Meanwhile he kept looking for observing sites. In l978 Hugh Entrop told him that Table Mountain was a great observing site. He went up there twice in 1978. He went up 7 new moons in a row. He found out about the changing weather patterns. He eventually found a meadow off of K Road. He started drawing maps to share with others. The meadow was referred to as "Tom's Meadow." There was no road there, and not a bent blade of grass. In 1979, he announced that the next year, there would be an observing party at Table Mountain. On August 9–13, 1980, the first official observing party was held at Table Mountain to watch the Perseid Meteor shower. Forty-eight people sat in a ring of chairs facing outward so all parts of the sky would be covered.

One of Tom's favorite memories is of Joe Palmer, who was "an enormous man and an incredible astronomer." He had a chair, with everything around the chair: the C-8, electronic booties, electric underwear. He could take you anywhere in the galaxy. He was the "cosmos in a chair."

Tom also remembers Don and Mary Wyckowicz. Mary invented the "Fuzzy Scale." He recalls Steve Stout who is now a ranger at Goldendale Observatory and used to be a member of this club. He was always up at Table Mountain chasing faint fuzzies through the night. Ed Barnes used to like to be on the nose of the plateau.

In 1982 or 1983, Al McFarlane got 2/3 of the way down Table Mountain when he realized he didn't have any brakes. If he were really careful, he figured he could get back to Windermere without any brakes, and he did! It was Al's idea to have a place for kids at Table Mountain. He thought of charging a surcharge for those who brought kids, buying a fence with the funds. It brought forth the image of babies in the 95 degree corral. Ken Applegate devised a method of moving a 10-inch scope into a Toyota with a rod, ball, and clamp. Joe Palmer's girlfriend dropped chicken into the tent and melted the nylon.

It has been amazing to watch Table Mountain Star Party grow. It is now attracting 1600 to 1800 people. Gene Dietzen and Tom Jenkins have turned this into a world-class event.

IDA Annual Meeting
Bruce Weertman returned from the IDA conference with slides. He said, "I've got the religion." He says the cause is easier because there are no enemies—not like Sierra Club vs. Weyerhaeuser. People basically need to be educated—they don't think about good vs. bad lighting. It's a win-win situation for everyone. Ultimately a goal would be to get a state lighting code. At the IDA annual meeting, anecdotes were told about how lighting codes in other places were influenced by members of the IDA.

There is a federal law that says that flags need to be illuminated, but there is no other federal lighting code.

They talked about the physiology of the eye, including information about the aging eye. An older person will tend to see a halo around lights, which can become a hazard. Also, the eye starts to filter out yellow light. The retina becomes sensitive. So filtering out the blue light helps the retina.

For information on how light pollution affects birds and other wildlife, see For more information on Bruce's trip, see his account on page 3 in this issue.—Editor.

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