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The Webfooted Astronomer - September 2001

 

The Poop on Poo Poo

By Laurie Moloney and Steve Van Rompaey

WHEN we arrived at the top of Tiger Mountain for the Poo Poo Point Perseid Picnic, there were about 15 cars waiting at the locked gate. At 6 p.m. we all caravanned up the mountain. It took about 30 minutes to reach the top on a smooth gravel road. Somehow, John and I ended up at the front of the line. Not knowing which way to go, we took the road most traveled and arrived at the north point.

The North Point

We parked next to the million dollar toilet and walked a short distance to the point. Immediately, we all crowded around to watch the Para gliders lift their sails and get swept off the point. They caught the thermals for their long, slow decent to the valley below. We had a stunning view of Lake Sammamish and Issaquah from there. Unfortunately, that view wasn't so great when the sun went down. The sky was not dark and we saw only a few meteors. One of them was an awesome bright blue fireball. A little before midnight, people began packing up. We quickly joined suit and followed the group down the mountain.

We had a great time with our fellow SASers, but next time we'll try the South Point, which is much darker. Steve Vann Rompaey was the lone observer on the South Point this trip. Here's his tale.

The South Point

Although I have been attending club meetings for a couple of years I had only begun serious observing this past April. With my trusty Astroscan (a 105mm, f4.2, refractor) I started observing Messier objects from my backyard in Bellevue and was frustrated about not seeing the many objects located in Sagittarius. From Randy's report on the site I was excited about viewing from Poo Poo Point. So, upon arriving at the summit I went down to the south field to set up my telescope.

The South Point has a tree line that surrounds the field to the north, east, and west, effectively blocking the lights from Seattle and Issaquah. It's a large field, maybe half the size of a football field, with a steep drop-off to the south where the Para gliders launch. The field has been mowed and I parked at the north end to block potential light sources in the valley below. I saw a few lights, but it was easy to ignore them. Shortly after 9 p.m. I saw the ISS streak across the sky to the North and about 9:30 p.m., I saw my first Perseid. At 9:45 I could see the glow of the Milky Way across Cygnus (Wow!).

I turned the Astroscan toward Sagittarius and found all those objects that I couldn't see from my backyard. I had no trouble locating The Lagoon Nebula (M8), The Swan Nebula (M17), and The Trifid Nebula (M20); in fact, The Lagoon Nebula was visible to the naked eye. I then observed the globular clusters M22 and M28, and the open clusters M21 and M25. I was not, however, able to observe any of the Messier Objects at the base of the teapot or in Scorpius, because they were too close to the horizon.

I observed in Cygnus and Cassiopeia and then I looked for M31, the Andromeda galaxy. In the Astroscan at 16x it was elongated and fuzzy, but I could clearly identify the central bulge of the galactic core. Seeing my first galaxy was the icing on the cake!

For the novice who is frustrated with their backyard and looking for a dark site for viewing I highly recommend the South Point. With a modest instrument you can observe four types of deep sky objects: nebulae, open and closed clusters, and galaxies. And I think the old-timers would enjoy it too.

Shortly after midnight I packed up my gear and climbed into the bed of my truck with a pair of binoculars to wait for the signal that the group at the North Point was heading out. I knew the plan was to start packing up around midnight, but there had also been some discussion about moonrise as a limiting factor. It seemed to be taking a long time for the group to leave and I hadn't heard a thing, so I drove my truck out to the road, hiked up to the parking lot, and found it was empty (Rats!).

Plan A: Catch 'em. Okay, I didn't really know when they had left, but it was dark, the road wasn't great, and there were bound to be stragglers. I hopped in the truck - zoomed down the mountain - traumatized some deer - finally arrived at the gate. (Rats!) I was too late. So, there I was, locked in without a cell phone and seriously wishing I had taken some extra brownies from the picnic.

Plan B: Hike out to the parking lot and try to find a pay phone. As I walk out into the parking lot I see a van with the door open and someone standing outside. I approached and asked "Do you guys have a cell phone?"
"No, sorry man." (Guy standing)
"Wow, did you see that one?" (Guy lying on the van's floor)
"Dude, there's a meteor shower tonight." (Guy standing)
"Gee that's interesting, but I'd really like to find a telephone."
"Well man, the last one I saw was back in Maple Valley, that's about 10 miles" (Guy standing)
"Alright, thanks anyway."
Even in my plight I admired these guys, but I wouldn't have accepted a ride because it was clear that they were using non-optical enhancements for their Perseid observations.

Plan C: Hike 4.5 miles down to Hwy 90 and look for a phone? As I walked out to the highway I could see a commercial truck parked in the turnoff on the other side of the highway. I walked over and met Dwayne, whose truck had overheated on the climb to the summit. He was making an unscheduled trip from Puyallup to North Bend and to my good fortune had broken down. I phoned my wife and arranged to meet later in North Bend. On the ride there, Dwayne told me that years ago he had been locked in on a logging road 30 miles from the nearest phone and had been rescued by a logging truck; it appeared that his karmic circle was now closed.

Later, as I crawled into bed I pondered my own karmic circle: What does it mean to live in a universe where after being locked in at Poo Poo Point you're rescued by a guy driving a Honey Bucket tanker truck?

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