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When Magic Valley Astronomical Society created a star party on top of Pomerelle Mountain Ski Resort in Southern Idaho, they brought star gazing to new heights.

The 8,000-foot elevation atop Pomerelle creates a “sweet spot” for star gazers, says Chris Anderson, Faulkner planetarium specialist at College of Southern Idaho.

“Visibility of stars is clearer at higher elevations due to less air to look through.” Chris said. “But going higher than 8,000 feet causes the eye to lose its ability to see faint targets.”

© Rick Whitacre

The Milky Way

Gazers gather around the world in groups of a few to several thousand to enjoy the so-called “theater of the mind” and learn about galaxies. One of the earliest star parties recorded allegedly goes back to King George lll of England nearly 300 years ago.

In its fifth year, the Pomerelle Star Party has seen an increase in participation and hopes to soon have nearly 300 enjoy a night under the stars.

Summertime in Southern Idaho is the best time to view the Milky Way as it arches directly overhead. Along with the Milky Way, viewers are able to see the moon, Jupiter and Saturn with its golden rings through several different telescopes.  A highlight for Anderson in his years of stargazing has been “wandering” into a dark nebula while viewing the Andromeda Galaxy. Dark nebula is dense masses of dust that block out all light from stars.

One of the rewards of sponsoring star parties, according to Anderson and Terry Wofford, president of Magic Valley Astronomical Society, is seeing people build skills in viewing the night sky. When people first begin looking through the telescope they see only “things,” Anderson says.  “By the time the night is over they are seeing places.”

A family-oriented affair, the Pomerelle Star Party hosts several activities for children and adults.  The gathering begins at 3 p.m., Saturday, August 27 with solar viewing.  This safe viewing of the sun with CSI Herrett Museum’s new hydrogen alpha telescope allows viewers to look at the sun in broad daylight.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn

Water bottle rocket launching near the lodge will take place in the afternoon as well as a night sky talk, “Idaho Summer Skies,” given by Anderson.  The grill will be open at Pomerelle lodge. The resort’s chairlift takes viewers on a 20-minute ride up through beautiful mountain scenery to the viewing area at top.

Telescopes for different types of viewing are set up on top to capture the many aspects of the night sky, but viewers are welcome to bring their own telescopes and binoculars. Questions and answers, along with viewing, will go until midnight when the chairlifts stop running.

Dress warm, as temperatures can go from 90 degrees at the bottom of the mountain to near freezing at the top.  Lawn chairs can also be carried on the lift.  Bikers may bring bikes to ride down trails afterwards. Rides to the top will be provided via vehicle for handicapped or those not able to ride the lift. Please contact those in charge for special needs.

Pomerelle Mountain Resort
12 miles south of Albion, ID; turn west off State Hwy 77

Saturday, August 27, 2011
3-5:30 p.m. — Solar viewing (safe views of the sun with filtered telescopes)
3- 5:30 p.m. — Make and launch your own water bottle rocket
7:30-8:30 p.m. — Night sky talk: “Idaho Summer Skies”
8:30 p.m. – midnight — Lift rides to telescopes atop the mountain: $8 for ages 12+, $5 for ages 7-11, free for 6 and under with adult accompaniment.

Please dress for nighttime mountain temperatures!
Info: Pomerelle: (208) 673-5525; Herrett Center: (208) 732-6655

Sponsored by Pomerelle Mountain Resort, the Magic Valley Astronomical Society, and the College of Southern Idaho’s Centennial Observatory

About the author

Paula D. Webb - Paula grew up on a ranch south of Grace, Idaho. From the time she learned to form letters, she’s loved writing. Earning her degree in English/Professional Writing, Paula has written for several publications. She also loves walking, baking artisan breads, music and most of all, being a wife and mother.

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