“IT’S TIME FOR Polaris watch,” says Alan Spurgeon. “I’ve got a candy bar for whoever spots Polaris first.”
“Instead of ‘Where’s Waldo?’ it’s ‘Where’s Polaris?’ ” someone quips from a nearby telescope.
It’s about 9:15 p.m. on a grassy field next to Bonney Lake High School. About 25 people have gathered for a late evening of stargazing with the local chapter of the Seattle Astronomical Society.
“I love sharing the night sky with everybody,” says Spurgeon. “You just have to look up and see what’s there. We don’t really look up anymore.”
Two SAS members have brought large, high-powered telescopes, and a couple of others have set up their own smaller ones. When telescope operators focus in on a star, comet or planet of interest, they step back and invite other attendees to have a look.
“When you look through the telescope at a galaxy or something, the photons that are hitting the back of your eye have been coming for millions of years just to land at the back of your eye and register,” Spurgeon explains enthusiastically. “It’s amazing.”
John and Carrie Junke and their two kids have been attending SAS events for about a year. “You never know what you’re going to see; it’s always a bit of a mystery,” says Carrie, a former science teacher.
Hudson Junke, 7, is obsessed with all things space. At home, his bedroom walls are covered with posters of planets and stars. “They’re just really cool,” he says shyly.
His older sister has a bit more to say. “They’re bright and beautiful,” says Charlotte Junke, age 9. “I love the shapes they make.”
The Seattle Astronomical Society is a volunteer-led nonprofit organization that has been facilitating educational events for local amateur astronomers for nearly 75 years.
In addition to meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at the University of Washington, the society hosts “star parties” — like this one in Bonney Lake — throughout the Greater Seattle area and as far away as Brooks Memorial State Park in Klickitat County.
As the sky gradually dims this night, Steve Case identifies a star called Vega using his Star Tracker app. “The stars show up in order of magnitude,” he explains. “Basically, the brightest ones come out first.”
Case built his first telescope in 1966, when he was still in high school. Even now, decades later, he gets excited about a clear night. “We have so few opportunities to view around here because of all the cloud cover,” he says. “We have to make the most out of a night like this.”
Attendees are passionate about the limitless majesty above us — both the known and the imagined. Side conversations reference iconic fantasies such as “Dune,” “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.” Erik Hulbert says his two children are hoping to catch a glimpse of a star named after a “Harry Potter” character. “We home-school, and we love to deep-dive into subjects the kids are interested in,” he says.
The Hulbert family is attending its first SAS event. While the Hulbert kids run around the field waiting for more stars to fill the sky, their mom, Jael Hulbert, gazes up into the midnight blue. “I think it puts things back in perspective,” she says. “We live in this huge universe, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the everyday things of life. It’s important to remind ourselves that we’re all in this together.”