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Dark skies provide remarkable celestial views in Plumas and Lassen counties

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The top of Brokeoff Mountain provides spectacular views of the Milky Way arc, as well as faint views of Susanville, Westwood, Chester, Quincy and other surrounding towns. Photo by Cory Poole

Samantha P. Hawthorne
Staff Writer
8/1/2014
The clean air and gorgeous vistas of Plumas and Lassen counties are only two of the many charms the area has to offer. Often, by simply stepping outside their doors, residents are greeted with overwhelmingly peaceful surroundings, making it difficult not to stop and “smell the roses.”


Daytime photos taken from many of the county communities flood the media — both in print and online. Many pictures accompany sentiments of how blessed the photographer is to live in the area. Once the sun sets, however, pictures are few and far between, despite the area’s prime conditions for astrophotography.


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Andromeda Galaxy rises over Lassen Peak in early July. Photo by Cory Poole
Although it can add to the experience, it’s not necessary to own an expensive camera or large telescope to witness the beauty that is Lassen and Plumas counties’ night skies.

Most towns within the counties lack the distracting lights and polluted air that plague larger areas such as Sacramento and San Francisco, making it easy to see the sparkling stars at night.

Photographers, astronomers and pleasure seekers can find delight in the area’s nightlife without even leaving their homes. Once the rich colors of the sky have subsided and the moon has taken the place of the sun, a glance through household windows or a step outside the door will prove that.

For astrophotographers and astronomers, there are certain environmental criteria that must be met in order to have optimal viewing conditions. This includes clear, dark skies with good transparency and no light pollution. On most nights, that is hardly an issue for this rural area.

For those who can navigate the night sky or who have access to smartphone applications such as Google Sky Map, it’s easy to spot planets such as Mars and stars such as Polaris. For those who want a deeper look into space, however, several local community groups and organizations provide the tools and knowledge to do so.

On Facebook, a group of local community members as well as people from bordering counties have joined to share their expertise about astronomy and, at times, meet up to observe the local night sky. The group, Susanville Astronomy, consists of over 600 members, all of varying backgrounds with one common interest — to enjoy the celestial scenery that is frequently overlooked.

The open group’s organizers hope to develop further interest within the community so it can host regular astronomy events.

In the past few months, members of the group have shared amazing pictures and experiences from Hat Creek Rim Lookout, the Bateson Observatory, Lassen Volcanic National Park and their own backyards.

These pictures reflect what can be seen with the naked eye, as well as celestial objects that require expensive equipment to view. In the last year, the Bateson Observatory — a private observatory built near Susanville for scientific research and public education — afforded several opportunities for the public to look through a 12-inch Ritchey-Chretién telescope and learn about the objects they saw in the sky.

One 16-year-old girl who visited the observatory in June was so impressed with what she saw that she decided she wanted to learn more. At the time, she was studying astronomy through her school but had very little interest in the subject. It wasn’t until she saw the rings of Saturn and craters of the moon that she really got excited.

Feather River College is also taking advantage of the pollution-free skies with its midsummer night astronomy sessions. On July 26 it offered an evening of public education through the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network — a unique astronomy research project supported by the National Science Foundation.

Lassen Volcanic National Park also has its own night sky programs, including Starry Nights, a ranger-led program held every Wednesday until Aug. 27; Lassen’s Dark Sky tour held on select Saturdays; and the upcoming Dark Sky Festival on Aug. 1 – 3.

According to the park’s website, “Lassen is one of the last sanctuaries of natural darkness,” and it is one of the best places to enjoy the night sky.

Dark Sky Festival visitors will be shown how to spot the Milky Way, which is only visible when the sky is at its darkest and most clear. Other highlights include nightly constellation tours and stargazing, guided hikes, solar scope viewing, junior ranger astronomy and other hands-on activities.

The event is free, with the exception of a $10 fee per vehicle. For more information visit the park’s website, nps.gov/lavo.

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Kris the Sis lives near Quincy, California and I've experienced the dark skies in that area. See the Milky Way to the horizon. I live near San Diego and must drive sixty miles to reach a "dark sky" location. Big binocs, small telescope. <br />Tom
VOTES:0
avatar
Kris the Sis lives near Quincy, California and I've experienced the dark skies in that area. See the Milky Way to the horizon. I live near San Diego and must drive sixty miles to reach a "dark sky" location. Big binocs, small telescope.
Tom
VOTES:0

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