The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Inez Freeman
For The Sentinel 

Carpenter: Observatory to become 'world class'


Heidi Reeves for The Sentinel

STATE OF THE COSMOS: Troy Carpenter talks about changes at the Goldendale Observatory.

Excitement is in the air on Observatory Hill, especially in the voice of Interpretive Specialist Troy Carpenter at the Goldendale Observatory. Carpenter speaks enthusiastically as he describes the Washington State Parks Phase III Capital Upgrade. While some of it is in preparation for the 2017 solar eclipse, Carpenter has a larger vision-"a world-class facility," as he puts it. Already a new sidewalk and deck line the south dome.

Most dramatic is the overhaul of the 24½" Cassegrain telescope. Carpenter expects it to become one of the finest public telescopes in the U.S. after installation of modern, light-weight research-grade optics. The primary mirror is being ground by a company that, until now, has only fabricated optics for NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This upgrade will drastically improve the performance and versatility of the big telescope. The old mirrors will be placed on display to honor the efforts of the Observatory founders. Mechanical upgrades are also in the works, including a new concrete pedestal and azimuth fine-adjustment plate. Additionally, live web-streaming of Observatory presentations and telescope images is anticipated over a new fiber-optic link to be provided by J&N Cable. Astronomically, Goldendale will be on the map nationally and globally, and the Observatory may attract more than the current annual 20,000 visitors a year.

Other anticipated capital upgrades involve building more space to accommodate an increasing number of visitors, as well as new interpretive exhibits and seating for at least 100 students. This Silver-Tier Dark Sky Park, certified by the International Dark Sky Association, sits two miles from Goldendale's downtown. Area residents will want to keep skies dark over Goldendale and continue to attract visitors to the only Dark Sky park on the west coast. It is also one of the most easily accessible public observatories (two hours from Portland-Vancouver, four from Seattle, with unusually generous operating hours). One upgrade has already been installed in the north dome, a 6" Hydrogen-Alpha solar telescope, one of the largest of its kind available. If 6" sounds small, Carpenter explains that solar telescopes do not require large optics due to the sun's brightness and that the resolution provided by this size of lens is outstanding. Observatory staff make use of the new solar telescope during every afternoon solar show.

Carpenter explained that all astronomical research is now done with cameras and other sensors and that live views from robotic telescopes are available online. Even Goldendale residents can dial up remote telescopes from home. The question arises, if such views are available from one's armchair, why visit an Observatory? Answer: seeing celestial objects through a real eyepiece attached to an observatory-class telescope is a rare experience, as is learning about them from experts and well-trained individuals.

Noteworthy future events at the Observatory include a transit of Mercury in May 2016 and the important August 2017 total solar eclipse mentioned above. Goldendale lies near the path for optimal viewing while totality can be seen from Madras, Ore. The 1979 eclipse drew 17,000 visitors to Goldendale, 1,500 to the Observatory itself. Who knows what 2017 will bring?

As Observatory popularity continues to increase, Carpenter would like a larger staff and more volunteers. He is concerned that visitors may have out-of-date information about the Observatory as they sometimes show up between shows, right before closing or during off-hours. The best place for accurate Observatory information is, which provides operating hours, special events, donation opportunities, weather, and generally what's new.


NOT JUST NIGHT: The Goldendale Observatory also has telescopic viewing of the sun with programs presented during outdoor events off-site.

From October to March, the Observatory is open Friday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a solar show at 2 p.m. and evening presentation at 6 p.m. From April through September, the Observatory is open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. with three solar shows at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m., and the popular evening show at 8:30 p.m. Possible short-term closures may occur in 2016 and 2017 during the facility upgrades. Visitors should check the website for these dates before visiting.

Admission to the Observatory is free but parking requires a Washington State Parks Discover pass, $30 annually or $10 for one-time use. This pass can be purchased at the Observatory, online, at McCredy Company on Main Street in Goldendale, or at other state parks when staff are available.


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