Whatcom County has plenty of places away from bright city lights to watch celestial events, but our persistently cloudy skies often disappoint when it comes time to see a “supermoon” or an eclipse of any sort.
Our glorious summers, however, practically ensure a clear view of the heavens.
There’s no better place to ponder the night sky than from the area near Artist Point at the east end of Mount Baker Highway. It’s a peak between Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker that offers a 360-degree view of the North Cascades. At night, it’s so dark that our home galaxy — the Milky Way, consisting of more than 200 billion stars — is clearly visible to the naked eye.
Weather permitting, members of the Whatcom Association of Celestial Observers bring their telescopes to Artist Point for public viewing in the summer and to Boulevard Park at various times throughout the re year.
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If it’s clear, Saturday night star parties are set for Artist Point at 9 p.m. June 20, July 11, July 18, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. For the annual Perseid meteor showers, star parties are planned for Table Mountain, accessible via a short but steep trail, the evenings of Aug. 11-15.
“They’ll be observing the heavens if you will: Stars, galaxies, nebulae,” said WACO’s Kevin Mayock. “You’d be surprised at the number of people up there.”
If you go, check the weather forecast and the WACO website beforehand. Bring a hat and an extra jacket — and maybe even some gloves, Mayok said.
“I’d advise dressing warmly,” he said. “It’s the middle of summer, but it gets pretty cool up there.”
Summer astronomical sights
July 1: Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, low on the western horizon at dusk (watch starting in June as the two planets appear to tango in the western sky).
July 28, 29: Peak viewing for the Delta Aquarids meteor shower viewing less spectacular this year because of nearly full moon.
Aug. 12, 13: Peak viewing for the Perseid meteor shower, which often produces one meteor a minute.
Aug. 29: Supermoon.
Sept. 28: Total lunar eclipse; the “supermoon” will be in eclipse when it rises for viewers on the West Coast.
▪ Whatcom Association of Celestial Observers: whatcomastronomy.org
▪ pa.msu.edu/abrams, Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University: Subscribe to its highly regarded Sky Calendar for $12 a year.
▪ spotthestation.nasa.gov to find how to see the International Space Station as it soars overhead; click on “location lookup” for a list of visible passes. If you have a smartphone, look in the app store for ISS Spotter.
Getting to Artist Point: From Bellingham, take Mount Baker Highway east to where the road ends. Parking requires a $5 day pass or a seasonal Northwest Forest Pass, available from the Glacier Public Service Center, a ranger station on Mount Baker Highway just east of Glacier. There’s a kiosk to use a credit or debit card to obtain a pass when the ranger station is closed.