Summer Under the Stars
Show of lights- September 2010
On a clear night in Beaumont, you can peer into the vastness of space and behold a canopy of stars twinkling like loose diamonds, the full moon glowing white and the planet Mars glimmering with its reddish hue. Beaumont is intent on preserving this spectacular display that has graced the night sky for eons so that future generations can enjoy nature’s starlit pageantry for years to come.
Dark skies overhead
For years now, the city has taken steps to make starry nights something that everyone can admire. In 2005, Beaumont joined a growing number of cities across the nation and passed a “dark sky” ordinance to fight light pollution. Lighting restrictions reduce the glare of street lights and light escaping from businesses so we can see the stars and the constellations. As part of Beaumont’s pledge to offer lighting that keeps the city safe, attractive and energy-efficient, workers replaced conventional high pressure sodium lights in the downtown area with energy efficient LED lights (light emitting diodes.) This summer, Beaumont, which has a star listed with the International Star Registry, presented a series of “Star Parties” at Palmer Park in Fairway Canyon—the city’s newest “dark sky” community, where amateur astronomers and Beaumont residents peered through telescopes and binoculars. It’s all part of an ongoing campaign to build public awareness about the wise use of lighting in our world. Hundreds of people turned out for the family events which ran from May 22nd to August 13th.
On Friday night, August 13th, several dozen people gathered in Palmer Park and gazed heavenward with great anticipation. Volunteers like Phil Agins with the Riverside Astronomical Society set up their telescopes and patiently explained exactly what the stargazers were seeing. One of the highlights of the Star Party was catching a glimpse Albireo—a spectacular double star with stunning, contrasting colors. Albireo is the double star at the head of Cygnus and shines with both a golden-yellow hue and a sapphire blue. The two stars, which are separated by 60 times the diameter of our solar system, are unimaginably far way in the vast cosmos of space—some 385 light years from earth (A light year is about six trillion miles).That magnificence, the unfolding of our universe, clearly moves Agins. He wishes more people would take time to study the night sky. And thanks to Beaumont, they have a chance to gaze upward in awe.
“Not that long ago, people used to mark the seasons by the stars,” he said. “But now, we have children growing up who have never seen the Milky Way. A very important part of our human existence is being taken away.”
Wonder in the sky
Beaumont’s recent Star Party enthralled young and old alike. Carl Bernhardt, a volunteer with the Riverside Astronomical Society, brought his high-powered binoculars to the event and mounted them on tripod. It gave stargazers a panoramic view of the ceiling of stars looming high above.
“People are amazed at what they can see,” he said.
Thirteen-year-old Taylor Peck stepped up for a look. Bernhardt watched as the boy put his face up to the binoculars and studied the constellations. “Sagittarius looks like a teapot, and right next to it is Scorpius, a big scorpion in the sky,” Bernhardt said. “Can you see that open cluster of stars? It looks like a lot of diamonds thrown up in the sky.”
Taylor kept his gaze trained on the distant stars. “Cool,” he said. “The colors are very bright and vibrant. It’s so clear.”
Moon lit night
Bernard Greenhouse, a man who has loved the night sky since taking astronomy decades ago in college, drove over to the event from Banning, and he wasn’t disappointed. Greenhouse bent down to a waiting telescope and peered into the eyepiece at the moon above. “It looks just like you’re standing next to it,” he said. “We’re looking at something right in our neighborhood.”
Some people don’t need to travel so far and are already benefitting from Beaumont’s “dark sky” ordinance. Under the lighting restrictions, commercial fixtures must fit tightly so that light is forced onto the ground instead of up into the sky. A “brightness” curfew slashes outdoor lighting by 50 percent after 10 p.m. or until a business closes. New subdivisions with long blocks only have streetlights at intersections and at the end of cul-de-sacs. The city also has a “nuisance lighting” provision prohibiting spotlights from shining into neighbors’ yards.
Thomas Layte, who lives in the City’s Seneca Springs community, brought his own high-powered, computerized telescope for viewing the stars. Through his telescope, people saw the outer shell of an exploding star as it formed a gray, almost “smoke ring” image.
Beaumont is leading the way in preserving the night skies, Layte says. “Just look at the enthusiasm out here—you can actually see the Ring Nebula.”
The ring is considered one of the most prominent examples of deep-sky objects called planetary nebulae. With the summer series of star parties winding down, Layte himself seemed to be reaching for the stars in a bid to share the night sky with others. He’s talking about gathering up star gazers from throughout the Pass and creating a club to put on more “star parties” and make Beaumont shine even brighter.