More than 100 wannabe stargazers turned out at Washoe Lake State Park Saturday night for a chance to enjoy looking at the stars using professional-level equipment.
Waiting for them were Jay Lawson and Adam Kremers, both experienced astronomers who furnished the major part of the equipment. Other astronomers also brought in powerful telescopes. They set up their skyscopes in the overflow parking lot at Washoe Lake State Park, off East Lake Blvd.
Lawson, who supplied the towering 16- and 24-inch telescopes, has appeared at Washoe before and will again on Aug. 30 when there will be a campout of astronomers with the public welcome.
The public was out in force Saturday night, many arriving well before dark. Some came from the campgrounds at the park, but most were Carson City residents. There was plenty for the guests to do as other astronomers brought out their equipment as well. Super-power binoculars. mounted on a tripod, gave guests a spectacular close-up view of a bird's nest several hundred yards away, and an 8-inch telescope offered distant stars.
One of the brightest was off the east, visible long before other such bodies appeared.
"That's Jupiter," explained Lawson. "Look through the 16-inch scope and you can not only see Jupiter, but also four of its moons, strung out to the right in a straight line."
A quick check of the 16-incher proved him right.
"But those four moons won't be in a straight line long," he continued. "Later tonight one of them will pass in front of Jupiter."
Lawson explained that Jupiter will be in the eastern sky for several months.
As night fell and the milky Way emerged, some of the visitors were awed by that alone. Most city dwellers rarely see the Milky Way due to the high ambient light levels they live in.
Little Tracy, a 4-year-old from Reno who wouldn't give her last name ("Mama said never to tell my full name to strangers"), was duly impressed by the Milky Way. "That's so pretty," she said of the bright swath of starlight, although visions through the telescopes left her confused.
The show lasted from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Park entrance fees were on the honor system, according to Donna Silva, park ranger director, at her headquarters about a mile past the park entrance. "We trusted people to pay.
The park headquarters is a mini-museum with bird and wildlife samples and art, as well as park literature. Rangers welcome visitors there, although the staff is down two slots due to the state's financial restraints.
Day use areas at the park open from 8 a.m. to dark, about 10 p.m., but the camping area is open at all hours.
For information about Washoe Lake State Parks see www.stateparks.com/washoe_lake.html or call 687-4319.