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Astronomy public outreach at Mount Rainier National Park

I have been working at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state this summer and the experience I have gained has been nothing short of incredible. As an astronomy ranger I utilize telescope and camera equipment to educate park visitors about our beautiful night sky. 7 days a week at the Paradise Visitor Center we setup telescopes for public outreach programs that allow park visitors to gain a first hand experience with the night sky. Notable objects we have shown visitors include solar system objects such as the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, in addition to deep sky objects outside our solar system such as globular star clusters, open cluster, galaxies, and planetary nebulae. Hearing the visitors looking through the telescope yell, "Wow!" and "is that real?!" never gets old!

A new and exciting aspect for visitors who attend our astronomy programs is that I setup telescope and camera equipment. Visitors then help me chose an object to take a picture of (such as a star cluster, or planetary nebula) and within 30 minutes they have their very own astronomy photo, which I email or use iPhone Airdrop to send directly to their cell phones! Here are the first few photos we took this summer of the Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27), Hercules Cluster (Messier 13), and the Wild Duck Cluster (Messier 11).

above is the Wild Duck Cluster (Messier 11)

above is the Dumbbell Nebula (Messier 27)

above is the Hercules Cluster (Messier 13)

Our night sky team promotes the beautiful dark skies at Paradise that we are fortunate enough to have here at Mount Rainier National Park. Below is a very photogenic group that I took a photo of enjoying the Milky Way Galaxy from July 13th =) The park visitors are pointing up at the Milky Way and they were all just amazed at the sight of it.

Mount Rainier National Park astronomy program visitors on July 13th, 2015

Mount Rainier National Park astronomy program visitors and our Milky Way shaded in blue due to moonlight during June, 2015

My goal of promoting astronomy is to generate the interest of children and teenagers so they can become the next supporters and promoters of our beautiful night skies for years to come. We have multiple children operating the telescopes so they can be fully involved in astronomy, and the joy on their faces is priceless.

In closing, enjoying the night skies is part of our heritage and we are losing this fragile resource due to city lights blocking faint starlight, commonly called "light pollution". Visitors to the astronomy program walk away knowing that they can help save our night skies by limiting their usage of lighting at night. More importantly, the visitors frequently compliment how the night sky program was the most memorable aspect about their trip to Mount Rainier. Simply put the night skies are in our souls and viewing a dark star filled sky rejuvenates our body and mind.

~Matt Dieterich

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