Cambrian: Opinion

Turn out the lights and enjoy a starry Cambria night

Astronomer Frank Widmann fixes a telescope on the skies.
Astronomer Frank Widmann fixes a telescope on the skies.

On Saturday, Nov. 18, a clear and moonless evening, more than 75 people came to Shamel Park to enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors under a starry sky. The Milky Way shined brightly overhead accompanied by the roar of the nearby surf. The calks of screech owls penetrated the darkness, and at one point, later in the evening, a deer visited the park.

An array of sophisticated telescopes set up by members of the Central Coast Astronomical Society (CCAS) offered everyone a closer look at a range of interesting celestial objects. The equipment available included large and small telescopes that opened different windows on the universe. One telescope with a very wide field of view was set up on a sturdy but simple mount that allowed anybody to tour the myriad stars of our galaxy on their own.

“I was amazed at the size of the turnout and the level of enthusiasm,” said Claudia Harmon Worthen, the president of the Beautify Cambria Association, the sponsor of the Dark Skies event. Claudia is a tireless organizer and was a key factor in the success of the event.

Sights on display

Central Coast Astronomical Society members Joseph Carro, Scott McMillan, Ron Setina and Frank Widmann shared their passion for astronomy by operating the telescopes and offering a guided tour of the interesting celestial objects. Items studied included two planets, Saturn and its rings and the blue disk of the distant planet Uranus. The Andromeda Galaxy was viewed as a naked-eye object visible thanks to the relatively dark sky even though it is roughly 2.5 million light years away.

The galaxy, which covers an area about six times the apparent size of the moon, was viewed in detail in both large and small instruments, and two satellite galaxies that accompany Andromeda were also examined. The bright stars of the Summer Triangle, Vega, Deneb and Altair were viewed through a large telescope, and the effects of size and distance on the apparent brightness of stars was discussed. The beautiful blue and golf double star Albireo was also viewed. Other deep sky objects viewed included the spiral galaxy in the constellation Triangulum, the Double Cluster in Perseus, the Pleiades star cluster and the M15 globular star cluster in Pegasus.

Another highlight of the evening was a talk given by Carro providing pointers on how to navigate the night sky and identify constellations and other celestial objects. Cambria astrologer Harry Farmer explained the spiritual and mythological significance of the planets and the constellations.

Many helped out

BCA partnered with the CCAS to sponsor the night out under the stars. Many others contributed to the success of the event. Robin’s, Cookie Crock, Sow’s Ear, Soto’s Market Deli, Old Stone Station and Abby’s Place, the Cafe on Bridge Street, donated food. Wayne Attoe loaned his public address system so the speakers could be heard by all.

BCA members and local businesses donated items for the raffle and silent auction:

Rita Burton; Claudia Harmon Worthen; Miner’s Hardware (Morro Bay); Ocean Heir; Garden Shed; Simplistic Home; Junk Girls; Home Arts; Cambria Bead; Verde; etc, etc, etc.; Love Story Project; Teresabelle Jewelry; Christine and Gordon Heinrichs; Jim Worthen; and Paws on Main. BCA thanks them all and encourages the public to mention how much they enjoyed the event when they shop in these stores.

Light pollution

The idea for the event came from CCAS member and astronomer Frank Widmann, who raised his concern to the BCA that light pollution is destroying part of mankind’s heritage, the awe-inspiring beauty of dark skies. That heritage is threatened even in a remote place like Cambria.

“People move to beautiful places like Cambria drawn to the natural beauty, but they bring bad habits with them that gradually destroy the very beauty they want to enjoy,” Widmann said. “Outdoor lighting is not a decoration, it is literally an eyesore that intrudes on the space and the enjoyment of others. If you need a light to see something, fine, but if you are not using it, be considerate and turn the light off. Most people have good intentions, but they are just not aware of the problem. An event like this can raise awareness.

“Residential street lighting is another unnecessary and wasteful atrocity, particularly the new LED versions. They produce glare and actually make it harder for people to see at night. The blue element of this lighting interferes with the body’s production of melatonin and makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep. It also disrupts the circadian rhythms of animals and insects. The effects of pollution are gradual and cumulative. It is easy to ignore them until it is too late. Now is the time to become aware and fight back. Our children will thank us.”


BCA members prepared the event and welcomed guests.

Harmon Worthen noted special thanks to her husband Jim, Linda Haskins, Cheryle and Bruce Raiter and Christine and Gordon Heinrichs for picking up all the food, setting up, working the event and breaking down; Terri Pilot, Susan Chase, Rebecca Hendricks, and others who contributed. “The Dark Skies event would not have succeeded without all your help,” she said.

Food was served in the gazebo, where lights helped guests serve themselves. Stargazing music played, a CD compiled by Roland Soucie from Rita Burton’s suggestions.

Everyone is welcome to attend our BCA board meetings the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Snacks are always served.

Submitted by astronomer Frank Widmann of the Central Coast Astronomical Society for the Beautify Cambria Association.