BPAA puts on a good show

The Battle Point Astronomical Association has a great facility on Bainbridge Island and a dedicated and knowledgeable corps of enthusiastic volunteers. The combination adds up to a satisfying visit for stargazers both experienced and new to the hobby. I attended the association’s planetarium show and star party Saturday evening, Aug. 27, and had a marvelous time.

Edwin Ritchie Obervatory

Helix House is home of the Battle Point Astronomical Association, the Edwin E. Ritchie Telescope, and John H. Rudolph Planetarium on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It all happens in Helix House, an old military radio facility in the middle of Battle Point Park on Bainbridge. The House is home to the Edwin E. Ritchie telescope and observatory, the John H. Rudolph planetarium, and association offices, a meeting room, workroom, and library.

Saturday BPAA president Steve Ruhl put on an engaging presentation about killer asteroids. Using the planetarium’s computer system, Ruhl illustrated the rapid increase in the numbers of known asteroids in our solar system, and the crazy orbits some of them take, including a great many whose orbits often cross that of Earth. He noted that a really big asteroid collision with Earth, like the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, is about a 1-in-65,000,000 year event.

Oh-oh. As Ruhl understated, that would be a bad day. He showed a PG-13 video imagination of such an impact, which would envelop the surface of our planet in flame within a day. That would be most unpleasant. The hope is that, as methods for detecting and tracking asteroids get more sophisticated, we will be able to spot “the big one” with enough advance notice to be able to do something to prevent it.

A couple dozen people attended the presentation. Ruhl used the planetarium in his talk, though noted that it was a little inadequate for the topic. It’s software includes data on about 500 asteroids, a tiny fraction of the more than 30 million such objects now known.

After the planetarium show many visitors climbed the three-story spiral staircase to get a peek through the club’s showcase, the Ritchie telescope, a 27-inch Newtonian reflector club founders built themselves. On this night, the great instrument was pointed at M 13, the great globular cluster in Hercules, a favorite object at star parties. It was an eye-popping view on a perfect night. The weather was marvelously clear, New Moon was just hours away, and the site has good horizons and a fair amount of protection from Seattle’s city lights.

At least half a dozen BPAA members had their telescopes set up for viewing as well, and stargazers of all ages lined up for looks at what was up in the night sky.

For those interested in learning a bit about astronomy, you can’t lose with a visit to Battle Point. Congratulations to the club for running a marvelous outreach effort. Watch Seattle Astronomy for information on their monthly star parties.