Though the Pinnacles National Park has been a long time favorite destination and source of natural beauty for San Benito County, its Stargazing Parties are a new addition. Started on the West Side of the park in 2015, the Pinnacles decided to bring it to the East Side to increase participation. Astronomer docent Ed Wong explained, “The East Side has a lot more people. Originally, we did the West Side trying to get more people to come out. The West Side has no camping so it’s less busy. On the West Side, we get 50 people at best. On the East Side, we had 200.”
As the city of Hollister grows in population, and open spaces continue to be filled with new homes and street lights, opportunities to reconnect to nature and find an open spot to look up and wonder without light pollution decreases. When talking to Wong about why the Pinnacles decided to incorporate Stargazing Parties at the park he stated, "The thing is I kind of pursued them to start something, but then, because the Pinnacles is a National Park and there is an awareness of conservation, the dark sky is another area of conservation they want to promote. Light pollution is quickly taking over everything and it effects the animals and wildlife. Preserving dark skies is something that can happen overnight if people want… It makes it special because most people nowadays don’t see the night sky because it is so polluted.” This reason did not fall on deaf ears as roughly 200 people attended the event Saturday night, all without being able to use cameras or cellphones to capture images to preserve the integrity of the experience.
People were free to walk around to different telescopes set up in the open area behind the Visitor’s Center at the park. While going to all ten of the telescopes available, each with a different view, one was able to see Saturn, Neptune, binary stars, supernova remnants, the Lagoon Nebula, and other star clusters. The night sky was so clear at the site that one could easily see the Milky Way and Big Dipper with the naked eye. However, one of the best features of the night was talking to the ten astronomers on site who came out to help put on the Stargazing Party. Starting at 8:30 p.m., the event lasted an hour and a half. Each astronomer showed passion and knowledge as they not only described what one was seeing, but also answered any other related questions that were asked.
When talking to participant Kelli Simmons of Gilroy about why she decided to come out to the event she stated, “I am thrilled I accepted a friend’s invitation to go stargazing. It is worth the drive to get out of the city lights. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of the star filled night sky. The high power telescopes are amazing and the astronomers are very knowledgeable and friendly.” Ms.Simmons was not the only person who traveled from outside of the area to try to catch a glimpse of the Lagoon Nebula. Though no official data was taken on who came out Saturday night, astronomer Ed Wong shared, “Since the event is open to the public and there is no forced sign-ins we do not have documented data. However, we do ask people at random to get ideas of where people come from. From last night, I know there we people came from the following areas: Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Los Gatos, Hollister, Gilory, Morgan Hill so we do have quite a reach for the program.”
Although this will be the last Stargazing Party for the season at the Pinnacles on the East Side of the park, there will be another event on the West Side of the park October 14th put on by a similar group of astronomers. Wong and fellow astronomers find joy in sharing their passion for the night sky with others and work hard as a collective team to bring these events to fruition. “To share with people I get gratification too. Hopefully, I can help other people realize the world is bigger than what they can experience in a regular day,” Wong explained. While looking through the astronomers’ telescopes with no obstruction from light pollution by nearby cities, one could not help but agree with Wong in not only the brilliance of the night sky, but being reminded how vast our world and universe really are.