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Stars come out in the daylight July 4

Mac Gardiner walks through the frame of what will be the planetarium’s viewing screen. The BPAA needs to raise $30,000 for a traveling planetarium program that would visit area schools. - Julie Busch photo
Mac Gardiner walks through the frame of what will be the planetarium’s viewing screen. The BPAA needs to raise $30,000 for a traveling planetarium program that would visit area schools.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

BPAA offers free planetarium shows at Eagle Harbor Church.

Throughout the benevolent nights of July, a canopy of stars swims end to end across the island horizon.

It’s a treat for local stargazers, who know well the feel of cool grass on nape.

But in winter, the wonders of the night sky often remain elusive, frustrating for those who know what lies tantalizingly close but hopelessly obscured – beyond the cloud cover and out of view of the high-powered telescope at the Battle Point Park observatory.

“There are so many overcast nights at the observatory,” said planetarium program director Nancy Cooper, lingering sadly on the word “so” for emphasis.

Hence the excitement of Cooper and members of the Battle Point Astro­nomical Association, who after much labor will unfurl their own canopy of stars, a swathe of fabric 16 feet in diameter, onto which legends like Orion, Perseus, Cassiopeia and other cohorts will soon be projected.

The BPAA will offer a full day of holiday shows in its new portable planetarium on July 4 at Eagle Harbor Church, as part of an ongoing fund-raising effort.

The free shows will begin every 20 minutes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and will be led by Cooper, who has worked for several planetariums, as well as NASA’s outreach education program.

In addition to the portable dome, a permanent 19-foot dome will be raised in the observatory’s meeting room, which will allow the BPPA’s 175 or so members to provide more shows and tours.

The group currently organizes and hosts a number of events, including monthly star parties that utilize the observatory’s mammoth telescope.

The portable dome can accommodate about 30 people at a time and will offer the public a glimpse of what organizers hope will become a mobile star show.

The BPAA has reached the mid-point in an effort to implement a traveling planetarium program that would educate children across Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County.

The group recently received more than $30,000 worth of new equipment, including the dome and chairs, and a $20,000 projector that arrived last month.

Another $30,000 is needed to fund the traveling program, in addition to volunteers who are willing to help on any level, from conducting tours to improving the website to grant writing.

“We need to get more people involved,” said BPAA publicity director James Vaughan. “We need more ideas, more hands and more brains.”

Mostly, though, the BPAA needs money to fund the program, $20,000 of which would pay Cooper’s salary. The remaining $10,000 would purchase supplies.

Cooper said they have already spoken to school officials, who are enthusiastic about the idea. If things go as planned, one proposed contract would allow Cooper and the planetarium to visit 100 fifth-grade classrooms beginning in September.

“That’s just one of many things we’ll be doing,” Vaughan said. “I think we’ll be very busy.”

The group also plans to visit community and senior centers in the area.

The BPPA has already come a long way toward bringing the vision of the late John Rudolph, one of the observatory’s designers, to fruition.

Rudolph’s original plans for the observatory, completed in 1997, called for a planetarium on the ground floor.

Sally Metcalf, who was Rudolph’s sweetheart, told the Review in January how important the inclusion of a planetarium was to Rudolph.

“John loved kids,” she said “He thought that with this (planetarium) if you could inspire kids when they’re young, they might grow up to be our next cutting-edge scientists – inspire minds that look out in the universe.”

But projectors at the time of the design cost upwards of $100,000, much more than the group could spend, forcing Rudolph and fellow designers E.M. “Mac” Gardiner and the late Edwin Ritchie to shelve plans for the planetarium.

Now, nearly a decade later, the stars will soon descend on the interior of the observatory and, with some help, into classrooms countywide.

Cooper and Vaughan said that with so few planetariums on this side of the water, the BPPA hopes the additional equipment will introduce a new generation to stargazing.

“We want to attract some new blood,” Cooper said. “We want kids to see how exciting this is.”

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