BY SCOTT CARNESS
Snohomish County is among the fastest growing counties in the nation. While the county still boasts great expanses of pristine wilderness, our suburbs are becoming metropolitan, and many of our semi-rural areas are now epicenters of commercial development. When I first moved to this area in the 1990s, what is now the Mill Creek Town Center was a dense forest, and there were actual buffalo at the farm.
With our growing population comes an increase in artificial light and an ever-expanding dome of light pollution. It does not take an astrophysicist to know that if one enjoys gazing up at a starry sky, one needs dark skies. But city light is not contained to cities — it reaches and exceeds all locations that are quickly and easily accessible. There are, however, some remote locations in Snohomish County where an ambitious stargazer can find dark skies.
Obviously, cities are disfavored for observing the cosmos.
While the moon, planets, and a handful of very bright stars are visible from downtown Everett, if you really want to observe the night sky you should pack for an overnight adventure and head for the hills.
There are a few locations in Snohomish County where your efforts can be rewarded.
Trailhead parking areas and river access areas can make good observing locations. There is a spacious access point on the Skykomish River, just east of Gold Bar. From eastbound Hwy 2, after you leave Gold Bar continue past Reiter Road, cross the high bridge, then the turn-off will be on your right. The parking area for the trailhead for Mt. Pilchuck is another option, as is the parking area for the Ice Caves trail.
If you are making the effort to get away from artificial light, make sure you do not sabotage your efforts by light-polluting you own outing. Try to eliminate all white lights in your area in favor of red lights.
Red light will help preserve your dark-adapted eyesight, and red flashlights are available from many outdoor retailers (even the Apple Watch comes equipped with a red flashlight). Turn off your car’s dome / door lights.
Don’t have a campfire; the light and the smoke will hinder your celestial observing. Let your eyes adapt to the darkness, then try to preserve your dark-adaptation. It takes 20-60 minutes for our eyes to fully adapt to darkness.
If you do not own a telescope, use binoculars. You may be surprised by what you can see through binoculars. The four Galilean moons of Jupiter, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula, and countless star clusters are observable with modest binoculars of 10x magnification.
A star atlas will show you how to locate these targets.
The wide field of view that binoculars provide allows the observer to enjoy a “space-walk” perspective.
If you are someone who appreciates the night sky in all its splendor, please join the effort to reduce light pollution by making some adjustments at home. Try to minimize the brightness of your outdoor lighting. There are porch light shields available that direct the light downward to where you actually need it. Consider using the dimmest bulbs that will do the job. Just because your lamp socket is rated for 100 watts does not mean you must use 100 watt bulbs!
The wondrous majesty and beauty of the night sky is one of the greatest joys life has to offer. I hope reading this has encouraged you to go out and view the cosmos. Clear skies!
Photos by Scott Carness
Scott Carness resides in the City of Snohomish. A father, husband, astrophotographer, and musician, Scott keeps the lights on by practicing law in Edmonds.