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Skies Above Oregon Filled with Bright Planets; Star Parties in Gorge, Coast Range

Published 07/17/2018 at 4:22 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Skies Above Oregon Filled with Bright Planets; Star Parties in Gorge, Coast Range

(Portland, Oregon) – Skywatchers can get an eyeful with two events: one in the Oregon Coast Range and the other in the Gorge. OMSI and Rose City Astronomers have organized two star parties happening on Saturday, July 21 at Rooster Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge and Stub Stewart State Park on the way to the north Oregon coast.

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You’ll get to spot the red planet in particular glory as it closes in on opposition with the sun, meaning the Earth will pass between it and the Sun on July 26. It will be at its closest to Earth around that day, according to OMSI’s Jim Todd.

“When Mars reaches opposition with the sun, observers on Earth will have their closest view of the planet since 2003,” Todd said. “By July 26, Mars will be just 44 million miles away, and from the perspective of skywatchers on Earth, it will appear five times brighter than usual. By the time the Red Planet reaches its closest point to Earth, it will be a mere 35.8 million miles away and will have nearly doubled in brightness since June.”

The stargazing parties both begin at 9 p.m. They are free. Beginners to experts of all ages will get to see the moon, stars and other planetary bodies through telescopes. For Mars, best viewing will be after 11:30 pm when it will clear the SE horizon. Other viewing highlights include waxing gibbous moon, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and more.

On the scheduled day of each OMSI Star Parties, it is suggested that interested visitors check OMSI’s website for possible weather-related cancellations.

Rooster Rock State Park directions: Take I-84 east of the Sandy River at exit 25. The park is located 22 miles east of Portland.

Direction to L.L. "Stub" Stewart State Park: Take US-26 west of Portland and turn right on OR-47. The park is located 34 miles west of Portland.

There’s still a lot happening in the skies above Oregon and its coast throughout July. Venus and Mars especially are putting on a show.

Venus remains not only the brightest planet but the brightest star for a couple of hours after sunset. It’s been setting two and half hours after sundown but its time in the sky will shrink to just two hours by the end of the month, according to Earthsky.org. Venus already provided a striking sight earlier this week by gleaming brightly right near the moon.

Normally, it’s Jupiter that’s the brightest of planets, and rarely does Mars outshine it. Lately, however, it has been exceedingly brilliant with a fiery red glow, starting in the southeastern sky. Jupiter is usually the fourth brightest object in the sky after Venus, the sun and the moon. According to Earthsky.org, Mars will keep growing in brightness for awhile and remain brighter than Jupiter until September.

Saturn is also brighter than usual for a time, hanging out high in the sky.

Best places to view this on the Oregon coast are just about anywhere, but higher spots help a bit, like those at Cape Foulweather near Depoe Bay, Anderson’s Viewpoint near Oceanside or the Neahkahnie Overlooks at Manzanita. It all really depends on weather, of course, and that’s the key even during summer on the beaches. But when nighttime skies open up on the Oregon coast they are amazing, with the Milky Way prominent and very obvious overhead. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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