Stargazing moves to Stonehenge

With the Goldendale Observatory closed, stargazing will take place at Stonehenge.

Photo by Roger Harnack
With the Goldendale Observatory closed, stargazing will take place at Stonehenge.

— Solar and dark-sky programs will be shifted to Stonehenge for more than a year as Goldendale Observatory upgrades take place.

The Goldendale Observatory, including the telescopes, and State Park Heritage Site will remain closed until fall of 2019 for the reconstruction project.

The Stonehenge programs kick off April 5, with observatory staff leading educational programs at 4 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. The staffers will be at Stonehenge, 87 Stonehenge Drive, from 1 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. those days for general visits.

In the meantime, the observatory in Goldendale will undergo a $5.8 million improvement project on its 5-acre hilltop location.

The project, expected to be completed in 2019, includes a new 140-seat auditorium, an expanded lobby and gallery, three times the number of parking spaces, new restrooms, expanded outdoor viewing with ramp access and new Internet systems. The observatory’s 10-foot solar dome will also be relocated.

“Washington State Parks is so fortunate to have this observatory in its system,” said Lem Pratt, Goldendale Area Manager. “The parks’ solar telescope is considered one of the best publicly accessible solar telescopes in the western United States.”

At a later date, the original telescope will be renovated.

The observatory began as an idea in the 1960s when amateur astronomers Mack McConnell, John Marshall, Don Conner and Omer VanderVelden built the original 24-inch Cassegrain reflecting telescope currently housed in the observatory.

They started the telescope as a club project at Clark College in Vancouver and spent more than six years designing and assembling the telescope, and grinding its mirror.

The project cost $3,000.

Because of the city’s growth and “light pollution,” the men stopped for lunch in Goldendale and introduced their idea to the city’s mayor.

In 1973, the telescope was moved and dedicated in the city. In 1980, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission purchased the site.


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