Gazing at the sun

Jordan Malenkovich, 10, looks through a special telescope made to view the sun without injuring eyes. Malenkovich and his family drove up for the day from Tigard, Ore.

Astronomy enthusiasts and neophytes alike got a chance to peer at the stars — including our own sun — at a full day and night of science Saturday at the Coldwater Lake Science and Learning center northwest of Mount St. Helens.

Jordan Malenkovich, a 10-year-old from Tigard, Ore., came with his family sporting a NASA shirt and hoping to see Jupiter, Saturn or Mars.

His favorite areas of science: Great mysteries of the universe like black holes and dark matter.

“Even though everything’s made of dark matter, I wonder what would happen if you touched dark matter itself,” he said.

The Longview-based Friends of Galileo astronomy club and Portland-based Rose City Astronomers partnered with the Mount St. Helens Institute, a science education nonprofit, to put on the fourth year of the annual event, where attendees get to camp overnight and stargaze through high-powered telescopes.

Coldwater Ridge is located at about 3,000 feet above sea level and is relatively free of artificial light, making it an ideal place for stargazing.

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Scheduled activities also included presentations on dark matter and objects that hit the earth and a scaled-down walk through the solar system, with the Sun and Pluto held at opposite ends of the Learning Center parking lot.

Mount St. Helens Institute volunteer manager Sarah Philips said she hopes the night “sparks curiosity” and gets attendees interested in the sciences.

The astronomy clubs set up telescopes outside the Learning Center for attendees to view the sun, although cloudy conditions at the mountain somewhat thwarted their plans.

The sun-viewing telescopes use a filter that allows only a small wavelength of light through, past president of Friends of Galileo Greg Smith said. The thin slice of red light that passes through is safe for the human eye to see.

Smith said the event get kids excited about the history and stories behind constellations.

And “young kids’ eyes are incredible,” Smith said. “They can really pick stuff out. ... For us 70-year-olders, 68-year-olders, it’s a little harder.”

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