BEND, Ore. — Oregon Observatory is the country’s largest facility for public viewing with over 30 telescopes that give a glimpse into the cosmos. With multiple observatories throughout the region, Central Oregon is an ideal area to gaze at stars, galaxies, nebulae and star clusters light-years away.
Bob Grossfeld, the manager of the observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center, notices when visitors from out of town come and use the telescopes at the observatory because they are astonished they can see the Milky Way.
“We are pretty spoiled, those of us who live here, because we have a decent night sky to work with where you can actually see stars,” Grossfeld said. “People who come here from metropolitan areas maybe only see five to 10 stars (where they live).”
Several elements combine to make Central Oregon a draw for stargazers. East of the Cascade Mountains the lack of any major metropolitan cities makes for a more visible night sky.
Even with Bend growing exponentially, due to the outdoor lighting standards, keeping light pollution to a minimum will only continue to keep the night sky full of visible stars. Deschutes County adopted an outdoor lighting ordinance which limits the type of lighting that is available that can be used commercially and privately in order to help keep the rural skies sparkling with stars and planets.
“Deschutes County has some strict light ordinances; Sunriver has even more strict light ordinances,” Grossfeld said. “That certainly helps us.”
The strict guidelines have certainly paid off. Earlier this month, Sunriver, the resort town 17 miles south of Bend, received official recognition from the International Dark-Sky Association as the first Dark Sky Place in Oregon, a rare distinction held by only 142 other areas in the world.
The naked eye
Even though he manages the observatory, Grossfeld knows that in Central Oregon, one does not need to look through a telescope to be amazed by the star-filled sky. The sno-parks in the Cascade range are an excellent spot, he said, as is Horse Ridge and Paulina Lake.
“It doesn’t take much to get away from the city in Bend to get access to a great night sky. If you go east or west, you are going to see a great night sky,” Grossfeld said. “That’s a really important point because people don’t need to go to the observatory. If they live here, they can go out in your backyard and see the night sky. It’s pretty unusual for most people in Oregon.”