SAN MARCOS — Folks in San Marcos are taking the opportunity to learn about the stars while practically sitting among them. For more than a year, the city of San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department has been hosting a star-gazing program for beginners at the highest point in the city. Every other month a reserve ranger teaches an hour and half session on astronomy for beginners at Double Peak Park’s Amphitheater.
When San Marcos resident Michelle Martinez brought her family to an event called “Star Walk,” they thought it was a hike, but were pleasantly surprised to find out it was a learning event. “It seemed like a good educational thing that we can do for free and that’s always a plus. I’m glad we got here on the earlier side because parking would have been pretty tight otherwise,” Martinez said.
Her 5-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is just now becoming interested in science. “I like it when it’s a shooting star,” she says. Her mom said, “She wants to be a scientist when she grows up.”
The program is designed for young and old says city of San Marcos Parks and Recreation Department Reserve Ranger John Walsh.
“Astronomy 101 is what we try to do. We try to be as simple as possible and help people teach each other. We try to get the audience interacting as well. There are always a couple of kids that know more than I do.”
Cal State San Marcos astronomy student Kiana Bertrand wanted to test out her newfound knowledge at the event. “It’s cool that there’s an event that people can go to and learn more about what’s in the night sky and hopefully we can learn about light pollution and stuff like that,” she said. “I like how there’s more of an initiative in North County San Diego to be out here. It’s typically something that is reserved for further inland like Julian or Palomar Observatory.”
The program is usually held on Sundays in conjunction with a special feature, like this past Sunday in coordination with the Orionids Meteor Show.
On a clear night, attendees can see a number of planets and constellations. Walsh says in his experience Double Peak’s amphitheater looks as though it was designed with stargazing in mind.
“This particular auditorium is great for this kind of activity because it has a direct view of the southern sky,” Walsh said. “We have a front row seat to everything that is happening. There is an imaginary line of 30 to 40 degrees of all the planets and all the signs of the zodiac.”
The city has been looking to start a program like Star Walk for a number of years but couldn’t find someone qualified until Walsh came along. The reserve ranger was originally a navigator in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam era and had knowledge about the stars while using them for navigation. That’s why he told the crowd about the importance of the North Star. Plus, when he was a child, he taught himself how to not be afraid of the dark and look at the skies as friendly.
“If they only learn one thing from it and they look out into the night sky and say I know that constellation or I know that planet. I’d be happy with that,” he said of his volunteer work.
Anyone attending receives a star tracker at the end of the presentation. Walsh says at the first program only eight people were in attendance but now there are more than 120. For more information about the next Star Walk check www.san-marcos.net.