The Peoria Amphitheater may impact the views from Northmoor Observatory

PEORIA – Members of the Peoria Astronomical Society expressed concern this week about the proposed pavilion in the park, fearing that light and heat pollution from the facility could degrade the quality of viewing at Northmoor Observatory , 66 years old.

“Besides the incremental light pollution, the other concern is the heat that would be generated by the parking lot, vehicles and the amphitheater itself,” Brian Hakes, president of PAS, wrote in a message to members. “One of the main reasons the observatory was built on a golf course nearly seven decades ago is the effect the grass would have on dampening the heat radiated from the earth and ensuring nighttime viewing. stable.”

The proposed location of the pavilion is particularly problematic, said Eric Clifton, PAS board member. The southeast corner of Donovan Park is directly under the line of sight of the giant telescope when it aims at the moon and planets during the summer months, when the observatory is open to visitors on Saturday nights. The heat rising from the pavilion would send a scintillating wave through the atmosphere, obscuring the view of the telescope.

“It’s called thermal pollution. Have you ever looked through a parking lot on a hot summer day and seen the heat waves coming out of it?” Clifton asked.

To illustrate his point, Clifton brought a telescope and lighter to a Peoria Park District Board meeting in January. After pasting a dollar bill to the wall and pointing a telescope at it, Clifton lit the lighter under the telescope’s path.

“The whole image became blurry and shaky, and all of the detail was gone. And that was just for the little telescope and a little heat source,” Clifton said. “With the pavilion, we are talking about acres of concrete and asphalt that suck the heat from the sun and send it back up to the sky at night. That doesn’t even take into account that there are going to be 300 to 350 cars with hot engines in the parking lot.

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Peoria Park District President Emily Cahill recalls that January presentation. Although she called it “compelling,” the information did not prompt the park district to explore other areas of the park for the installation. From a park planning perspective, the southeast corner is optimal, she said.

“Until we have a compelling reason not to use this location, the location is our preference,” she said. “I don’t have enough scientific evidence to tell you, yes or no, that this location isn’t going to work, so we’re moving forward. But in fairness to Eric, we haven’t completed a thermal study. It’s something we’re all learning more about and trying to figure out what our options are. ”

The Pavilion group responds to concerns

Since that January meeting, the Pavilion Arts Center – the nonprofit group overseeing the project – has created extensive plans for the southeast corner of the park. Architect Jeff Keach, who designed the facility, was unaware that the increased heat could be a problem for the observatory.

“I haven’t heard anything about the thermal pollution problem. I have heard of light pollution issues, which are part of our range of services to deal with. From the start, the board told us about it. It’s a concern for them and a concern for the Observatory, so we’re ready to address this issue, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of thermal pollution, ”Keach said.

Sara Connor-James, chairman of the board of directors of PAC and Pavilion in the Park, said the group was willing to learn more about the effects of thermal pollution.

“We have studied light and sound and will now pay attention to the heat in every detail, with the resolve to benefit all who enjoy the park,” she said. “The pavilion will be very attentive and respectful of the observatory in everything we do.”

The Peoria Astronomical Society has expressed concerns about thermal and light pollution from the proposed pavilion in the park impacting the use of the telescope in the Northmoor Observatory, pictured here on Thursday, July 15, 2021.

A 66-year history

The Northmoor Observatory was built at Donovan Park in 1955, when the property was called Northmoor Golf Course. Back then, before the city developed around it, the property was very dark at night, and for a number of years it was a good place to look deep into space. But as the city grew, and later when the Proctor Hospital was next door, light pollution made the place less than optimal, Clifton said.

“The only things left to see in Northmoor are the moons and the planets, because they are shiny things,” he said. “Their way up into the sky in the summer causes them to rise in the southeast, peaking halfway up in the south, then in the southwest. We’re going to look directly through this plume of heat escaping from all over. that concrete area, and basically that’s going to take away the last thing we can show people. We can’t show Northmoor a lot of other things in the sky anymore because they’re a lot lower; light pollution has made that impossible. ”

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Shannon Wiltz looks through the telescope at Northmoor Observatory on Thursday, July 15, 2021. The Peoria Astronomical Society, which operates the observatory, is concerned about the heat and light of the proposed pavilion in the park interrupting their capacity to use the telescope.

The Peoria Astronomical Society has a second observatory in Jubilee Park, where it is much darker, and they frequently hold group programs there. But the location is remote and difficult to find, making it impossible for the occasional sighting that occurs at Donovan Park, Clifton said.

“We’re on an abandoned farm over there, so it’s just not conducive to the kinds of things we do in Northmoor,” Clifton said. “For small groups of 80 or 100 people, Jubilee works great, but even then we provide people with maps, directions and phone numbers in case they get lost.

The Northmoor Observatory has the longest running public observation program in Illinois, and there have been times over the years when people have lined up to catch a glimpse of something spectacular happening. passed in the night sky. Even on an ordinary day, the view can be breathtaking, Clifton said.

“As a research center, Northmoor doesn’t cut it anymore, but for the public it’s superb,” he said. “Over the past few weeks, another guy and I hosted the Central Illinois Singles Society, a bunch of about 25-30 singles, and the ‘oh, wow’ and ‘oh, my gods’ when people watched the moon through the telescope was just one of the reasons we’re doing it. The ‘oh, wow’ factor is great. ”

A hill on several levels in the proposed pavilion in the park would provide an unobstructed view of the stage.

Is another location possible?

While light pollution from the proposed pavilion will likely affect the observatory no matter where it is placed in the park, the biggest concern at the moment is thermal pollution. For this reason, Clifton asked the Peoria Park District Board of Directors to consider a different location for the entertainment venue.

“I asked if there was a way to put the pavilion in the northeast corner of the park instead of the southeast corner up there near Keller Junction. That would remove it from under our south-east view which we must preserve. This stuff has been booed because there are other plans for up there, ”Clifton said. “Even if they would turn the whole thing 180 degrees and put the lodge near the Donovan entrance road instead of lowering it near the property line, it would make things better. It would make things better, but we would still be grappling with the concrete pavers problem.

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While another location isn’t something the park district is currently considering, the lodge approval process in the park is far from over, Cahill said.

“The public expectation is that on the 120 acres of the park, we find a really good balance between things to do and peaceful, open green spaces,” Cahill said. “And that’s the question we’re going to be asking the board and the community as we move through this process. That’s why there are several steps in this process. At first glance, the idea (for the Pavilion in the park) has a lot of merit. … Do the pros outweigh the cons? Right now we are open to the possibility. Do we want to make sure we tick as many boxes as possible? Damn, yeah, that’s why we’re not jumping into anything. ”

Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.

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