Colorado Stargazing

by | Nov 7, 2020 | Destinations, Travel and Education

Colorado stargazing photos in Colorado
Colorado Stargazing sites
Add these Dark Sky Sites in Colorado to your bucket list of things to do and see as a weekend trip

We have a class scheduled

May 7 & 8 to Westcliffe and Silver Cliff and The Great Sand Dunes National Park Stargazing

1 Graduate credit will be offered through The Colorado School of Mines
To sign up or for more information about the class. Click on the link below.

In addition to the Dark Sky Sites in Colorado and our upcoming class, there will be some interesting lunar events. In fact, 2021 will have three “super moons,” one blue moon, and two lunar eclipses.

Astronomy experts say the three supermoons — full moons that appear to be slightly bigger and brighter than a typical full moon because of their closer orbit to Earth — will be rising in the sky during consecutive months: April, May, and June.

Blood moon
Blood Moon photo by CNN

Total lunar eclipse in May

Some astronomy experts are calling the May lunar eclipse as “the best astronomical event of all of 2021.”

In fact, the eclipse will occur during the morning of May 26, when the Earth’s shadow will block the sun’s light from shining on the moon’s surface. Likewise, all three celestial bodies, the earth, the moon, and the sun, will line up in a straight row. Additionally, the moon’s color will appear darker with a rusty-reddish tint during the eclipse. These colored moons are called “blood moon.”

As a rule, May’s full moon is normally referred to as the “flower moon,” as it’s the time of year when many plants are blooming. As a matter of fact, this year, it will be known by various nicknames. Hence, you might hear it called the blood moon, super-moon, or super blood moon. Viewing these moons is even more impressive when you are away from city lights.

“The total lunar eclipse will occur in the morning. According to AccuWeather, it will only be visible from the High Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Coast” in the United States. Additionally, the eclipse will also be visible in South America, Asia, and eastern Asia.

Dark Sky Locations in Colorado
A view of the full moon as seen from Jackson Lake State Park on Sept. 3 (photo by Amy Brandenburg/Jackson Lake State Park)

Dark Sky Sites in Colorado

There are currently nine designated Dark Sky Sites in Colorado

The International Dark-Sky Association works to protect the night skies for present and future generations. Also, The association “encourages communities, parks, and protected areas to introduce lighting policies that preserve and protect dark sites around the world.” There are currently nine dark sky sites in Colorado. Moreover, two are National Parks, two are State Parks, Two are National Monuments, three are communities, and one an undeveloped 58-acre conservancy. All in all, there some great opportunities for Colorado stargazing.

What is Light Pollution?

Most of us are familiar with air, water, and land pollution, but did you know that light can also be a pollutant? In fact, as a young girl, I clearly remember looking up and seeing a spectacular night sky filled with bright stars and the beautiful band of the Milky Way. Colorado stargazing was a way of life. However, today, when we look up at the night sky, we might see a few stars or planets and a disappointing view with its present-day, washed-out appearance.

Seeing the night sky as it is can be a rare treat requiring planning and effort. As a matter of fact, you would need to be in a location where that is possible—for example, city lights where most people live wash out the night sky. As a result, it is becoming more and more difficult even to see stars. Today, many children may never have the opportunity to see the night sky as it is with its constellations.

The increased and widespread use of artificial light at night is not only impairing our view of the universe, but it is also adversely affecting our environment, our safety, our energy consumption and our health.

“In fact, much outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded, and, in many cases, completely unnecessary. This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it on to the actual objects and areas that people want illuminated”. DarkSky.org

Man made skyglow on the left washing out the night sky

In the United States and Europe, 99 percent of the public can’t experience a natural night.

The International Dark-Sky Places Program was founded in 2001. The organization’s purpose is to encourage communities, parks, and protected areas worldwide to preserve and protect dark sites. However, this process will require responsible lighting policies and public education.

Dark Sky Sites in Colorado

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Colorado Stargazing black canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

DarkSky.org Link

National Park Service Link

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“Black Canyon Of The Gunnison is a 12,440-hectare U.S. National Park situated in western Colorado. At its heart is the Black Canyon, a steep-walled chasm formed by the Gunnison River as it carved its way through nearly 700 meters’ worth of Precambrian schist and gneiss deposits. The feature takes its name from the near-permanent shadowing of the river bottom due to the strong vertical canyon walls”. NPS website

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great-Sand-Dunes-NP_Patrick-Myers
Great Sand Dunes National Park Stars at night photo by Patrick Myers

DarkSky.org link

National Park Service

Sand Dunes that will amaze you

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The Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 to protect the tallest dunes in North America. In the late 1990s, a grassroots movement worked to upgrade and expand the monument into a National Park and Preserve. To that end, their goal was to protect the greater dunes’ ecosystems that were under threat at the time. The effort came to fruition in 2000 when Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act. As a result, today, more than 149,164 acres of majestic dunes, wetlands, grasslands, forests, and alpine tundra offer various opportunities to view the night sky and explore the park after dark by moonlight. This is a fantastic location for Colorado Stargazing.

Dinosaur National Monument

Stars fill the sky above the Quarry Exhibit Hall in Dinosaur National Monument. Photo: NPS/Jacob Holgerson

DarkSky.org link

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Dinosaur National Monument was thrilled that the International Dark-Sky Association designated it as an International Dark Sky Park. That is to say, the skies above Dinosaur were recognized as having an exceptional natural darkness quality. As a result, these efforts will contribute to the enjoyment and protection of dark skies at the Monument for future generations of those who enjoy Colorado Stargazing. 

Dinosaur now joins over 100 locations that have followed the rigorous application process for acceptance. To be sure, the process demonstrates the community’s support for dark sky protection. As well, they had to provide documents to support this designation and meet specific program requirements. 

Colorado’s First International Dark Sky “Community” WESTCLIFFE / SILVER CLIFF dark sky locations in Colorado for the benefit of Colorado Stargazing

Mountain Town News

DarkSky.org link

Smokey Jack Observatory

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Westcliffe and Silver Cliff bordering towns in southern Colorado came together to protect a shared natural resource by becoming dark sky locations in Colorado. As the first effort of its kind, the towns worked together to ensure the preservation of dark skies to benefit future residents. As a result of their efforts, the towns earned Colorado’s first International Dark Sky Community designation from the International Dark-Sky Association.

“We’re truly inspired by dedicated cooperation of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff to preserve their night skies, and hope it inspires similar successful collaborations,” IDA Executive Director J. Scott Feierabend

Ridgeway, Colorado

Chimney Peak – Ridgway, CO. Photo Courtesy of Gary Ratcliff, OurayImage.com

DarkSky.org link

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The International Dark-Sky Association has named Ridgway and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) Dark Sky Places Program. As such, Ridgway becomes the second IDA “Dark Sky Community” on the Western Slope of Colorado.

Slumgullion Center

Photo by Michael Underwood.

DarkSky.org link

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“We are blessed in Lake City and Hinsdale County to have extraordinary dark skies for viewing the remarkable wonders of our star-filled universe,” remarked Phillip Virden.  “We want to do everything possible to preserve this unique setting for our children, grandchildren, and for all future generations who live and visit here.”

 

Phillip Virden

Hinsdale County is another dark sky location in Colorado and an International Dark Sky Park. The Lake Fork Valley Conservancy’s (LFVC) application to designate the 58-acre Slumgullion Center 

Norwood, Colorado

Scorpius over Norwood, CO and Lone Cone Mountain. Photo: Braden Barkemeyer.

DarkSky.org link

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After almost 3 years of hard work, a small team of volunteers welcomed the designation of Norwood, Colorado, as an International Dark Sky Community. Besides, Norwood was the first International Dark-Sky Association “Dark Sky Community” on Colorado’s Western Slope and only the second in the State for Colorado Stargazing.

Jackson Lake State Park

Dark Sy locations in Colorado
Jackson Late Dark Sky location in Colorado

DarkSky.org link

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Jackson Lake State Park is in Morgan County on the eastern plains of Colorado. The Park is designated as an “International Dark Sky Park.” Additionally, it was the eighth location in Colorado to receive this designation.

This State park is very popular with birders and hunters. Primarily they come here because of the parks location in the Central Flyway for migratory birds. Consequently you will find that quiet winter months provide hearty wildlife viewers excellent opportunities to spot the many animals that live here.

No matter the season, Jackson Lake is “an oasis of the plains.”

 

novelist James Michener

Hovenweep National Monument

The Milky Way rises over Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep National Monument, USA. Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

DarkSky.org link

ABOUT

Hovenweep National Monument lies along the Utah-Colorado border. As of 2014, its star-filled sky has protections by the International Dark-Sky Association. Furthermore, the Monument was designated as the world’s seventeenth “International Dark Sky Park” and the fifth on the Colorado Plateau. Because of its designation at the Gold-tier sky quality level, the National Park Service (NPS) efforts were recognized for its commitment to protecting these skies for future generations of its Colorado stargazing visitors. Also, Hovenweep National Monument is the first Dark Sky Park to span more than one U.S. State. Next, it is the second International Dark-Sky Association, an accredited site in Utah after Natural Bridges National Monument. Finally, both Natural Bridges and Hovenweep are jointly managed under the same NPS administrative staff.

by Danette Ulrich

 

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