By Rich Csenge, president, Stellar Vista Observatory
On Tuesday, September 20th at the Jackson Flat Reservoir boat launch parking area, Stellar Vista Observatory (SVO) will hold an outdoor activity specially designed for the early bird who enjoys getting outside on a cool September morning. Several telescopes will be set up and bathroom facilities are available. Meet a few local astronomy buffs for a free constellation tour of the winter sky, then take a bike ride at daybreak around Jackson Flat Reservoir on the Sherry Belle Trail. The event is open to all ages, including youth. Small children must have parental guidance.
But wait; how can one see the winter sky in summer? There’s a simple explanation.
Due to earth’s rotation, stars and constellations appear to move across the night sky from east to west, circling counter-clockwise around Polaris. Their position slowly changes from month to month, relative to time of night. This inexorable “apparent movement” of the stars can be studied using monthly or quarterly sky charts, a planisphere, or an app like Stellarium, Starry Night or Sky Safari.
You don’t actually have to wait until it’s chilly out to see the winter sky. Brilliant stars and constellations of the winter sky are already gleaming at 5 o’clock in the morning, just as they would appear at 8 pm on a frosty evening in January!
Do you or your friends prefer electric scooters? Bikes and scooters are both welcome! Whatever your job or day’s adventure, you’ll still have time to grab a bite, be refreshed and on time. This activity is a re-scheduling of a similar one canceled in July due to monsoonal clouds.
You’ll find Stellar Vista Observatory’s sidewalk astronomers ready at 5:15 AM to share telescopic views of the planets Jupiter and Mars, with the beautiful waning crescent moon rising in the eastern sky. The most recognized constellation of the winter sky, Orion, with its dazzling nebula, M42, the Pleiades star cluster, M45, and the Andromeda galaxy, M31 (nearest neighbor to our Milky Way), will be prominent in the inky blackness as astronomical twilight sets in at 5:49 AM. SVO’s telescopes will take you there!
By 7:00 AM, we will have put away the scopes and hopped on the 2-mile paved trail to enjoy a peaceful sunrise loop ride, enhanced by the sight and songs of birds. If you have binoculars, bring ‘em!
A little crazy to be out so early? Maybe, but here’s a thought. Learning more about the wonders of our universe can fire the imagination and stimulate life transforming dreams. For some, it’s a spiritual experience to contemplate that all of creation, the elements of the periodic table, even the stuff we’re made of, originated in stars.
Stellar Vista Observatory, a 501c3 nonprofit based in Kanab, provides observational experiences for people to enjoy, appreciate and comprehend what we can see in southern Utah’s starry night skies. The organization also provides weekly sky reports published in 5 regional newspapers (including the Southern Utah News) and on the web, plus portable, easy-to-use telescopes and tripod mounted binocular kits on loan for free to residents and visitors in Kane County. Enhance your enjoyment of the night sky! For details or to request a loan, visit https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/discover-the-night-sky/ or inquire at the Kane County Office of Tourism.