Southwest Astronomy Festival in Utah and Arizona

In September, Pipe Spring National Monument was one of the participants in the Southwest Astronomy Festival.  The event spanned a three county area, with two national park sites and several Utah state parks participating.  Cedar Breaks National Monument is known for its dark sky program, but it doesn’t have anything on Pipe Spring.

The Kaibab Band of Southern Paiute were the first reservation in the United States to be certified a dark sky community by the International Dark Sky Association.  Kanab, Utah, just passed a dark sky ordinance for night lighting.  Consequently we have great views of the night sky.  The monument partnered with the tribe for a star party held a few weeks ago.  This is a great place to participate in the Southwest Astronomy Festival.

The day before the star party, the monument hosted a sun gazing event.  Tom helped a lot with this because he can work the telescope even if the computer location device isn’t working.  Or if the computer is smarter than the rangers.  Ranger Darren had a little talk on the good things the sun does for us.  Ranger Autumn had a display of ancient and modern tools for location based on the sun and stars.  Tom and Ranger Sara set up the telescope with the special sun filter.

I looked at the sun through the telescope.  Unfortunately it just looked like a big white ball.  I was hoping for solar flares or something more interesting.  But there weren’t any solar storms going on, so it was pretty boring.  Looking at the sun through a telescope is counter-intuitive.  After all, we aren’t supposed to look at the sun directly anyway.  But the special solar filters protect your eyes from damage.

The star party was the next night and the weather was perfect.  Although we consistently have clear skies in the Arizona Strip, if we go too long without rain the air can get hazy with dust.  The week before the star party was one of those hazy weeks.  Then we had a good rain, which washed out the air, and the night of the star party was as clear and beautiful as a night can be.

About 60 people attended the event which was conveniently held at the campground where we live.  Ranger Benn and Danny Bulletts, two members of the tribe, spoke about star legends.  They told us parts of a story because you can only tell the full story during the winter.   My favorite was about the stars being placed by Coyote.  Mother told Coyote to place the stars one by one in rows in the sky but Coyote got bored and ended up throwing the bag of stars into the sky.

Ranger Autumn put the event together and had cookies and hot cider for people to drink.  Last year the temperatures for the event were in the 40’s.  This year it was in the 80’s, even after the sun set.  But most of the cookies and hot cider were gone by the end of the evening.

Tom set up the park’s telescope so people could look at the planets, which are in an elliptical line right now.  The people took turns looking at Saturn, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.  Tom also gave a talk on the different constellations visible and how to find the North Star.  The Milky Way shone like a belt of white through the center of the visible sky.  It was beautiful and wonderful and people were very appreciative.

The event wrapped up about 10 p.m.  Several people in tents nearby were eager to go to sleep so it was time.  This was only the Second Annual Southwest Astronomy Festival, but from our viewpoint, it was a big success.  I was only disappointed in my pictures because, after all, it was dark!

  • Kristine Moye

    I’d love to see the sky out in Utah! Friends have a campground in the Blueridge mountains and so many more stars can be seen than the sky in Ohio.

    • revkaren54

      The stars in Utah are spectacular. Every night we could watch an awesome star show from the steps of our RV. Being able to see for 40 miles in every direction certainly expands the area of sky you can view.