Western Slope Skies

Every other Friday at about 8:10 am, repeats the following Wednesday at 8:00 pm
  • Hosted by Black Canyon Astronomical Society

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, who take a look at our local night sky. Hear it every other week after the Friday morning local newscast (8:10-8:15 AM) and on the following Wednesday night at 8 PM during Global Express.

Do you have a question about the night sky or other astronomical topics? Ask it in our comments section below, or email us!

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Joyce Tanihara

Have you ever seen a star-like object moving across the night sky over several minutes?  You may have seen an artificial satellite. 

Zach Schierl

Every Boy Scout knows how to find the North Star; just follow the two stars on the end of the Big Dipper’s bowl, and voila… you’re there! The North Star might be the most famous star in the entire sky, yet also the most misunderstood.

Mercury, the innermost and speediest planet, can be hard to see, because it never appears very far from the brilliant Sun in our sky.

By Denys (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This year, on August 21st, there will be a total solar eclipse. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the event will be accessible to millions right here in the U.S!

Have you ever seen a comet?  In coming weeks we may have a chance to see two interesting comets. 

So you bought a new telescope…Or, little Bobby just got one for Christmas.  Now what?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/yellowstonenps/14582291897/in/photostream/
NPS photo by Neal Herbert - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In the early days of the U.S. space program, President John Kennedy proclaimed, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

NASA/JPL

What’s that brilliant “evening star,” lingering in the southwest after sunset? It’s often confused with airplane landing lights and has even been reported as a UFO! It’s Venus, Earth’s closest planetary neighbor!

If you have attended an astronomy event in the summer, you probably observed Messier objects, such as the Swan Nebula (Messier 17) or the Great Hercules Cluster (Messier 13).  Charles Messier was a French astronomer in the 18th century.  While his interest was discovering comets, now he is best known for the list of Messier objects, which was published between 1774 and 1781.

NASA

Most of us know the old nursery rhyme that begins “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight.” Have you ever asked yourself “How do we measure star bright?” The history of measuring brightness goes back to the Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, who lived in the second century B.C.

December nights are usually cold on the Western Slope, but there are some great celestial treats for those willing to endure the frigid temperatures.

NASA

Some say that we now live in the golden age of solar system exploration.  In 2016 there are more than 15 active, interplanetary probes from the U.S., Europe, Japan, China, India, and Russia.  These are exploring Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Earth’s Moon, comets, asteroids, the distant Kuiper Belt, and the even more distant, interstellar medium.  

As humans on Earth, it’s hard to grasp how vast the Universe is, starting with our own Solar System.  To us, our Solar System seems like a big place.

The nineteenth-century English poet John Keats famously described autumn as the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness / close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”-- a welcomed time of harvest beneath golden afternoon light. Autumn customarily heralds the appearance of falling leaves, ripe pumpkins, and wool sweaters. But also, it occasions an elusive apparition in the nighttime sky, a celestial ghost showing up for Halloween— the Gegenschein.

Joyce Tanihara

At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we are lucky to have dedicated local astronomers, powerful telescopes, and pristinely dark skies.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESO/R. Hurt

Now is a great time to gaze into our dark skies and to contemplate the Milky Way, our home galaxy.   After twilight ends on late September evenings, the luminous band of the Milky Way stretches from the southwest to overhead and beyond, into the northeastern sky.   To the southwest in the direction of Sagittarius, the Milky Way’s clouds of stars and glowing gas are brightest.  This is the direction of the galactic center, where stars are most concentrated.   As we trace the Milky Way from overhead in Cygnus and into Perseus in the no

September 8th marked the beginning of NASA’s launch window for OSIRIS-Rex, a mission to study an asteroid called Bennu and return a sample of the asteroid’s surface material to Earth for further analysis. This mission is particularly exciting because it will not only give us a peek back in time towards the beginnings of our planet and our solar system as a whole, but also might provide clues as to how life began here on Earth. (Ed.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Exciting research in the field of astronomy has been the search for exoplanets. An exoplanet is a planet that is orbiting a star other than our Sun.

Public Domain (CC0)

A clear evening in late August offers much to contemplate, both near, relatively speaking astronomically, and far.

Today, I thought you might like to hear how any young person can get started on a career path to astronomy.

NASA

One year ago, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flyby of Pluto.

Joyce Tanihara

It’s a dark area broken by the faint glow of red lights, and your eyes are just adjusting to make out a figure, hunched over what vaguely looks to be a telescope.

“Hey, I’ve got Saturn!” exclaims the figure. “I’ve got a double star,” shouts another voice. “I’ve got the Andromeda galaxy. Come take a look!” says someone toward the back.

If you look to the east after sunset, you will notice a bright, reddish-orange object.  This is the planet Mars, 4th rock from the Sun.  Less than one month ago, Mars was at opposition.  This means that it is directly opposite from the Sun, as we view it.  This also means that it is very bright, because it is reflecting light directly back to us.  Opposition is the planetary equivalent of a full moon. 

The diameter of Mars is about 4200 miles, compared to Earth’s diameter of about 8,000 miles and its mass is just 11% of Earth’s.  On May 30, Mars was 47 million miles from Earth.

Imagine… You are on an exo-planet circling a star in the Hydra Galaxy Cluster.  Your powerful telescope zeroes in on a planet 150 million light-years away.  The planet is called Earth, but you won’t be seeing 2016 human inhabitants, you will be seeing images of dinosaurs… Images carried on light that left the Earth 150 million years ago.

You will be looking back in time.

R. Hazzard

  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “festival” as “a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something.” In Colorado we love our festivals. Here, you can celebrate wildflowers, hot air balloons, rodeos, sweet corn, your favorite beverage, and bluegrass. On the Western Slope, there is another type of festival, and it’s coming up very soon. The 7th Annual Astronomy Festival will be held at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from June 1st through the 4th. 

  What’s that brilliant, orange “star” rising in the southeast after twilight ends?  It’s actually not a star, but the planet Mars, which is now nearing Earth for its closest encounter since year 2005.  

Art Trevena

A rare cosmic event will occur on the morning of May 9, 2016.  Mercury, the innermost, smallest, and speediest planet, will appear to cross the sun’s disk, as seen from Earth.

Public Domain, w/restoration by Adam Cuerden

My earliest memory of the night sky begins with the nursery rhyme:

Star light, Star Bright,
First Star I see tonight.
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

Art Trevena

What’s a sure sign of spring? Daffodils emerging in the garden, cheerful songbirds in the trees? These are familiar, terrestrial indicators.

The celestially-minded look upward for their sign— to a softly luminous beehive appearing above the western horizon, shortly after twilight ends. This faint but lovely sight is known as the zodiacal light.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and Amy Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center) et al.

This March is an ideal time to view the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. On March 8th, Jupiter, the Earth and the Sun were in a line, an annual event called opposition. This happens when Jupiter is closer to Earth than during other times of the year, making Jupiter appear bigger and brighter.

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