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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Planetary Conjunctions Late August will be a great time for planet watching, in the morning and the evening. If you are up early on Monday, August 18, you will be rewarded by a spectacular pre-dawn sight.

The Tidal Dance of the Earth and the Moon We learn in grade school that the Moon, our nearest neighbor in space, causes tides on the Earth’s oceans. It does so through its gravitational attraction to the Earth. But the gravitation interplay between Earth and Moon has other, subtler effects as well.

The Evening Sky in Late July The Sun sets late on these long summer days, and it’s not fully dark until almost 10 PM. And, because of this week’s late-rising moon, the sky remains dark long after twilight, allowing us great views of the Milky Way and the stars of summer.

Pluto a planet? Not a planet? Beloved Disney Dog?

June Solstice With the arrival of warmer temperatures, perhaps you’ve been enjoying some outings to the mountains or a float trip on a river. While there is no doubt that summer is in full swing here in western Colorado, it’s not until this coming Saturday that the Universe makes it official.

Light Pollution Those of us that live on the Western Slope are no stranger to spectacular scenery. The jagged peaks, chiseled canyons, and expansive plateaus of western Colorado are treasures that we all cherish. But one of our most spectacular natural wonders may also be one of our least appreciated: our incredibly dark and pristine night skies.

Mercury in Evening Twilight
Have you ever seen the planet Mercury? When conditions are near optimal, Mercury is easy to see. However, optimal conditions are rare, and many casual observers search for Mercury without success. This is because of the planet’s proximity to the sun. The safe time to view Mercury is after sunset or before sunrise, depending upon the Mercury's orbit.

Saturn at Opposition Last month on the program we learned that only the five superior planets can be at opposition. The fast movement of our planet’s orbit brings us between those five planets and the sun every year. In April, Mars was at opposition. This month, on Saturday, May 10 th , its Saturn’s turn to shine!

Navigating the Night Sky The Big Dipper is a great starting point for learning the night sky. Located near the pole of the sky, it never completely sets or dips below the horizon—it’s visible in the night sky year-round from the Western Slope! The Big Dipper itself is not a constellation, but it resides in one called Ursa Major, the Great Bear, third largest of the 88 constellations. The name originates from the dipper-shaped pattern formed by the seven main stars in the...

April’s Total Lunar Eclipse Late on the evening of April 14 th and into the early morning hours of April 15 th , skygazers throughout the America’s and much of the Pacific region will be treated to a total lunar eclipse. This eclipse will be the first of two for the year. By the time the sun, earth and moon line up it will have been 857 days or 28 months since we last saw our moon completely in the shadow of our planet.

Mars At Opposition Astronomers use a number of curious words to describe the planets in their orbits, for example, quadrature, conjunction, elongation, and ... opposition.

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy. Today, we meet Margaret Burbidge.

Today we discuss two giant stars that are easily observed right now and relatively close in the sky. Aldebaran is an orange giant star, while Betelgeuse is a red super giant.

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy. Today, we meet Vera Rubin.

When you look at the night sky with the naked eye, everything that you see is in our Milky Way Galaxy.

For this episode of Western Slope Skies from the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, we learn about the planet Jupiter, which can be seen shining bright in the night skies of January.

For the latest episode of Western Slope Skies from the Black Canyon Astronomical Society, we'll learn about the bright stars of winter. Gaze to the east at about 8 PM on a clear January evening and enjoy the bright and colorful stars of winter. A star chart, planisphere , or smart-phone App may help you navigate. The centerpiece of our wintery celestial display is the constellation Orion, now well above the southeastern horizon. Orion has been perceived as a mythical hunter, with bright, blue...

As the holidays approach, the days shorten, bringing with them our glorious Western Slope night skies. Joining us to celebrate the season is a brilliant cluster of stars, called the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters. Rising on our eastern horizon, the Pleiades first appears as a cloud-like thumbprint. As your eyes adapt to the darkness, you’ll be able to pick out point-like stars, as many as six or seven. Throughout history, different observers have used their own discretion with naming the cluster....

Look low in southwest as the sky darkens in early December. That brilliant “evening star” is actually not a star, but the planet Venus. Venus is at its brightest now, in part because it’s relatively close by, only about 35 million miles from Earth. Venus is so very bright that it can cast shadows, and it’s sometimes confused with airplane landing lights, or even reported as a UFO. By late December, Venus will become harder to see, because it will soon move between Earth and the Sun, appearing...

For this episode of Western Slope Skies, a look at the moons of Jupiter, and the two Galileos - the man and the machine. In 1610, Galileo Galilei became the first person to observe another planet, Jupiter, and its 4 largest moons, Callisto , Europa , Ganymede , and Io . For the next 380 years, most scientists believed that those moons were similar to our Moon, that is, rocky spheres without activity or atmosphere. As technology improved, theories emerged that perhaps the moons of...

Comet ISON has been in the news for more than a year now. Discovered in September 2012, the comet should now be visible with binoculars or a small telescope. ISON is a ‘sun grazer’ comet, as it will pass only 700,000 miles from the sun on November 28 th . This distance is less than the sun’s diameter! All comets primarily consist of dust and frozen compounds, such as carbon dioxide and water. As a comet approaches the Sun, the solar energy sublimates or vaporizes the frozen material. Gases...

Did you know that the Big Dipper is NOT a constellation? It’s actually an asterism - a pattern of stars in the sky, much like a pattern of clouds. While there are many asterisms that are commonly known, none of them are constellations. Other fall and winter asterisms include the Little Dipper, the Winter Hexagon, and the Great Square of Pegasus. The Big Dipper is part of the constellation, Ursa Major, the Great Bear. What most people see as the handle of the Big Dipper is the tail of the bear...

This is the third in a series on Women in Astronomy. Today, we meet Caroline Herschel. Caroline Herschel was born in Hanover, Germany in 1750. Her early life was a conflict between her father, who wanted her to be educated in music and science, and her mother, who thought that household chores were the appropriate life for a woman. In 1772, Caroline moved to England and joined her brother, William, who was already working in astronomy and music. Over time, they gradually left music and became...

Early fall nights can be crisp, but its rewarding to go out after dark on these clear, moonless evenings to see some stars and constellations in our Western Slope skies. Rising in the northeast just after dark, you will find a group of stars that looks like a W on its side. These stars are part of the constellation Cassiopeia, which commemorates a queen in Greek mythology. Although Cassiopeia never sets from our latitude, fall and winter are the best times to see this constellation, and other...

The sun rises in the east each day in our western slope skies and appears to shine with constant brightness. However, we shouldn’t take the sun for granted, because the sun’s energy sustains most life on Earth. And, in this age of widespread, complex technology, the sun can impact our daily lives. The sun, in fact, is not constant, and we need to pay attention to our active, local star. From 2007 through 2009 the sun was fairly quiet. But, for the past three years, sunspots, solar fares, and...

Just about any clear night provides an invitation to go outside and see what’s up. Some nights, however, might offer a special attraction: a meteor shower; a conjunction between the Moon and a bright star or planet; or even a lunar eclipse. If you are a beginner stargazer you can maximize your sky watching efforts by taking a few simple steps. Start with a star chart, and/or a Planisphere or a star-charting app that runs on a smart phone, tablet, or PC. These are valuable tools in learning...

As August began, all of the bright planets were visible in our western slope skies. Since all of our solar system planets orbit the sun, the visible planets change from night to night. As of today’s program, we have already lost Mercury from view for the rest of this month. It was visible in the early dawn for the first two weeks of the month. However, we still have Venus shining low on the evening horizon. Saturn will end the month just a little higher than Venus. Jupiter rises well after...

The Perseid meteor shower sprinkles the night sky with shooting stars in August. The meteors are bits of icy and rocky debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. As Earth flies through the comet’s path, some bits of comet dust slam into the atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour. They quickly vaporize, creating bright but brief streaks of light in the night sky. Meteor showers are named for the constellation that coincides with a region in the sky,...

This is the second in a series on Women in Astronomy. In the early 1900s , Henrietta Swan Leavitt discovered a characteristic of certain variable stars that is still used today to measure astronomical distance.

While there are always objects of interest to see in the night sky throughout the year, the summer sky is unique in that it offers us a view into the very center of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Two constellations in the direction of the Milky Way’s center are Scorpius and Sagittarius. If you can find a dark area with a good view to the south, you should be able to pick out the constellation, Scorpius , the Scorpion. It is one of the few constellations that looks like its name. The tail is...

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