Western Slope Skies - 2019 Black Canyon Astronomy Festival

Jun 14, 2019

Friday June 21st marks this year’s summer solstice. The word “solstice” comes from the Latin words “sol,” meaning ‘sun,’ and “stitium,” meaning ‘stopped.’ Ancient sky observers noticed that the sun achieved its highest possible position in the sky on this summer day each year.

The Earth’s Northern Hemisphere experiences the maximum amount of sun exposure on this day due to our planet’s tilt. For us, the solstice brings with it the excitement of the vacations, outdoor adventures, barbecues, and bonfires that make this time of year so rich and enjoyable.

History and tradition tell us that the longest day of the year has always been a cause for celebration. Thousands of years ago, people living in Wiltshire, England somehow heaved a collection of stones into a particular arrangement, perhaps providing a space to practice rituals in conjunction with celestial events. Though Stonehenge remains shrouded in mystery today, some have suggested that the summer solstice influenced its design. Last June, nearly 10,000 people stood amongst these boulders to watch the sun rise directly over the Heel Stone, as it does each solstice.

Festivals are held annually in cities all around the world, as communities hail the longest day of the year in their own style. People in Fairbanks, Alaska host a midnight baseball game under the light of the sun, while those in Tyrol, Austria light bonfires atop the highest mountains at sundown, as their predecessors have done for generations.

For us on the Western Slope, we recognize that the solstice can cue a celebration of the darkness of the night in addition to the light of day. In fact, Governor Jared Polis has designated this June “Dark Sky Month” throughout the State of Colorado. This month, for the 10th year in a row, local astronomers and park rangers will host the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival. The festival will take place Wednesday, June 26 through Saturday, June 29 at the South Rim of Black Canyon National Park. Events include special astronomy presentations, evening ranger programs, daily solar viewing, nightly telescope viewing, and more. Please visit the park website for more information. We hope you’ll join us as we gather together in celestial celebration, just as people around the globe have always done.

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Gina Poulson, Park Ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.