Western Slope Skies - Astronomy and Dark Skies in the North Fork Valley

Jul 12, 2019

Credit Joyce Tanihara

The North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River has built its reputation on riches from the Earth, whether coal deposits to fuel the mining economy, or fertile irrigated land for the valley's productive agriculture. But what might surprise you is the amazing resource found when we raise our awareness up above towards the night sky.

The night skies above the North Fork Valley are some of the darkest and clearest in the United States. Step outside on a clear night, and if you live somewhere away from streetlights, you may be fortunate enough to see the beautiful band of the Milky Way - our home galaxy - sparkling up above.

The field of astronomy is now more accessible than ever. Optical aids like telescopes and binoculars are affordable and easy to use. Computer-aided "Go-To" mounts allow you to locate thousands of celestial objects easily, and with the wonderfully dark night skies here at home you don't need to travel far to enjoy the view.

Did you know that over 80% of the folks living in the United States cannot see the Milky Way from where they live? The skyglow from unshielded lights in urban areas drowns out the more subtle stars. As the population of Colorado's rural places continues to swell, now is the time to take steps to preserve this precious treasure of starry nights for now and the future.

Here's how you can help: talk to your local elected officials about adopting Dark Sky approved lighting ordinances in your town and county. You can also design or retrofit your home, business or farm with Dark Sky friendly lighting to preserve the view for yourself and others. Finally, talk to your local electric company about installing Dark-Sky-compliant street lighting in your neighborhood.

For information on Dark Sky friendly lighting and other aspects of night sky conservation check out www.darksky.org.

Dark Skies Paonia is a group of community members working to make Paonia a designated International Dark Sky Community. They will be showing the film, "Saving the Dark," about the benefits of dark skies, on Monday, July 22nd, at 7pm at the Paradise Theatre in Paonia.

If you'd like to support their mission, or are interested in seeking Dark Sky designation for your own community, you can find them on the web at www.darkskiespaonia.com.

Enjoy the wonderful night skies!

Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by  Aaron Watson of Dark Skies Paonia.