Western Slope Skies - Dark Skies

Aug 21, 2020

The Milky Way from Crawford, CO. Photo credit: Joyce Tanihara
Credit Joyce Tanihara

The best time to see the Milky Way is NOW! Did you know that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate?  Yeah - but I'm not a dung beetle you may say. Ok, did you know that humans use the stars for navigating as well?

Polynesian seafaring explorers once used the stars as guides - many bright stars align with islands in the Pacific, so if you set out across the ocean on a journey, and keep the star Arcturus passing directly overhead, you will eventually run smack dab into the Hawaiian Islands.

Wait a minute... travelling? But we are in the middle of a pandemic, and the message is - Stay Home! Well here's a safe way to travel AND stay home. The planets, stars, and galaxies are far, far away, much farther away than anything on Earth. So by looking up at night, you are instantaneously travelling an immensely long distance without having to sit close to a snoring stranger putting their head on your shoulder on a crowded bus or airplane. Some of the best places to astro travel this month are the dozens of globular clusters which crowd around the summer Milky Way like moths around a streetlight.

Speaking of streetlights, these can sometimes get in the way of a naturally dark night sky full of stars. Although some light at night is important for safety, too much dilutes our view of the cosmos. And not only that, a dark night sky is actually good for our health. This is because darkness causes our bodies to create the hormone called melatonin, known lovingly as the darkness hormone. It is well known in the scientific community that melatonin is crucial for our immune health - and not just on a daily basis. Melatonin and the immune system synchronize in a rhythmic progression through the ever flowing change of seasons. So, if we allow ourselves to tune into the natural dark and light cycles of day and night, full moon and new moon, and the changing light due to the changing seasons, we increase our chances of having a healthier immune system. And right now we could use the healthiest immune system we can get. So turn off those lights at night and go outside under the starry skies!

Western Slope Skies is produced by members and friends of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Aaron Watson of Dark Skies Paonia, a group of citizens working to make Paonia, Colorado, a certified International Dark Sky Community. You can learn more by visiting their website at darkskiespaonia.com.