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Western Slope Skies: Astronomy at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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Spring is quickly shifting into summer. For us at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, this means that the busiest visitation days of the year are just around the corner. Folks from all over the world will soon fill the visitor center, planning adventures into the canyon and asking about park wildlife. Rangers will begin presenting geology walks along the rim and talks out at Chasm View. It’s an exciting time of year in the park.

Visitors that stick around after the sun goes down are in for an extra treat. The crowds thin, the noises of daytime activity dissipate. It gets dark. Really dark. Some might be surprised to see the Milky Way in the sky for the very first time. It’s estimated that nearly 2/3 of Americans cannot see this from their backyards due to the growing effects of light pollution.

Because of these exceptionally dark skies, Black Canyon and many other national park sites are quickly becoming astronomy destinations. They are places one can reconnect with the night. Local astronomers and rangers point telescopes to the sky much like Galileo did 400 years ago to examine deep space objects. We point out constellations revered by the Greeks and native peoples of the world for thousands of years. Our dark skies bring us a connection to the past and a link to the future.

Throughout the year, you have a chance to share in that connection by attending an astronomy program in the park. During the summer, rangers and local astronomers, present programs at the South Rim of the canyon every week. One of the highlights of the season will be the 6th Annual Astronomy Festival on June 17th- 20th.  Night photography workshops, planet walks and evening programs will be among the events, along with keynote speaker, Scott Kardel, of the International Dark Sky Association on Friday, June 19th.

2015 promises be another amazing summer of astronomy at the Black Canyon. We hope to see you in the park, after dark.

You’ve been listening to “Western Slope Skies”, produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Park Ranger Nick Myers of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

For more information on astronomy programs in the park: www.nps.gov/blca

The BCAS offers programs and presentations on all facets of astronomy to public organizations, schools (elementary through college) and home-school groups. We have many experienced observers and astrophotographers and can assist newcomers with selection, operation and maintenance of all varieties of optical equipment for astronomical use.