Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stargazing at Fossil Creek Reservoir

The end of daylight savings time never sits well with me. To suddenly have the evening light wane an hour earlier makes me feel as though I need to be cooking dinner at 3:00 and going to bed at 7. But I discovered on Friday that there is an advantage to the premature dark—it opens up more time for stargazing.

Once a month, the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society sets up telescopes at Fossil Creek Reservoir for free and open-to-the-public night sky viewing. Friday was so windy during the day that I wondered if the event would take place as scheduled. But by 7:30 viewing time, things had calmed down. The trade-off was that the clouds began to creep in and cover up the clear sky (the precursor to that surprise snow we woke up to on Saturday morning). But not so much that we weren’t able to see some wonderful sights.

My family and I don’t consider ourselves even amateur stargazers, as we can reliably name only the most familiar of the celestial objects: Orion, the dippers, the…moon. Thankfully, the NCAS astronomers are much more knowledgeable. They were also quick to reorient their scopes as needed due to the shifting clouds, so in a mere half-hour of looking, we were able to see: bright Jupiter and three of its four closest moons (the fourth was traversing, and conditions were not favorable enough to see it); the seven sparkling sisters of the Pleiades; the ‘w’ of Cassiopeia, which my older son informed me represents the uncomfortable chair in which the vain queen must spend all eternity; the Northern Cross and its blue-and-yellow double star Albireo (to our ears, it sounded like “El Beer-io” which opened the door for a couple of Homer jokes); and the smoky little ring of what I hope I remember correctly is the Andromeda Nebula.

Despite what struck me as a disconcerting amount of light pollution to the east, Fossil Creek Res provides a nice spot for observing the night sky. The telescopes are easily accessible (right there in the parking lot), as are the restroom facilities. But if you want hot chocolate, you’ll have to bring your own. The next stargazing event is scheduled for Friday, December 30, weather permitting. Reservations are not required. If you’re an early riser, a Lunar Eclipse Viewing will take place from 5-7:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 10. And during the daylight hours, FCR is still a great place to watch bald eagles.

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