Star-Gazing in Vail, Colorado
On clear nights, stars and constellations are abundant in the skies above Vail and the surrounding valley. With very little light pollution the sheer number and brilliance of the stars you can see hanging in the night sky is enough to leave you in awe. Constellations, shooting stars, planets and meteor showers are easily seen if you know where and when to look for them. So grab a blanket this summer and bask amongst the wildflowers and under the stars to try and spot these amazing scenes in the sky.
Some of the most common constellations you can look for include:
Ursa Major – Known as “Great Bear”, this one is easy to locate because it includes the easy-to-locate Big Dipper.
Ursa Minor – the “Little Bear” is also easy to locate because it is commonly referred to as the Little Dipper. The end of the Dipper handle is the North Star.
Draco – Latin for “Dragon”.
Cassiopeia and Cepheus – named for the Queen and King of Aethiopia in Greek mythology, look for the royal couple very close to one another in the sky. According to the myth, Poseiden cursed the couple to the stars to circle the Northern Celestial Pole for eternity.
Virgo – the second largest constellation in the sky, Virgo is easily found because of its brightest star, Spica.
Bootes – Greek for “ploughman”, Bootes is sometimes described as being the ploughman that is driving the ox cart that ancient greeks associated with the shape of the Big Dipper in Ursa Major.
Any night is a good night to star gaze in Vail, but the best nights are when we’re closest to the new moon. During this time the moon is positioned directly between the Earth and the sun and is not visible from Earth. With no moonlight to interfere, the millions of individual stars overhead can be observed in their brightest form and faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters can be revealed. This summer a new moon will occur on July 8, August 6 and September 5.
Other dates to mark on your calendar:
July 27 & 28 – Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
This average-size meteor shower can produce up to 20 meteors per hour during its peak. The shower runs annually from July 12- Aug. 23 but peaks this year on the night of July 27 and morning of July 28.
Aug. 11 & 12 – Perseids Meteor Shower
The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is also famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17- Aug. 24 and peaks this year on the night of Aug. 11 and the morning of Aug. 12.
(Resource for above dates: http://www.seasky.org/astronomy/astronomy-calendar-2013.html.)
Interested in learning more about astronomy here in Vail? Visit the Vail Nature Center, located just east of Vail Village across Gore Creek from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the Ford Ampitheater, and check out their “Stories in the Sky” program on Tuesdays from 8:45 – 10 p.m. June 18-July 30, and from 8:15 – 9:30 p.m. August 6-27.
Photos by Till Credner
– Sara Lococo, Vail Mountain PR.