Explore the solar system on Dark Sky Discovery Night

One of the best times to explore southeast Utah is at night: the area is famous for stargazing, which is why the Canyon Country Discovery Center in Monticello hosts regular Dark Sky Discovery parties. The next event will take place on August 13 and will explore the supermoon of August Sturgeon, the Perseid meteor shower and Saturn, with a specialized talk given by experts. The event is free.

“It would seem like a waste not to use the resource we have – many people don’t know how light polluted their skies are, but we live in a wonderful area with very easily accessible black skies all around us. “, said Ben Muhlestein, the Canyon Country Discovery Center’s ed-venture manager. The center specializes in educating the Colorado Plateau through programs like this, on-site exhibits, and classroom and adventure programs.

The event begins at 8:30 p.m. with a talk from Canyonlands National Park staff on the importance of water in space. The event is in conjunction with the “H2O Today” exhibit, in partnership with the Smithsonian and Utah Humanities, currently on display at the Discovery Center. Water connects the night, Muhlestein said: Saturn’s rings are built with icy objects, and frozen water has been found in shadowed craters at the Moon’s poles. Water is extremely important for future space travel, Muhlestein said.

“We could potentially convert this water found in space not just into something drinkable, but also into fuel for our spacecraft, or air to breathe,” he said. “And it’s cool to think of water as something not just on our planet, but everywhere.”

The talk will also include a discussion of recent images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, which show distant galaxies and nebulae.

After the talk, attendees will be able to observe Saturn, the Moon and the Perseid meteor shower for themselves through the Discovery Center telescopes. Saturn reaches opposition on August 14, when it will be both its closest and highest point relative to us in the year. Since the planet will be closer than usual, this is the best time of year to see Saturn’s rings and moons.

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the most popular showers throughout the year. Every August, Earth passes through dense debris left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which creates the Perseids. The comet orbits the Sun every 133 years: it passed close to Earth in 1992, leaving behind ice, rocks and dust. The shower won’t be as spectacular this year because of the full moon, but viewers can still expect to see 10 to 20 meteors – informally called shooting stars – per hour, according to NASA.

“We have a great opportunity to show not only people who live here, but also people passing through, what is above them,” Muhlestein said.

For more information about the event and future Discovery Center programs, visit www.ccdiscovery.org.

Arline J. Mercier