Eyes on the skies: Stars Above Aspen event highlights the world above our heads
Aspenites and visitors often tout the bluebird skies we are accustomed to enjoying essentially year-round. It affords us so many things — amazing days for hiking and skiing, clear nights for strolling the downtown malls or stargazing in the surrounding backcountry.
But what other magical things does the world above our heads offer?
“The sky is something that, for me personally, is something we all see and appreciate, but know very little about,” says Phebe Meyers, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies’ (ACES) Naturalist Field School manager.
Not for long, if ACES, Aspen Skiing Co. and others continue to share their passion for the night sky through events such as Stars Above Aspen, planned for Monday, Aug. 13, atop Aspen Mountain.
“It’s really cool for us to be able to engage the community and visitors in an event about the night sky,” she says, noting that “there is no better place to gaze at the stars than at almost 12,000 feet.”
As in year’s past, scheduled events include sunset yoga, interactive presentations, telescope viewings and more. But this year, something else worth noting is happening in the celestial world.
“We have a magical parade of planets that are going to be in display across the sky,” says astronomer David Aguilar, who will give the evening’s keynote address and be on-hand for all sorts of hands-on lessons. “Venus, the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars … we will talk about who all these players are in this parade and how significant they are to us now and in human history.”
And while you might be able to see some of these with the naked eye, having the benefit of high-powered telescopes and experts on-hand to explain what is beyond that lens makes a difference.
“Sure, you could see this on your own to some degree, but the fun thing is to really see it,” Aguilar says.
Meyers agrees: “It’s just a better way to gain that knowledge.”
For example, the Starlab planetarium is a 12-minute experience where the night sky is projected on the ceiling and the different constellations are pointed out and explained. Then, minutes later, experts show those in attendance those exact things in the actual night sky.
“We are lucky to live where there is not a lot of light pollution, especially at the top of the mountain,” Meyers says.
But Aguilar warns not to take this for granted: The Roaring Fork Valley is changing; towns are growing closer together and the places to find no light pollution are diminishing. In fact, “88 percent of the United States cannot see the Milky Way and the stars at night.”
But, for now, events such as Stars Above Aspen can showcase the world above our heads. “We all think of the sky in terms of daytime, but the nighttime sky offers so much information and beauty,” says Meyers. “This is a chance to really engage with that.”
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.