Now that the days are getting warmer, many of us want to get outside more often and even stay outside well into the evening. I find it a little funny that the time of year that more people think of sky watching is the same time of year with the least amount of darkness during which to view.
Getting together with family or friends makes the enjoyment that much greater. And if you happen to have a telescope and want to show off all the cool things in the sky, think about hosting a star party. Or maybe get together with other stargazers who have telescopes and share the fun.
There is a Google Group called the Four-Corners-Stargazers. Started several years ago, we had semi-regular events for members, and hosted several public star parties at a variety of local venues. But like many group activities, we all got busy, and public interest waned.
Recently there has been some renewed interest in having a local group, and I hope it can be more active again. If you would like to participate in some local public astronomical activities, or just get together with some other stargazers in the area, then please look up the Four-Corners-Stargazers group or send me an email request to join.
Here are a couple of local events coming up that you might want to participate in. Note that all activities are subject to the whims of the local weather, and are often rescheduled very close to the event date. Durango Nature Studies has been having stargazing evenings around the new moon. The next one is scheduled for June 8. Also, Mancos State Park and the Mancos library are tentatively planning something around the weekend of June 29.
The Big Dipper is now high in the sky during the evening. Because it is easily identifiable, the dipper makes a good “reference” constellation. If you want to correlate what you see on a star finder chart, or smartphone app, it is nice to have at least one group of stars you can be sure about.
If you follow the curving line of the Big Dipper’s handle and “arc to Arcturus,” and then “speed on to Spica” you will also encounter Saturn a little over a fist width to the east of Spica. Saturn is one of the most interesting objects to see with just about any magnification. And because it is so bright, it is easy to find and shows interesting details in even the smallest telescopes.
Through many binoculars you can see that it is more of a football shape than a dot. Through a small telescope, you can easily resolve the ring structure. With larger scopes and more magnification, you can see more details in the ring structure, such as some of the gaps. The Cassini division is the largest in the rings, and is often visible in very modest-sized telescopes. You might need an 8-inch or 10-inch scope to see the Encke gap showing up as a razor-thin, dark line when seeing conditions allow (i.e. when the atmosphere is stable enough).
Charles Hakes is an assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is director of the Fort Lewis Observatory.