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Friday, September 22, 2023

Meteor shower viewing at Chimney Rock and much more planned for August for San Juan Stargazers and guests

Joan Mieritz
San Juan Stargazers

Aug. 11 and 12, Wednesday and Thursday nights, will be the first scheduled Perseid meteor shower viewing at Chimney Rock National Monument. The gate will be open from 7 until 8:30 p.m. to purchase a pass. Reservations are not needed.

There is no doubt that meteor showers have been viewed at Chimney Rock for thousands of years by thousands of people. Hopefully, they were viewed with joy and excitement since they can be fun to watch and cause no harm. Chances are they were met with whatever the predominant mood was at the time of each shower. If things were good, then everyone could have fun. If things were bad, the strange streaks across the sky added to the fear and foreboding.

We have been trying to anticipate what modern people would enjoy the most. While it is light, we have many astronomy and art activities for both children and adults. There will be an educational component. Activities must be finished from 8:30 to 9 p.m. so everyone can return to their assigned viewing location. After dark, there is no walking around allowed due to the dangerous drop-offs near the upper parking lot.

People will have choices for viewing and then will be assigned a specific location. Safety is our biggest concern. You will be able to view from your car, at a location depending on your group. You might also pick a special place to put your folding chair for a full-sky view. There will also be an area for cushions so people can lay out for relaxed viewing. 

This will not be like the finale at the Fourth of July fireworks. This will be a silent, relaxing time at Chimney Rock under a dark sky with occasional bright streaks of particles burning up as they enter our atmosphere. Every August as the earth revolves around the sun, it enters the debris field of the comet Swift-Tuttle and we get an extra display of “shooting stars.” We will be able to imagine what it was like for ancient people to wonder what was so brightly streaking across the night sky. 

The later you view a meteor shower, the better the display, so we are planning on staying until after midnight, but you can leave any time you want. 

Also in August, we have two Night Sky Programs at Chimney Rock on Friday nights. The first will be on Aug. 6, featuring a presentation on stars and galaxies. On Friday, Aug. 13, we present “Our Solar System.” Visitors are encouraged to come even if you don’t have a reservation since the magnificent amphitheater is quite spacious and we try for a very interesting program. 

Our next San Juan Stargazer Astronomy Club meeting will be on Aug. 26 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Visitor Center on Hot Springs Boulevard, near the San Juan River. If you would like a cold drink or cup of coffee or tea and some stimulating conversation, you can arrive after 6 p.m. for our social hour. Our program at 7 p.m. is titled “Learning Astronomy by using the Space Mysteries Calendars,” which we sell each year. You will be able to put in an early reservation for a 2022 calendar. 

On Aug. 27 will be a members-only telescope viewing and training at Chimney Rock. The gate will open at 6 p.m. If you don’t have a telescope, we have several extra available. Our club goal is to increase the number of deep-sky objects our members can find. Steve McAllister from the Westcliff Observatory will be our guest astronomer and he will especially help all interested members learn to use our two 10-inch Dobsonians and all of us will later practice expert “star- hopping.”

At all of our events, we will follow the COVID regulations for Archuleta County and Colorado for that date. Always bring a mask to be safe.

If you would like to join the San Juan Stargazers, you will also receive Reflector Magazine, which is the publication of the National Astronomical League of which you automatically become a member. To join both groups and get an excellent astronomy magazine, annual membership is only $25/ family. You can join the club at any of our events. To all members: Your 2021-2022 dues are due. Use an envelope, please, with your name and amount of cash or check made to Joan Mieritz.

The San Juan Stargazers Club is part of the Astronomical League — celebrating its 75th year of service — which includes over 250 clubs from all over the U.S. Our local group also has a website, www.sanjuanstargazers.org. Check it out.

We welcome everyone to come to learn more about our amazing universe. Hope to see you.

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