Looking to the stars

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By Kirsten Laskey

Editor’s Note: This is a personal account of the Star Gazing on the Preserve event.

At first the sky over the caldera was empty, except for a good-size wedge of the moon, which illuminated a pearl-gray light. But as the sky darken, it seemed as though a curtain was pulled back to the infinite amount of wonders the heavens contain.

For those of us participating in the Star Gazing on the Preserve event, a handful of these features were seen in a closer view.

Astronomers Scott Watson and James Maxwell provided their own equipment for the event, which included two types of telescopes. One was the conventional-looking telescope, and the other was larger and shaped like a cannon.

Using the smaller telescope, we first got to look at the moon; one half of it was light up while its remaining surface was hidden in blackness. The dividing line between the two sides highlighted the moon’s craters and ridges.

As the telescopes moved deeper into the sky, we viewed many other things in space including the faint gray bands on Jupiter, a globular cluster that appeared like a snowflake and a blue star that seemed to contained diamonds within diamonds.

Using a laser pointer that shot on an impressively long and bright laser beam, Maxwell identified a few constellations in the sky and pointed several of the biggest stars in the solar system.

Maxwell said it is his first year putting on the program. He has looked to the skies many times before, however. For instance, he taught undergraduate astronomy at Louisiana Tech. University.

Scott Watson said because of his work with optics at Los Alamos National Laboratory he has a “scientific curiosity” that led him to take part in the caldera program.

Plus, Watson said, they want to support the Valles Trust and help it become self-sustaining.

As the sky got darker, the temperature became more and more frigid. From my own personal blunder, I strongly recommend wearing warm clothing and bringing hats, gloves and jackets. The fleece blankets and hot chocolate the Valles generously provides only gives short-term relief.

The caldera’s temperatures might be low, but the preserve provides a spectacular, open view of the skies. As Joyce McHugh, recreation assistant, said, “I think the appeal to me of this area is there is not a lot of light (or) noise pollution so this area has the most beautiful sky.”

See for yourself at the upcoming star gazing events. The program begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, as well as Sept. 26, Sept. 27, Oct. 3 and Oct. 4.

The cost is $30 for general admission, $24 for adults age 62 and older, $15 for children age 6-15 and children younger than 6 are admitted for free.

To register, go to www.vallescaldera.gov or call 1-866-382-5537.