“If you’ve never laid back on a blanket at nighttime and gazed up at the stars, you’re really missing out on something very special,” said Chemin-a-Haut State Park manager Russ Brantley of the Stargazing events being held at the park.
On the night of Oct. 20, around 40 patrons turned out at the park to witness the Orionid Meteor Shower. Brantley, with the help of local “amateur astronomer” Kay Singer, selected a different night during the months of October, November and December to be Stargazing events at the park.
Singer has been watching the stars and studying them since 1999. She and her husband, Jerry, were always looking for places to stargaze. She said they weren’t having much luck because several factors must be in place for a “successful viewing.”
Singer studies star charts and websites to conclude the best times of the month to stargaze. Once she knows when she is going, she must decide where she is going.
One night in April, her and Jerry rode out to country to a back road in Collinston, during a time that should have been a prime for viewing the stars, but, unfortunately, ended uneventful.
“A sheriff’s deputy pulled us over,” she said. “After they questioned us and realized what we were doing, they became interested in it also.”
Singer said another time, her and Jerry rented a cabin at Chemin-a-Haut State Park. She said the experience was “wonderful” because it was away from the city and there was no “light pollution.”
“It was the perfect place to stargaze,” she said.
Singer said because “there’s not many ideal areas to stargaze around here,” she called Brantley at the park and asked if her and Jerry could come out and watch the meteor showers, without having to reserve a cabin.
“That’s when Russ said this sounded like a really neat thing the whole community could get involved in,” she said. “I picked out the nights that would be the best for viewing and we began planning.”
Brantley said the patrons last month ranged from children to seniors. He said there were many families, as well as many couples.
“One couple was in their 80s,” he said. “They pulled their truck up close and laid in the back of it to view the stars. I could tell they really enjoyed themselves.”
The evening began at 7 p.m. with a meet and greet at the amphitheater. Singer passed out star charts and explained to everyone how to read them. Afterwards, everyone spread out blankets throughout the ball field and laid back to watch the night sky.
“Most everyone placed their blankets away from the others, giving each family a little bit of privacy to enjoy the stars together. The field is big enough so that everyone had space,” Brantley said.
Page 2 of 2 - Brantley said everyone there was welcome to walk up to the telescope that Singer had set up and take turns looking in it for a closer view.
Four of Jupiter’s moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, are currently visible with the aid of a telescope. During last months Stargazing at the park, patrons noted seeing 17 meteors between 9 and 10 p.m.
A meteor shower is a spike in the number of meteors or shooting stars that streak through the sky, according to StarDate. Most meteor showers are spawned by comets. As a comet orbits the Sun, it sheds an icy, dusty debris stream along its orbit. If earth travels through this steam, a meteor shower will be visible.
This Saturday, Stargazers at the park will be viewing the Leonid Meteor Shower. It is associated with the periodic comet Tempel-Tuttle, first discovered in 1865, according to Space.com.
Singer said this Saturday will be ideal for viewing the stars. All three of the Stargazing events at the park are scheduled right after new moons which causes the skies to be “more visible.”
She added that the fall season is the best time of year to stargaze. The night temperature is not as cold as it would be during winter months, but cold enough for mosquitos to be absent.
Brantley said everyone is encouraged to wear coats and bring blankets to lay on and keep warm with. Viewers can also bring coffee, hot chocolate and snacks.
Singer said they plan to have a bon fire also for everyone to keep warm and enjoy. Personal telescopes are also allowed.
The Chemin-a-Haut Stargazing event will begin at 7 p.m. at the park’s amphitheater. A park employee will be at the gate to allow stargazers in and out. Entrance into the park is $1. For more information, call 283.0812.