When it comes to stargazing in Summit County, the sky’s the limit
Don’t look now, but a clear summer night in Summit County will have you seeing stars. Among the unique natural geological wonders of the Beehive state, some of the most compelling views are right above your head. As of January 2022, the International Dark-Sky Association designated 195 certified International Dark-Sky Parks worldwide. Utah has 24 of those accredited International Dark Sky Places, including all five national parks, 10 state parks, and two towns. Two of those locations are Jordanelle and Rockport.
“Our staff has worked long and hard to see this process come about,” says Devan Chavez, public affairs manager for Utah State Parks. A group or individual must nominate areas by completing an application. And the application guidelines are based on one of five designated categories
within the IDSP program: International Dark Sky Parks, Communities, Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Urban Night Sky Places. Each category has its own guidelines based on land management, size, and sky quality. After reviewing the guidelines, applicants can start the designation process by submitting an inquiry for their site. From there, members of the IDA staff will provide an initial assessment of the site’s eligibility and establish the next steps for the applicant. The entire application process can take 1 to 3 years to receive a formal designation.
The purpose of the Dark Sky Places program is to encourage communities, parks and protected areas worldwide to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policy and public education. Although the application process is a lot of work, that doesn’t mean stargazing isn’t all fun and games. Utah State Parks virtually shower stargazers with a variety of summer activities. Local rangers and staff often provide out-of-this-world (literally) interpretive events like star parties, meteor shower parties, planet parties, and eclipse viewings.
“These dark sky events are often attended by local universities or by members of local astronomy or astronomical societies,” Chavez says. “These partners are extremely valuable to both us and the visitors to follow along with our individual state park event pages at stateparks.utah.gov.”
If you are new to stargazing, summer is a great time. Unlike the monolith-sized telescopes that often appear at star parties, stargazing is a rewarding yet simple hobby. “First off, you don’t need a fancy scope,” explains Justina Parsons-Bernstein, Heritage, Interpretation and ADA Resources manager at Utah State Parks. “Learning to find things with your bare eyes is the best place to begin.” She added that familiarizing yourself with the sky by using your eyes is a fundamental place to start. Parsons-Bernstein suggests Stargazing: Beginners Guide to Astronomy by Royal astronomy Greenwich
or The Stars: A New Way to See Them by Children’s author H.A. Rey.
“Also there are cheap pocket guides with glow-in-the-dark star charts such as The Night Sky: A Folding Pocket Guide to the Moon, Stars, Planets and Celestial Events by James Kavanagh,” she says.
Although a telescope is essential for identifying smaller constellations or stars, a pair of birding binoculars are powerful enough to see larger celestial objects, such as the moon’s surface, Saturn and Jupiter. Parsons-Bernstein also recommends getting a red light headlamp or flashlight. “Red light does not affect your night vision as regular lights do,” she said. “You need 20 minutes to half an hour after being exposed to regular light to have your eye chemistry adjust so you can see clearly in the dark. If you have regular flashlights and regular headlamps shining in your eyes all the time, your eyes will never get truly adjusted to being able to see all there is to see.” To get the whole experience, learn how to identify celestial objects like the North Star and the Big Dipper. “These can help orient you to find other
objects in the sky,” said Parsons-Bernstein. Using a star finder app is helpful, too. “Just make sure they have a night-vision friendly edition so using them doesn’t interfere with your night vision or bother other stargazers,” she added. “Lastly, try to get out to a star party at one of
your nearby state or national parks,” she said. “You can learn the basics from the helpful and enthusiastic people there!”
Seven Beginners Tips for Utah Stargazing
• Get familiar with the skyscape by using your eyes.
• Purchase a stargazer pocket guide.
• Purchase binoculars.
• Learn cardinal directions.
• Purchase a red light headlamp.
• Attend star parties.
• Download a star-finding app with a night vision
To read the full Summer Adventure Guide 2022, click here.
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