Seeing Stars

There is something magical about the flickering stars high above the earth in the night sky. They have inspired beautiful paintings, popular songs, and epic poems. Across the globe, people young and old tilt their heads back to try and find the big dipper, identify the north star, and, if they’re lucky, catch a glimpse of a shooting star.
Knowing a bit more about stargazing, threats to the beautiful sky at twilight, and the programs and people that are trying to keep our sky pristine, especially those in Bryce Canyon, can help to increase the appreciation one has for the sky. There is so much more than meets the eye when it comes to stargazing and it is important to get involved with enjoying and preserving our view of the stars, before it’s too late.
Gazing Upon the Stars
We wish upon them, navigate with them, and dream to soar above them. For these, and many other reasons, stargazing has been a popular activity for centuries. There is so much to discover when looking at the night sky. Gazers can observe the skies simply for the beauty as they search for meteors or shooting stars. Others may turn to the skies with a more scientific approach, looking for constellations, planets, or other celestial happenings. No matter the purpose for stargazing, it is sure to be an activity that opens the eyes, clears the mind, and helps inspire a new appreciation for natural and celestial beauty.
Astronomy is the study of all that lies beyond earth. This includes the stars, planets, and all other bodies that reside in the universe. Astronomers and astronomy buffs use everything from the naked eye to high-powered telescopes to explore the stars and gain a wealth of knowledge about the past, present, and future. The stars have helped scientists to create many theories about the creation of the universe, contribute to the understanding of how time works, and help to predict what will happen to the earth in the future. As more great minds look to the stars, many mysteries of life are being solved.
Observing the stars doesn’t have to be such a technical matter. Even children can enjoy getting lost in the stars. A less technical, but still incredibly exciting, activity to do while looking at the stars is to identify constellations. Constellations are different patterns the stars make, with many of these patterns being based on mythological figures. Once a constellation is found, it is interesting to try to connect the stars and envision the pattern. Some of the most popular constellations to find are Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Orion and Orion’s Belt, and Cassiopeia. Learning to identify these constellations helps people to appreciate the skies and find their place in the universe.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah under the stars at midnight.

The Growing Problem of Light Pollution
When thinking of pollution, the common images that come to mind are smog, debris, and landfills. There is another less talked about kind of pollution that is having a negative impact on the night sky. Light pollution occurs in many areas throughout the world. The bright lights from cities and towns pollute the sky with their glow, making it increasingly difficult to see the stars.
The light pollution from city lights doesn’t only affect the city they are shining from. Light pollution can make it harder to see the stars for hundreds of miles. The light pollution from Las Vegas, Nevada, a city known for its bright lights, has made it difficult to see the stars at the Grand Canyon, which is 150 miles away. As cities and towns grow and more lights begin to shine, preserved areas like national parks risk losing their magical twilight view.
While not being able to see the stars is a huge issue, bright lights are causing even bigger problems. Each year, millions of birds are drawn to the bright lights from buildings at night, which confuses them and traps them in between buildings. Many eventually crash into the large, reflective windows and die. Another animal affected by bright lights are sea turtles. Female sea turtles lay their eggs on the dunes of beaches. When their offspring hatch, they head toward the brightest area, which should be into the ocean toward the horizon. Instead, they end up in the middle of populated areas and become prey or succumb to the elements. There are countless animals that are threatened in various ways by light pollution, so it is imperative that something is done.
Luckily, light pollution, unlike other types of pollution, is easily reversed. By working on reducing the lights used and upgrading to newer technology, light pollution can be eliminated immediately. Fortunately, there are many dedicated people who are working to do just that.

The Dark Sky Movement
The dark sky movement is a campaign that aims to eliminate light pollution and the issues it causes. This movement invites everyone to join in on reducing light pollution because, after all, we all live under the same sky.
There are many cities and towns that have set an impressive example for other cities and towns by implementing different tactics to reduce light pollution. Chicago, for example, has implemented a ‘lights out’ program that encourages skyscraper owners throughout the city to turn off any unnecessary lighting. This act alone has saved tens of thousands of birds.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, which has been named the first International Dark Sky City by the International Dark Sky Movement, they are doing many amazing things to illuminate light pollution. Since the 1950s, they have been cutting back on the lighting that can be used, such as advertisement lighting, they have upgraded their street lights so that the light is directed downward rather than into the sky, and they have made many more impressive improvements. These improvements have allowed them to be able to see the full arch of the Milky Way from their own backyards. Not many people can say that.
By using the methods modeled by the cities and towns dedicated to keeping the sky dark, light pollution can become a non-issue. If lights continue to be used without regard to light pollution and cities continue to grow, by 2025 there will be nowhere in the United States to view a pristine night sky.

Bryce Canyon Astronomy
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for many incredible things. The landscape, exciting activities, and unique history of the area bring people to the area every season. While life on the ground in Bryce is wonderful, the view of the sky at night is even more unforgettable.
Bryce Canyon is far from the worries of light pollution. In fact, on a clear night, you can see the Milky Way stretch from horizon to horizon. This amazing view of the stars brings many people to Bryce Canyon each year. The people of Bryce Canyon’s gratitude for the night sky is not a new development. In fact, this national park’s history of preserving and appreciating the beauty of the night goes back nearly fifty years, long before other parks began their night sky programs.
In 1969, the first astronomy programs were formed in Bryce Canyon. Shortly after the initial programs began, many park rangers maintained stargazing programs for interested guest. The beautiful sky of Bryce Canyon even attracted Patrick Wiggins, NASA Solar System Ambassador to Utah, to come to Bryce Canyon six times each summer to offer different astronomy programs. He began holding these programs in 1984 and continues to do so today. In 1985, Bryce Canyon received its first telescope, which was donated by the National Park Service Air Resources Division office out of Denver, CO. By 1989, Bryce Canyon received a second telescope, donated by the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association, so that more people could enjoy the night sky.
By 2001, Bryce Canyon was known well enough as a great place to view the sky that it held its first Astronomy Festival with the help of Salt Lake Astronomical Society. With many more efforts put into making Bryce Canyon the perfect stargazing location, the number of visitors who came to Bryce Canyon for astronomy programs was up to 27,000. Starting in 2005, Bryce Canyon has over twelve volunteers who help with public astronomy programs. Also in 2005, Bryce Canyon expands its Astronomy Festival to include many more activities, including daytime seminars and guest speakers, with the help of Chad Moore from the Night Sky Team. The efforts to create an enjoyable stargazing experience for visitors to Bryce Canyon will continue for years to come.

Get Lost in the Stars
Each year, the astronomy programs at Bryce Canyon continue to grow and attract new visitors. By keeping light pollution in check and making astronomy programs available to anyone interested, Bryce Canyon will continue to be a sanctuary for stargazers around the world.
They have many exciting astronomy activities available year-round, which are hosted by educated rangers, volunteers, and astronomy professionals. Visitors can enjoy things like night trips with the Astronomy Rangers, the Annual Astronomy Festival, Night Sky Programs, Full Moon Hikes, and even a Solar Viewer to safely get a close look at the sun.
To get away from the light pollution and mingle with many fellow astronomy buffs, a trip to Bryce Canyon is in order. The connection visitors feel to the night sky after a trip to Bryce Canyon, where it feels like they can reach out and grab a chunk of the Milky Way, is immeasurable. Budding astronomy buffs and pros alike will find Bryce Canyon to be an amazing sanctuary of stars.