Did you know that Utah’s sixteen Dark Sky Places, as designated by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), makes Utah the area with the highest concentration of Dark Sky Places on the whole planet!?
Hey, me neither! What a glorious thing to discover about our backyard. Currently, there are 16 Dark Sky Places here in Utah and the state plans to add more in the coming years.
With such a high concentration of legendary sky gazing spots in Utah, we’re recommending this as a safe, fun, and interesting activity this summer for kids, couples, families, and friends. Though all the IDA Dark Sky Places in Utah are located in parks or towns, it isn’t required to visit one to enjoy sky watching. Away from the bustling hub of the Wasatch Front, there is ample opportunity to spread a blanket and expand your horizon under a dark sky twinkling with stars.
The summer months bring the best viewing conditions for the Milky Way. This is because the earth is positioned near the center of the Milky Way galaxy, where the highest concentration of stars is located. For all stargazing activity, it’s best to pick a night around the new moon when skies will be darkest. It’s also ideal to wait 60-90 minutes until after sunset, when more stars become visible in the growing dark. Conditions will improve throughout the night until the onset of dawn, which can be as early as 4:00 am in northern latitudes.
WHERE TO STARGAZE IN UTAH
In addition to IDA’s designated Dark Sky Places, there are lots of great zones to revel in stargazing around Utah. Of particular note are the dark skies around Brian Head Ski Resort and its neighbor, Cedar Breaks National Monument, a Dark Sky Park. Brian Head is offering summer mountain biking and there are many lodging options onsite or in the town of Brian Head.
Beaver Mountain in Northern Utah is offering RV and tent campsites as well as rental of its lodge or yurt. Thanks to its remote location in the Bear River Range, Beaver is an amazing place to view the dark sky. It's near the glimmering turquoise water of Bear Lake and there are plenty of hiking and recreation opportunities nearby.
Eagle Point in central Utah offers tons of summer lodging options in the Eagle Point Village Condos and is conveniently located near Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
Located in Huntsville, Utah, Compass Rose Lodge is a unique place to get a look at the solar system. With a high-tech observatory and excellent telescopes, let the experts guide your stargazing journey.
Utah Dark Sky Places as Designated by IDA
Now you know where to stargaze in Utah, here are a few astrological events occurring over the state this summer. You can also follow NASA’s Instagram account (click the planet below) for their monthly updates for stargazers.
WHEN & WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Though the occurrence of a full moon typically creates poor stargazing conditions, grabbing a telescope or a pair of binoculars to study and identify some of the moon’s features can be great fun. Here are the full moons of 2020 with their traditional names according to the Farmer’s Almanac
Stargazing will be best during or near the new moon phase. Darker skies will create better conditions for viewing or identifying fainter stars and the Milky Way will be shimmering at its brightest.
International Space Station
See if you can spy the International Space Station cruising across the sky!
Use NASA's Spot The Station tool: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/
Alpha Capricornids — July 3 – August 15, 2020 (Peak: July 30)
Though not a strong meteor shower, the meteors that do appear are bright, exciting fireballs. These meteors travel slowly (approx. 15 miles per second) lending to the thrill of spotting one. Expect to see about 5 meteors per hour. The peak viewing will occur between July 28-29, though the moon will be 66% full.
Delta Aquarids — July 12 – August 23, 2020 (Peak: July 28-29, 2020)
Best viewed from southern latitudes, we may still be able to spy a handful of the Delta Aquarids show, concentrated in the southern skies here in Utah. These are typically faint meteors that offer persistent trails and fireballs. Unfortunately, the second quarter moon may obscure many of the faintest meteors this year. Try viewing after midnight for a better shot at spying them in the southern skies.
Perseids Meteor Shower — July 17 – August 24, 2020 (Peak: August 11, 12, 2020)
If you are new to viewing meteor showers, the Perseids is the show to catch. In a dark place, during its peak viewing period, you can expect up to 50-75 meteors or more per hour! The meteors are bright and swift moving (approx. 37 miles per second). Again, the quarter moon will obstruct viewing of the faintest meteors this year, but it’ll still be a great show. Try finding a dark location and viewing after midnight. These meteors are the remnants released from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle as it travels through our inner solar system and they can be spied anywhere in the night sky.
Draconids Meteor Shower — October 6–10, 2020 (Peak: October 7, 2020)
This meteor shower is a bit different as optimum viewing occurs in the early evening rather than the wee hours. During the peak on October 7th, viewers may spy approx. 10 meteors per hour. Thanks to the earlier show time, the second quarter moon shouldn’t impact viewing. These meteors are the result of dust grains abandoned by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner.
Orionids Meteor Shower — October 2 – November 7, 2020 (Peak October 21-22, 2020)
Expect to view around 10-20 meteors per hour during the October 21-22nd peak of the Orionids Meteor Shower. Because the waxing crescent moon disappears before midnight, viewing conditions should be favorable. Look to the constellation Orion—always a welcome harbinger of winter and fluffy snow storms—for meteors, though they can appear anywhere in the sky. These meteors arise from dust ditched by the famous Halley’s Comet (not due to approach Earth until 2062).
2020 features four lunar eclipses and two solar eclipses. Only two eclipse events will be visible from most areas in North America. Penumbral eclipses of the moon will occur on July 4th and November 29th. A penumbral eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the earth’s partial shadow. Expect to see a dark shading on the moon’s surface. These events are less dramatic than full or partial lunar eclipses and can be difficult to detect with the naked eye.
Best Time to View Planets
Jupiter at Opposition — July 14, 2020
Our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter, will be closest to earth on July 14, 2020. This will be the best chance to view Jupiter in 2020. With a decent set of binoculars, you could expect to see a handful of the gas giant’s largest moons. A nice telescope will help you see Jupiter’s mysterious cloud bands.
Saturn at Opposition — July 20, 2020
Thanks to the occurrence of the new moon and Saturn’s closest approach to Earth, July 20th will make for excellent viewing conditions of our solar system’s ringed planet. Saturn will be at its brightest in 2020 on this evening. Grab a decent telescope to view Saturn’s beguiling rings and its brighter moons.
Neptune at Opposition — September 11, 2020
Our solar system’s eighth planet will reach its closest approach toward earth on September 11th. It will be visible all night long; however, you will need a powerful telescope to view this faint blue dot, thanks to its immense distance from Earth.
Mars at Opposition — October 13, 2020
Earth’s red neighbor, Mars, will execute its closest approach toward earth on October 13, 2020. With a decent telescope, you may be able to make out geographical details on the red planet's face.
DID YOU KNOW...
More than 99% of U.S. and European citizens live under light-polluted skies, according to the Science Advances journal. Over 80% of Americans live in an area where they are unable to view the Milky Way due to urban light pollution.
Dark skies are not only important for the health and well-being of humans, they are also critical for insects and birds. How can you be a dark sky warrior? it’s fairly easy, just follow these guidelines to effectively light cities and neighborhoods while keeping skies dark. For more resources, and to learn how outdoor lighting can negatively impact birds and insects, check out Tracy Aviary's resources — click here.
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