Starry, Starry Night –The Dark Night Skies in Southern Utah
by Laurel Beesley
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” – Vincent van Gogh
Become a sky watcher, a star gazer. Southern Utah is an ongoing star party for anyone who wants to look into the dark, clear, and inspiring night sky. Utah has the most designated dark sky places of any state in America and more than any country in the world. In the dark sky over Kanab, on a moonless night, you can see 7,500 to 14,000 stars, the Milky Way, many Zodiac constellations, celestial objects, shooting stars, and several planets. How amazing is that?
When is the last time you looked into the night sky and felt astounded by the bright spots of starlight, the mysterious orbs, and the milky arcs of luminescence above your head? Or felt the mystery of the beyond and wondered, feeling nearly invisible as you watched the continuously changing star and galaxy show above?
The Navajo “So’ ba hane’” is the “Story of the Stars.” The Big Horn, a Navajo constellation represented in the night sky is said to be used by medicine men to time their sets of songs throughout the night in the winter ceremonies. Every culture on Earth since the beginning of time has created their story of the stars.
Without the natural night sky and its bright constellations, we never would have navigated to the moon or learned that humans are made of stardust. The night sky is our universal heritage, providing perspective and inspiration. What would happen if we couldn’t see the stars?
And yet – we are coming so close to losing that startling light show of the night due to light pollution.
Most of the world’s population will never again see the bright river of stars in our galaxy we call the Milky Way. The sight of the Milky Way is becoming a memory – to say nothing of those storytelling stars. What is your birth constellation? Leo, Aries, Pisces or Sagittarius? Your constellation is rapidly disappearing behind a blanket of light pollution.
Utah stands out as one of the most amazing places on Earth to still see the amazement of the skies. The Bor
tle Scale, rating night sky brightness with astronomical observability, puts southern Utah at the top of the charts for clarity.
Surrounding Kanab, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) may be one of the best places on Earth to still see our night sky. Not only is the Monument dark, but it may also be one of the darkest places in the lower 48. Exciting to imagine, the GSENM may soon become part of what is called the “Great Western Starry Way,” a series of International Dark Sky parks and sanctuaries sanctioned by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) stretching from northern Montana to southern Arizona.
Every night in Kanab the “Star Party Tonight” – members of the Star Party Guide Systems – take guests out to perfect locations for viewing the sky above. Expert hosts use a telescope, binoculars, and Star Wars-type lasers to point to each star, the star clusters, and other objects in the mysterious sky. Where is the big red supergiant Betelgeuse, the ninth brightest star in the night sky? Once we learn to see them there are barely visible nebulae and mythic constellations telling the story of Andromeda (The Chained Lady Cassiopeia) and the many other legendary characters that chase the sky each night. What a mix of science and classic storytelling.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes, just outside Kanab, has camping and night sky presentations. Simply walking outside at night, or venturing onto a local trail like the K-Hill can become an astronomical adventure. Pack a dinner picnic from home or with goodies from a local restaurant and enjoy a quiet candle- or lantern-lit meal at the Peekaboo Trailhead while waiting for the surprising sky to tell its countless stories. Drive down Johnson Canyon as the sun is setting and enjoy tremendous views of the Grand Staircase before settling in at Nephi Pasture.
Wherever you go to any one of the countless dark sky locations around here, look forward to a view millions of people will never be able to see again. The night sky is always a celestial showcase.
Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view.
Space.com will help you plan your night by providing Star Maps and video guides, as well as providing tips on equipment and viewing techniques. Find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).
The Kanab Office of Tourism and BLM Visitor Centers will assist you in finding special vantage points. Kanab is proud of its growing number of businesses observing dark-sky lighting.
For more information, go to visitsouthernutah.com or call (435) 644-5033 or (800) SEE-KANE (733-5263).