San Juan Stargazers to hold first Winter Star Party with 20-inch telescope

By Joan Mieritz

Special to The PREVIEW

Our first Winter Star Party will be held Saturday, Feb. 21, with Saturday, Feb. 28, as a backup date.

It will start at 7 p.m., with viewing to begin shortly after cars are parked, and it will last until we decide to go home. But, people can come for 30 minutes to an hour of viewing and go home when they get cold.

There is no cost, but people will be able to contribute to our scholarship fund.

Some people may be asking, “Why go outside in the winter when it is cold to look at stars?” There are two excellent answers and many more good ones.

First, the stars visible in the evening winter sky are different from the ones we see in the evening in the summer. The best example is Orion, which is visible in the early morning hours in the summer, but is so easily and conveniently viewed in the winter sky as soon as it gets dark. We are hoping to view the Horsehead Nebula in Orion on Saturday night, as well as other stellar nurseries where new stars are being formed. There are many other rare sights that are worth bundling up for.

The other great reason for a winter star party is that cold air makes for better and clearer viewing. We can see some distant objects that cannot be viewed at other times due to the warmer, more volatile atmosphere.

We are hoping to see many rare and unusual sights also because we have the 20-inch telescope, which is about as large as a movable telescope can be.

Now, the one thing that I cannot tell you is where the star party will be held. It will not be at Chimney Rock or Capote Lake, because both are closed for the winter. We are hoping to have a good spot in Aspen Springs, but John Buting, who owns the 20-inch telescope, will be picking the place on Saturday afternoon.

We will also have a camper available for warming up with coffee, hot chocolate and hot cider, as well as sweet treats to keep us feeling warm. An email blast with the location will go out late afternoon Saturday to members and all others who have made a free reservation. You can also check Facebook and our website for the location.

We are hoping to get more of our local students involved with astronomy. We encourage parents to make this a special experience for the entire family. Stargazers are working on a scholarship fund available for students who are volunteering at Chimney Rock and participating in other club activities. High school students need to consider how great it would look on your resume to be an astronomer-volunteer at Chimney Rock National Monument and you also could qualify for a scholarship.

We are starting to gear up for this summer, when we will be hosting Star Parties every other Friday night, starting May 15, at Chimney Rock.

There will be no regular Thursday meeting of the San Juan Stargazers this month, but at our March meeting (on the fourth Thursday at the visitor center), we will have a very special guest speaker with a hot topic of interest to all Earthlings.

San Juan Stargazers are part of the Astronomical League, which includes clubs from all over the U.S. The group has a great website,, as well as an email address, and a club phone number, 335-8286, to help communicate with the public. You may call 731-0186 for last-minute reservations.