Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

Where Dark Skies Draw Star-Gazers, Wildfire Smoke Spoils the View

On Friday, a cold front is likely to push some of the smoke out of the Rockies, providing a window of clear viewing. But with major fires still burning on the West Coast, forecasters say the clarity may not last long.

For many visitors to the West’s dark-sky parks, the promise of diamond-glittered skies are a key attraction. On Thursday night, as Mr. Bohley, the ranger, prepared for the evening astronomy talk, a man from Philadelphia stopped by to say that he had timed his vacation especially to be in a dark-sky park at the peak of the Perseid shower, and asked the ranger if it was OK to stay out all night on the dunes, watching.

“Oh, yeah, we should see plenty tonight,” Mr. Bohley replied. “It looks like we’re finally catching a break.”

A stiff East wind swept down over the mountains just after sunset, driving the drifting smoke back to the West. The sky over the park grew clear — or at least clearer.

As darkness settled in, a small crowd of visitors gathered around and Mr. Bohley lifted his eyes upward, guiding them to planets and galaxies, white dwarfs and red giants.

The night sky, he told them, is not just a spectacle, but a critical piece of cultural heritage. Peering up at the stars and wondering is as ancient and universal as dance or song or music. It is a part of the essential human experience, he said

Right on cue, a meteor coursed across the sky, leaving a long, silent, silvery tail. In unison, the entire crowd sighed, “Oooooooh.”


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