Stargazing in Sedona
By Jon Bailey - August 7, 2017
As we drove towards the meeting site way into the outlands of the Sedona high desert, our thoughts veered towards scenes from a horror movie: family drawn to remote location with no lights, no buildings, no one to be seen for miles, unwittingly fallen prey to unspeakable horrors, etcetera etcetera etcetera. The kids even laughed, “Don’t go into that dark room! Don’t open the attic door when the scary music is playing!” (My, don’t we all have active imaginations.)
We safely reached the meeting point at dusk, and were guided us to a parking spot by a friendly group of folks as other cars full of smiling families gathered nearby. Soon we were all comfortable friends, walking into a nearby soccer field to watch the darkening skies. The organizers even had comfortable lawn chairs set up for us, complete with blankets in case the air chilled. Our chairs encircled an enormous telescope – a real one – fat and round and pointed to the stars. I admit I had a kind of nerd attack, geeking out over the thought of peering into the sky for lightyears into the past.
As our guide started to orient us to the night sky, he used a super cool laser pointer to effectively locate stars and planets for us, drawing our gaze towards one amazing sight after another. During our two hours together, we saw nearly a dozen shooting stars (he properly called them “meteors”) with one was so bright-tailed it made our group audibly gasp in wonder. We also witnessed quite a few satellites orbiting the planet, perhaps spying on our little group as we craned our necks to spy back. And planets! And stars! And galaxies lightyears away! It was Trekkie heaven.
Some of our favorites:
- Vega – the brightest star in the sky, made famous by Jodie Foster’s discovery of other life in the movie “Contact“
- Polaris – the North Star which orients us directionally, allowing sailors and navigators to find their bearings
- Jupiter – the largest planet in the sky at that time, we were able to view it closely and even see four of its 54 moons
- Saturn – so amazingly cool to look at this planet through the telescope and actually see the famous rings
- Milky Way – our galaxy is so enormous, we can see it in the night sky because of its dense clusters of stars
- Doublestar Gamma Andromedae – These twin stars sparkle quite clearly in colorful blue and gold
- Big and Little Dippers – Right down from the North Star are both dippers, which were also connected to other constellations visible in shapes and signs
- Signs of the Zodiac – Scorpio, Leo, Virgo and Sagittarius were all visible in the sky during our visit
- Spinning Satellite – Our guide brought this Russian satellite to our attention because it was tumbling out of control, having lost its power as it rolled in descending orbit visible to the naked eye
Did you know that what makes a star appear to twinkle in the night sky is actually atmospheric turbulence that obscures the light for moments at a time, making the star appear to flash and sparkle? Yeah, we didn’t and were suitably impressed. One star we viewed (the name escapes us now) was shining light visible to our eyes that actually left that star 1,892 years ago. Isn’t that crazy to think about?
This is one activity our entire family can highly recommend. If you have the chance to do this while visiting Sedona, you won’t regret it.