Utah Skies: Camping, S’mores, And Stars
June. The days are getting longer, and the nights are getting shorter. For the darkest skies you need to wait at least 90 minutes after sundown. With sun set at about 9:00 PM MDT, that means the darker skies appear about 10:30 PM. To have very dark skies it is best to have a moonless night (this can be before the moon rises or after it sets) and a site that is away from city lights. Utah has many recreational areas that have great dark skies. Many National Parks in Utah have Dark Sky Status and are great for stargazing.
The Summer Triangle is easy to find in a dark sky area. At about 10:30 PM look to the East for the brightest star. That is Vega in the constellation Lyra, the Harp. From there drop down and a little to the North you will see another bright star. That is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Now going down a bit more and moving a bit to the South you see the third bright star. This star is Altair in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. These three bright stars make up the Summer Triangle. You can use the Summer Triangle to find other stars as well.
Deneb, in Cygnus the Swan, is in the main part of the Milky Way. The lower wing of Cygnus contains the Witch’s Broom Nebula, which is shown in the attached image. Notice all the stars around it. These stars are part of the Milky Way. Following the band of the Milky Way toward the South-South-East you come to the brightest part of the Milky Way. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is just West of the Milky Way. Antares, the bright orange/red star, is the eye of the Scorpion. From there you can follow the bright stars towards the horizon, and these make up the tail and stinger of the scorpion.
So, as you visit the recreational areas in Utah and are sitting around the campfire, look up and see the best skies that Utah has to offer. Camping, S’mores, and Stars, it doesn’t get much better than this. Whether you view with just your eyes, use binoculars, take nightscape pictures with a camera and tripod, or use a telescope, the dark skies are truly a wonder to enjoy.