Monument kicks off night-sky program

Thursday, April 20, 2017 4:41 PM
Jim Mimiaga/The Journal

Jennifer Frost is the new interpretive park ranger at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The monument and Anasazi Heritage Center will present stargazing programs this spring and summer.

Stargazing expert Jennifer Frost is on a mission to make sure the public does not miss out on the wonders of the night sky.

The new interpretive park ranger for Canyons of the Ancients National Monument will host a free star-viewing program on April 25, at 8 p.m., at the Anasazi Heritage Center.

It is the first of several star-gazing events at the museum as part of the Four Corners Lecture Series, and is part of an effort by the monument to gain designation as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary.

With 50 percent of the world’s population born in the city, odds are 50 percent will never see the night sky, Frost says.

“We’re in danger of a generation being raised without a clue about the night sky because of light intrusion, and my goal is to help change that,” she said.

Frost has a background in teaching astronomy and science. She’s hosted popular night-sky programs at several national parks and monuments, including Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

If the night is clear, participants will walk up the paved path to the Escalante Pueblo, above the Heritage Center. A telescope will be set up, and Frost will explain the basics, including the star-hopping method to find constellations. On cloudy nights, the program will be held inside with video presentations.

Telling the story of the night sky through the Native American perspective will be part of the program.

“The Ancestral Puebloans were monitoring the skies, so there are a lot of cultural stories beyond just the Greek and Roman,” she said.

On May 20, GB Cornucopia, an interpretive ranger with Chaco Culture Historic Park, will present a lecture on astronomy and the Ancestral Puebloans at 7 p.m. followed by stargazing. Frost will host another one on June 25 at 8:30 p.m.

On July 29 at 8:30 p.m., Apollo 17 astronaut Dr. Harrison Schmitt will visit the Heritage Center to give the astronomy presentation.

Schmitt, of New Mexico, is one of the Dusty Dozen who walked on the moon, and was on the last human mission in 1972.

The trained geologist is considered the first nontest pilot scientist to walk on the moon. He logged 22 hours, 4 minutes exploring the lunar surface, and studied the moon’s volcanic activity.

“We’re very excited and honored to have him present for our night-sky program,” Frost said.

The monument is in the process of applying for an International Dark Sky Sanctuary status, a one- or two-year process. Frost will set up sky-quality meters at the Heritage Center and points in the monument to measure dark-sky quality.

Mesa Verde National Park is also seeking the dark sky status. Currently, Hovenweep National Monument, Chaco Culture Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument all have the designation. If you go to the monument’s night sky program, dress warmly, and bring a blanket and flashlight.