Reserve a private star Party!
All Star Parties are free and hosted by our trained Star Guides at the Smokey Jack Observatory (SJO). The below dates include our most up-to-date availability. The SJO is closed for Winter from November 4, 2019 thru March 21, 2019. Reservations are now available for 2019, starting on March, 22, 2019 and running thru November 3, 2019. Please read the following information before making your reservation:
When is the Summer Milky Way visible at the SJO?
*Note: during the months of mid-May, June, July and mid-August, “astronomical darkness” will be as late as 10 -- 10:30 p.m. MDT before the Milky Way is fully visible to the unaided eye.
June 15 Northern portion will rise from eastern horizon by 10:30 p.m., all of Summer Milky Way visible by midnight until 4 a.m..
July 1 Northern portion will rise from eastern horizon by 10 p.m., all of Summer Milky Way visible by 11 p.m. until 3 a.m.
July 15 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 10 p.m. until 3 a.m.
August 1 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 9:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.
August 15 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 9:30 p.m. until 1 a.m.
September 1 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 9:00 p.m. until midnight.
September 15 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 8:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m.
October 1 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 8 p.m. until 10 p.m.
October 15 All of Summer Milky Way is visible by 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
November 1 Northern half of Summer Milky Way is visible by 7:00 p.m. for an hour.
(End of viewing season due to cold temperatures, wind, and/or snow.)
Online Sky Chart Calculator: https://www.skyandtelescope.com/interactive-sky-chart/ (requires registering, which is free, and site has many astronomy resources to explore)
Enter ZIP Code: 81252, uncheck “Use 24h clock format” and set time at 10 p.m. for summer months. Note: the Summer Milky Way runs through the constellations of Cygnus, Aquila, and Sagittarius (which has the densest part of the Milky Way but is near the southern horizon and the last portion to rise/first to set).
Impact of moonlight on seeing the Milky Way and most celestial objects:
The week centered on the Full Moon has so much moonlight that most celestial objects are mostly or completely invisible to the point that it isn't worthwhile to schedule star parties three days before and after the Full Moon date. Please take this into account when viewing this lunar phase calendar for your desired reservation date. https://kalender-365.de/lunar-calendar.php
Weather forecasts and “Making the Call” to go ahead or to cancel the star party:
In the late spring months of April and May, here in the Wet Mountain Valley it is not unusual for there still to be snow showers/storms that are difficult for online weather forecasting sites to accurately predict with our micro-environment between two north to south parallel mountain ranges. This one, Clear Sky Chart cleardarksky.com/c/SmkyJckObCOkey.html?1 provides your Star Guides with some basic forecast information. They will coordinate that with their experience with visually judging the late evening sky in making their decision for “making the call” to go ahead with the star party session or to cancel.
During the summer months, it is very common for late afternoon thunderstorm clouds to linger until after sunset making it difficult to predict whether or not they will dissipate shortly before full astronomical darkness (10 - 10:30 p.m.). By midnight, they are almost always gone leaving a spectacular star filled sky, but that’s too late to start a viewing session. With all this in mind, please be understanding that your Star Guides will error on the side of going ahead with your scheduled star party, but Mother Nature may have other plans. Should the clouds remain, your Star Guides can offer to do a talk on astronomy using images on the big screen in the SJO to illustrate the various celestial objects.