By Daniel Williams, photos courtesy of Jessica Lovitt
At a recent event held at Cherokee Ranch & Castle, professional and amateur astronomers alike gathered to stare into the vast night sky. Looking through high-powered telescopes, they were able to see the four moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn and pick out vivid details of the moon’s craters.
Many of those in attendance are members of the fledgling Castle Pines Astronomy Club, an organization committed to exploring the planets and stars and to helping educate others about the dangers of light pollution.
Light pollution is a real problem, not only for stargazers, but for regular folks as well, according to Ryan Parker, a Castle Pines resident and founder of the Castle Pines Astronomy Club. Both commercial areas and neighborhoods can be sources of light pollution and give off what Parker calls “that sky glow.”
“Light pollution can rob the night sky of its natural beauty and disrupt sleep patterns,” Parker said. “And it can even mess with the patterns of migrating birds, as excessive light can make them disoriented, causing them to crash into buildings.”
Limiting light pollution begins with the ordinary light bulb, Parker said. “One incandescent light bulb left on each night for one year will consume almost 1,000 pounds of coal energy.”
The Magic of Nature
As a fifth generation Coloradan who grew up on a farm, Parker said he values the things he grew up with – the natural beauty of Colorado is one of those things, the sky above is another. He said he can remember “even at a young age, going up into the high country and going hiking with my family and getting to see firsthand the magic of nature, how dangerous and wild and fascinating it can be.”
That early love of the outdoors led Parker to join The Nature Conservancy, and later, the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a nonprofit organization committed to stopping light pollution and protecting the night skies for present and future generations. Through his membership with IDA, Parker got to rub elbows with experts in the field of astronomy and there he got the idea to form the local astronomy club.
The club has partnered with Cherokee Ranch & Castle to host events such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Bar, where professional astronomers dazzle attendees with the sights through their expensive and sophisticated telescopes. As for Parker, he focuses on his love of storytelling, providing background and mythologies about “many of the 88 constellations, planets and events in the sky.”
Moving forward, he said his plan is to make Castle Pines a designated dark sky community – one that “has shown exceptional dedication to the preservation of the night sky” through the enforcement of a quality outdoor lighting ordinance, light pollution education and citizen support.
Parker said he realizes it’s a tall order for Castle Pines to achieve this designation, but it’s one worth pursuing, and he’s already been talking to neighbors, HOAs and anyone else who will listen. “It will take a village to make a difference,” he said. “And it starts with one person and one light bulb at a time.”