Dark Skies of Bryce Canyon
Long after the last drop of twilight fades to black, the next phase of the the earth's rotation begins to shine. It is a part of the 24-hour cycle that many developed places have lost to the constant shine of the cityscape — most Americans live in an area where they cannot see the Milky Way due to lighting from cities. Utah has several certified Dark Sky Parks, with Bryce Canyon being Utah's fourth national park, and 13th location altogether, to receive dark sky certification from the International Dark-Sky Association. At Bryce, there's something awe-inspiring about the way the canyon's red rock hoodoos interact with the infinite depths of the Universe.
Far from the light pollution of civilization, Bryce Canyon offers exceptional stargazing. Amateur astronomers will find Bryce to be a prime destination to set up a telescope and observe celestial events, but if you are not equipped to do that, you can sign up at the visitor center for one of the educational and entertaining stargazing programs organized by the park’s “Dark Rangers.” In fact, Bryce Canyon has one of the nation's oldest astronomy programs
After a one hour multimedia show, the Dark Rangers will lead you through a 90-minute telescope session where you can observe some of the 7,500 stars that can be seen on a moonless night, along with the incredibly bright, silver Milky Way stretching across the sky. Planets like Venus and even Jupiter shine bright enough to cast your shadow on the earth! No vacation at Bryce Canyon National Park is complete without some stargazing.
When to See It
From Late Spring (May) to Fall, Bryce Canyon Dark Sky Rangers host Night Sky Programs every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in May and August, 9 p.m. in June and July and 8 p.m. in September. The program continues into October with Tuesday and Saturday programs at 8 p.m. Check the visitor center for occasional Thursday programs in October. Alas, the stargazing that follows the astronomy program is at the mercy of current weather but you can always count on the rangers queuing up a presentation. Arrive 15-30 minutes early for seating.
Bryce Canyon also hosts an annual Astronomy Festival, more than 16 years running.
What You'll Remember
Think Cosmos — Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson — and you'll have a rough sense of the magnitude of the experience of just seeing. With the naked eye on a clear night in Bryce Canyon, you may see 5,000 stars. With standard binoculars: maybe 200,000. Bryce Canyon's telescopes catapult the number of visible stars into the millions. That compared to the 50 or so in a big city.
And seeing is different from knowing. We don't know exactly how large the universe is. Only hyperbolic children — those dealing in quantities of billion trillion — may fully articulate its breadth. For the rest of us, knowing we're all made of the same starstuff instantly brings comfort: for as small as we are, we all come from the same elemental origin. The family tree is large. Let's meet a few old friends.