By Jennifer Pund
COAL CREEK CANYON
Amateur astronomers of all ages—guided by professionals in a variety of related fields—have gathered in Coal Creek Canyon the past couple of years to learn about the sky, stars, moon, planets and how to view them. Sky Watchers, led by Barbara and Leonard David, meet at the Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Hall and host dynamic presentations on a variety of topics related to space.
The diverse collection of stargazers are described as “an enthusiastic group of mountain dwellers who are dedicated to bringing together people of all ages who are interested in astronomy, space exploration and viewing the wonders of the night sky through telescopes, binoculars and by naked eye.”
It was born in 2014 out of an invitation for Leonard—an award-winning space journalist—and Barbara—a space science education journalist who forms curriculum units on astronomy, space exploration and Earth sciences—to be a part of the 2014 events at the CCCIA Hall. “Joelle, one of the Coal Creek Canyon Park & Recreation District board members, gave us a call knowing we knew a lot about astronomy and space exploration and asked if we could give a presentation,” Barbara said. “By the end of the conversation, [we] had decided to start Sky Watchers.”
Evolving from the first meeting held at Camp Wondervu, the group meets every five to six weeks on a Saturday evening, depending on presenters schedules and a full moon or dark moon schedule. “We had about 55 people show up to our fist meeting. There was a blizzard blowing by the end of the meeting, so we couldn’t take our telescopes outside,” Barbara recalled. “Now our group has about 30 or more people at every meeting. We have a diverse group who’s ages range from six to 80. We have several planetary scientists and aerospace engineers who are regular attendees and have been presenters. We also have people who are just interested in astronomy and space exploration, but don’t have a lot of previous knowledge of the topics.”
Each Sky Watchers meeting features a different presenter based on the group’s collective interests, which can be diverse and informative as some of the members are astronomy or aerospace experts.
“We ask the group what they are interested in and choose speakers from not only our community, but from the Boulder and Denver area,” Barbara said. “We do have an amazing number of astronomy and space experts in the Coal Creek Canyon and Nederland areas. Our presenters have shared expertise on topics like Mars, comets, asteroids, solar and lunar eclipses, astro-photography, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Voyager spacecraft missions, light pollution issues, designing and building satellites, water on Mars, discoveries of planets around other stars. We welcome anyone with knowledge of an astronomy or space related topic who is interested in being a Sky Watcher presenter.”
Sky Watchers members are very social, open and welcoming. Some members have started meeting for dinner before each meeting, which begin at 7 p.m. “We don’t usually start until around 7:15 p.m. to allow for socializing,” Barbara said. “One thing I truly love about [the] Sky Watchers group is that it’s a really friendly group. It’s such fun to see people talking with each other before and after meetings. It’s becoming a regular thing to have dinner in Wondervu Cafe’s back room before the meetings. Everyone is welcome.”
The Sky Watchers invite “anyone in the Universe” to come to a meeting, telescopes are not required. “Our meetings are open to anyone. Most of our group lives in Coal Creek Canyon, but we welcome anyone from anywhere. We have members from Nederland, Black Hawk, Rollinsville as well as Boulder and Denver,” Barbara said, “and you certainly don’t need a telescope to come to a meeting, but we do encourage anyone who has a telescope, spotting scope, or binoculars of any size or condition, to bring them to a meeting. Many people have scopes they’ve never used. We want to help them adjust, fix and use them.”
The next Coal Creek Canyon Sky Watchers meeting, Feb. 27, features Carolyn Collins Petersen and her husband. The group asks for a donation of $5 for each adult to cover the expenses of renting the meeting hall. Check the group’s website for more information on future meetings and a special field trip planned to Casper, Wyoming for the next total solar eclipse in August 2017.
To be added to the Sky Watchers e-mail list for future meetings e-mail BarbaraDavid321@aol.com or call 303-494-7677 and leave a message. Visit the website for sky charts and other viewing information.
The Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Hall is located at 31528 Hwy. 72 in Coal Creek Canyon. Visit www.sky-watchers.co to learn more.
Originally published in the February 2016 issue of the MMAC Monthly