23 Apr 2022
Cedar City Dark Skies
Here in Cedar City, we are fortunate to have wide-open spaces, incredible views, and endless recreation opportunities. One benefit that we don’t mention often enough? The views are even better after dark! Due to the lack of light pollution, we are fortunate here in Southern Utah to be able to view natural phenomena in the skies above. Portions of Iron County remain some of the darkest and best places in the world to view the night sky.
With an International Dark Sky Park in our own backyard, Cedar Breaks National Monument, locals and visitors alike can enjoy guided Star Parties and more during the warmer months. But did you know you don’t have to travel to 10,000 feet for incredible night sky views? While an evening stargazing in at the rim of Cedar Breaks’ Natural red rock amphitheater is definitely a bucket list experience, you can stargaze easily from places much closer to home. This time of year while much of Cedar Mountain is still covered in snow (and with social distancing on everyone’s mind) places like Three Peaks Recreation Area, Iron Springs, and others are the perfect place to stargaze.
Where Should You Go?
Look for a place that lacks a lot of artificial light, like a city park or open field. To help navigate at night without compromising your night vision, make a red flashlight. Use red paper or cellophane to cover a white flashlight. With lots of wide-open spaces around us, there are some incredible stargazing spots that require minimal travel. In a personal vehicle with members of your household, check out some of the following places.
Three Peaks Recreation Area: The rolling hills and volcanic rock formations provide a fantastic location for outdoor recreation | 10 miles west of Cedar City via Midvalley Road
Iron Springs Resort: Located only a couple of miles west of downtown Cedar City, Iron Springs is just far enough away to feel like you’re in the middle of the desert, but with all the perks of still being close to town | 10 miles west of Cedar City via Hwy 56
Parowan Gap Petroglyphs: Wind, water, and sand carved out this natural passageway. The Gap is one of the most concentrated collections of petroglyphs in the West. Just far enough away from the lights of Cedar City and Parowan, the night sky views are incredible too | 13 miles north of Cedar City via Hwy 130
You can also consider visiting: Thunderbird Gardens, Stargazing from the “C Trail”, and any public lands that are far enough away from city lights.
What Should You Look For?
What Should You Look For In the Night Sky?
Residents may want to check out what we can see in Southern Utah’s spring sky. Orion’s Nebula, the Pleiades and the Beehive Cluster appear almost as smudges to the naked eye – but with a good pair of binoculars or a small backyard telescope, they look amazing! If you have a pair of binoculars, check them out before they disappear and we get all those old-timey globular clusters for summer.
This nebula contains extremely young stars forming within an enormous cloud, which is situated over a thousand light-years from Earth. Even at this distance, the nebula is so large that it can easily take up the entire view in the average backyard telescope. You can actually see this nebula (faintly) with the naked eye. It looks like a faint cloud in Orion’s Sword, which is below Orion’s Belt – but above his feet. When you look at the stars cocooned within this nebula, you are seeing infant stars – many that are only a few hundred thousand years old! Contrast that with our own star (the Sun) which is 4.5 billion years old. Orion is a winter constellation, so catching this nebula is a must within the next month before it drops below the horizon.
After forming within nebulae, star groups tend to blow off the surrounding cloud with their powerful solar winds. Once these nebulous clouds are gone, the only thing that remains is a loose grouping of stars that formed around the same time, hanging out in the same neighborhood. Astronomers call these groups “open clusters”. Open clusters tend to be young, while globular clusters (a completely different object) are always very old. You can think of most nebulae as nurseries, open clusters as high school, and globular clusters as retirement homes for stars. There are precious few old globular clusters visible from the northern hemisphere during the winter – but young open clusters are everywhere.
A wonderful example is the Pleiades (a.k.a Seven Sisters) in the constellation Taurus. You can see the Pleiades with the naked eye and just like Orion’s Nebula, they were once cradled inside a thick nebulous cloud. Now, however, they’re old enough that they’ve blown off most of their nebula so that you can barely make out the faint fuzz around them. They’re not hard to find either – Orion is chasing them and his belt almost points right at them (in a western direction or towards the right of Orion). They look like a tight collection of stars or a thumbprint in the sky.
The Beehive Cluster
Another open cluster that is fairly easy to find is the Beehive Cluster (also known as Praesepe) in the constellation Cancer (the crab). This cluster is young and bright. Cancer is not a very bright constellation so look for the smudgy group of stars near the heads of Gemini (Castor and Pollux). If you can find the stars Procyon, Regulus and Pollux, they form a triangle that the Beehive Cluster is roughly in the center of. Like the Pleiades, this cluster is a group of very young stars and looks like a smudge or a cloud to the naked eye.
Written By (and Special Thanks to) Leesa Ricci, Cedar Breaks National Monument
What Information Do You Need?
When you find your perfect stargazing spot find the Big Dipper. The last two stars in the cup of the Big Dipper point to the North Star, which is just a bit dimmer than the individual stars in the Big Dipper. For help finding the constellations listed above, and others, there are resources available.
Download an App
Stargazing apps like SkyView©, NightSky©, or Pocket Universe© are helpful in navigating the night skies.
Check out the video below to see the SkyView© app in action ↓