Astronomer Galileo said, “The Milky Way is nothing else but a mass of innumerable stars planted together in clusters.”

That very scientific, but dispassionate, statement doesn’t capture the feeling of the real beauty found in our skies. Most of us would agree with Lord Byron, who penned that stars are the poetry of heaven.

While we all know – logically – that stars can be trillions of miles from Earth, it still seems possible that these silver spangles – these brilliant sequins – decorating the sky from horizon to horizon are close enough to touch.

However, the very nearest star beyond our solar system is about 25 trillion miles away. In the fastest space probe we’ve ever made, it would take about 10,000 years to reach the star.

Stellar distances are generally calculated in light years – light travels about 186,000 miles in one second.

If we were traveling at that speed, it would take us 2.5 million years to reach the nearest star of the Andromeda Galaxy, the closest big spiral galaxy to our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way.

To see the star-studded skies, and to ponder these distances, is a humbling experience.

Sierra Vista – Perfect for Stargazing

In southeastern Arizona, specifically Sierra Vista, our stars shine so radiantly and fill the dark skies so dramatically, that we, as observers, feel a connection with them.

crabnebula2.pngWhile many of us had field trips as school children to planetariums where we learned about planets and constellations, few of us have had the opportunity to live in or visit regions like Sierra Vista, with clear, dark, unobstructed skies.

Though Sierra Vista is world-renowned for its birdwatching opportunities and military history, it has also become one of the oft-mentioned places to visit when embarking on an astronomy tour.

Astronomers from around the world have discovered Sierra Vista and Cochise County. They’ve found that the general absence of cloud cover dramatically increases observing opportunities.

Additionally, the vast expanse of grasslands between cities or towns, the ordinances designed to regulate light emission, and the lack of tall buildings have contributed to making the Sierra Vista region very attractive for experienced and novice astronomers.

Viewing Opportunities in Sierra Vista

Sierra Vista is very fortunate to have passionate local astronomers in the Huachuca Astronomy Club. Many of the members own private observatories and collectively support the club.

The members enthusiastically share their knowledge with attendees at monthly star parties. Attendees benefit from the time spent by the members explaining the astronomical sights seen at that moment through the telescopes.

You’ll learn from these experts about planets, distant galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, supernova and other wonders of the night skies.

These star parties are free and open to the public; star party evenings are listed on their website’s calendar of events. Most of the star parties are held at the Patterson Observatory.

At the Patterson Observatory – located on the University of Arizona South campus in Sierra Vista – the main telescope is the 20-inch diameter f10 Cassegrain. The observatory also has a solar scope that is used for daytime observations.

Remember when you were a child and cautioned to never look directly at the sun? Well, this solar scope allows you to look at the sun – which, remember, is a star – while protecting your eyes.

The Patterson Observatory is available to the public; reservations required. Educational programs for local schools, student groups and private programs may be requested through the University South Foundation office.

Until the Sun Goes Down…

You’ll want the evening and nighttime stargazing experiences, so plan to stay overnight at one of Sierra Vista’s 1,600 hotel/motel/bed and breakfast rooms. You’ll find many diverse choices certain to please.

For delicious meals, you should check out some of the 70 restaurants, many of which are arguably the best in Southern Arizona.

For additional information about activities, events and attractions in the area, please call (800) 288-3861 or visit us at www.visitsierravista.com.

Come, visit Sierra Vista – take the time to reconnect with your universe. It’s free; it’s unique; and it’s brilliant.

(Brought to you by Sierra Vista Visitor Center.)