Friday, November 29, 2013

A Visit to Chaco Culture International Dark Sky Park

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. Chaco has the distinction of being the world's newest International Dark Sky Park. Alas, it was full moon which is not really the best time to visit a Dark Sky Park, but the sky was clear and the park was magnificent.

Here's the view I had from the one evening I was there:
The landform is Fajada Butte (where the famous "Sun Dagger" is located). In the photo Fajada Butte is joined by Venus, which in turn is nestled in the teapot of Sagittarius. Moonlight is illuminating the butte. That's not light pollution in the sky (you'll find very little of it in the park), but rather the glow of the evening twilight sky.

The park is home to extensive ancient ruins which are the focus of many studies in archaeoastronomy but it also has a night sky program with numerous telescopes, including a wonderful 25-inch Obsession in a dome.
The nighttime programs are not offered all the time, so check with the park for their availability.

The daytime stars of the park are its archaeological treasures. Here are two photos looking down on Pueblo Bonito:
It is difficult to get a sense of scale in the photos above but the big wall of Pueblo Bonito (above, left) is some four stories high and it may have been higher in the past. Pueblo Bonito was the the largest structure ever built in North America until the advent of modern highrise buildings. It was occupied for over 300 years.

There are many archeological sites in the park. Here's the view looking down on another site, Kin Kletso ("Yellow House"):
Not surprisingly, the different structures clearly made use of different techniques and materials in construction, which you can easily see in these detail shots of some of the stone walls: 
Perhaps sometime I'll get the chance to make an extended visit. If so, I hope to have the chance to visit the famed petrograph that might depict the 1054 A.D. supernova.

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