Everybody's National Parks | ENP 28: Look Up! National Parks After Dark with Tyler Nordgren
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  • ENP 28: Look Up! National Parks After Dark with Tyler Nordgren
    05/11/2020
    Grand Teton National Park eclipse - photo by Tyler Nordgren Eclipse at Grand Teton National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Headshot of Tyler Nordgren, Ph.D.Tyler Nordgren, Ph.D.
    Think your park day is over once the sun sets? Think again! Tyler Nordgren, PhD, joins Bryan for an illuminating look at the Night Skies program. As a Night Sky ambassador, Dr. Nordgren supports The National Park Service’s efforts to ensure that the celestial landscape remains visible to future generations. And speaking of young park-goers, stick around after the Carl Sagan story and travel tips as Everybody’s National Parks special junior ranger correspondents ask a few hard-hitting astronomical questions of their own.
    Acadia National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenAcadia National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Bryce Canyon National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenWhere "Half the Park is After Dark." - Bryce Canyon National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    National Parks After Dark: “Half the Park is After Dark”

    “I coined the phrase half the park is after dark about 10 years ago,” says Dr. Nordgren, underscoring his passion for the world above us. He has an infectious ability to coax even the most disinterested park visitor to look upward and contemplate a majesty that’s still every bit as awe-inspiring as earthbound canyons. Of course, our ancestors had the benefit of an utterly dark field across which they could follow the action. “Think about back before there were TVs or reading lights or anything to give you something else to do once the sun went down. The sky was it.”
    Glacier National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenGlacier National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Big Bend National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenComet visible through Window View at Big Bend National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Best Time of Year and Locations for Dark Skies in the U.S.

    Today, light and other environmental pollutants have greatly reduced our ability to consider the constellations without a telescope - unless you know where and when to look. Over 60 sites in the US have earned International Dark Sky designations, a coveted title awarded by the International Dark Sky Association. According to Dr. Nordgren, late summer and early autumn are the best times of the year for stargazing. Dark Sky sites offer optimal views. “Anywhere you go from the desert southwest up to, say, Acadia National Park in Maine, you get this beautiful spectacular Milky Way high overhead at that time of year. But beware of the full moon! “Go around the new moon or maybe [the] third quarter. Those are the best times of the month to go because, if you go during [the] full moon, as beautiful as that full moon is, its light washes out the fainter stars.”

    Grand Canyon Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenThe Milky Way over Grand Canyon as seen from Yavapai Point on the South Rim - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Grand Teton National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenGrand Teton National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Grand Teton National Park eclipse - poster by Tyler Nordgren Grand Teton National Park eclipse poster by Tyler Nordgren

    Looking Ahead at Upcoming Eclipses Visible from the U.S.

    What can we expect from the next decade, astronomically speaking? “We've got a couple of solar eclipses coming up in the next few years here,” says Dr. Nordgren of the event taking place in October of 2023 and best viewed in the Southwest and along the West Coast. “If the alignment is perfect, you get this ring of fire.” The next big event takes place April 8, 2024, this time on the other side of the country: Mexico to Texas, across the Midwest, all the way to Maine. “So folks...will get a chance to see a total solar eclipse in just an easy day's drive.” Feels like ENP just divulged some amateur astronomer secrets but there’s enough sky for everyone, right? The same cannot be said for campsites so plan accordingly and, if you do head out for an upcoming eclipse, remember: half the park is after dark. 

    Yellowstone National Park - photo by Tyler NordgrenOld Faithful eruption at Yellowstone National Park - photo by Tyler Nordgren

    Yosemite Falls - photo by Tyler NordgrenYosemite Falls - photo by Tyler Nordgren
    National Park Ranger poster by Tyler NordgrenNational Park Ranger poster by Tyler Nordgren

    Discussion Includes the Following:

    [00:54] - Introduction: Night Skies program, Big Bend National Park
    [01:17] - Dr. Tyler Nordgren: Cornell University and Carl Sagan
    [02:46] - International Dark Sky Association and Dark Skies sites, the Milky Way, Natural Bridges National Monument
    [03:51] - Ancient skies, ancient stories: Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, John Muir
    [06:02] - Evening Ranger programs: Around the galaxy, through the seasons
    [08:41] - Astronomical math
    [10:22] - The Drake equation
    [11:06] - Teaching insignificance via a grapefruit and sundae sprinkles; Big Bend National Park, Kuiper Belt; Alpha Centauri
    [14:29] - Native American oral traditions and the story of Ursa Majoris; Corona Borealis
    [17:18] - Dr. Nordgren’s seasonal tips for travelers: Grand Canyon National Park, Acadia National Park, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park
    [20:41] - Eclipse events: Mapping out the five years; Crater Lake National Park, Great Basin National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Lake Powell National Recreation Area, Mesa Verde National Park, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Niagara Falls National Heritage Site
    [24:05] - Letchworth State Park
    [24:30] - Carl Sagan’s 'Cosmos'
    [24:47] - Questions from junior rangers
    [26:35] - Our collision course with Andromeda Galaxy

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    CATEGORY: Podcasts

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