Star Gazing From Idaho
If there is one thing that can get my attention and then hold on to it for a disproportionate amount of time, it is the stars above my head. I am absolutely enthralled by the twinkling lights that sweep and dive and ponderously march through our night sky, and I am sure that there are many like me. Long has the human race been drawn to look at the heavens and seek a deeper understanding of the universe. There is something about the stars that sucks the mind in and is unwilling to give it away and Idaho, in particular, has a field of stars that does this better than any other on the planet. Naturally, the people in Idaho may look at the same stars as everyone else, but they are in a position to get a better view. If you are soon to be a resident of Idaho and have a similar interest in the night’s sky to my own, you are in luck. There are a large number of reasons why Idaho is such a great place for stargazing and I want to tell you exactly what they are, as well as give you a brief explanation of the best things you can do to check out those stars in all their glory.
What makes Idaho such an excellent place to check out some stars is the lack of people living within its borders. Sure, Idaho has a large population and there are more than a million people living in the state but that is small potatoes compared to the states where almost no one ever gets a chance to check out a star-filled sky. What, you say, is the connection between a state’s population and the ability for its people to check out the stars? The answer is a simple one. The more people there are in a state the more light they produce to see at night. The more light that gets produced the more light there is that bleeds into the night sky and makes it difficult to view the stars. This is known as light pollution, a simple and well-known concept for astronomers, both professional and amateur, but not always a well-known concept to the average person that just wants to have a star twinkle at them.
The gist of the problem is that bigger cities that are close to each other. Idaho does not have this problem or at least it does not have this problem the same way other states do. Sure, there are big cities like Boise and the entire Treasure Valley is a pretty densely populated area, but the rest of the state is not like that. Instead, there are large swaths of distance between cities and towns where the light from the surface does not interfere with the light coming down from above. For some Idahoans, it is really simple to just get out of the town they call home and get a good look at the Milky Way. In fact, some people in Idaho can just turn off the lights in their home and let their eyes get used to the dark to see something beautiful.
The other thing that makes Idaho unique among the other states of America is its Dark Sky Reserve. There are many other states that are big and have low populations, making them good for checking out the sky. However, Idaho is the only state in the country that has a Dark Sky Reserve, a place that has been set aside as being particularly excellent for seeing stars. Idaho’s Dark Sky Reserve is located in the Sawtooth Mountain Range is a place where almost no artificial light can be found. Thus, you can get an image of the night sky that few people have seen since the invention of fire. Of course, this means that there is not a whole lot of civilization in the area and it can be hard to get to. If you plan on spending a couple of nights in the area you might have trouble finding a grocery store or even just a gas station. However, tourism is certainly possible and encouraged and you only need to be courteous to those around you, both in how you display your own personal lights and how you take care to preserve natural wonders in general.
So, what is the general process you should take to get out of the house and go and check out some pretty stars and planets? Sometimes, it is just as simple as that. Get out of the house and go to the country. Go where there are few artificial lights and spend a bit of time looking up. However, if you want to take the exercise a little beyond this simple solution, I have a few recommendations. There is generally going to be a collection of people near you who are interested in amateur astronomy and they will get together to share information about what they have seen, where they have seen it, and they might even share the equipment they used to see it. Telescopes and other astronomy equipment are extremely expensive. Unless you have a large disposable income and are truly interested beyond normal bounds in the act of looking at the stars, it is better to just use what other people have paid for, assuming they are willing to share. The pinnacle of enjoying the stars is going to an observatory. This is like having an astronomy club but on steroids. There are observatories dotted all over Idaho and many of them are open to the public for select events and activities. A good observatory will invite any who are interested to visit and learn more about the professional side of astronomy. There will be experts in the field who can tell you more about what you are seeing and there are all kinds of big and fancy toys that will enhance the stargazing experience.