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The Dark Sky Initiative

What is the International Dark Sky Association?

IDA uses several approaches to educate people about the effects of light pollution and pose practical solutions. This organization main goal is to protect the night sky. Unlike 99% of the people in Europe and America who live under light polluted areas that prevent them from seeing even the Milky Way, people in Dark Sky towns are restricted to have certain light scattering levels which make them great places to view the stars; wildlife benefits as well. Another benefit of completing the application is that these towns attract local star gazers and amateur astronomers. These can be great places to find star parties and actually learn about the universe we live in. Through the Dark Sky process, we can live in places where the Milky Way can be seen across the sky. For details check out

How will the International Dark Sky Association help Norwood?

As one of the best places on the Earth to view the sky, Norwood's Dark Sky needs to be preserved. Cities may have their shopping malls and skyscrapers, but they can never compete with the beauty of the universe. IDA certification will also allow people worldwide to see Norwood on a map,  at about 38 degrees North latitude, as a great place to observe the stars available to observers in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes.

Visits by amateur astronomers and their societies will benefit the local economy. Once here and seeing the beauty of friendly Norwood and Wright's Mesa, they may return and even settle down; a big boost to Norwood, which is a small town that could use a few more residents.

Locally, it will educate the community on the precious resource they enjoy, how interesting that night sky can be, and encourage local STEM activities for all citizens.

What does it take to get designated as a Dark Sky town?

It is not easy!! To do it properly a group of local citizens should form a legal entity that enjoys IRS 501c3 privileges as funds, materials, and liability insurance will be needed. If a local newspaper is available, it can be, as with the Norwood Post, very beneficial to the process and on-going activities.

For details look here.

What other places in Colorado have been designated as Dark Sky cities?

Currently, only the adjoining towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park are IDA certified in Colorado. Norwood would be the third IDA Dark Sky designation in Colorado and the first town on the Western Slope.

What are sky quality measurements and why are they important?

Sky Quality Measurements are measurements of nighttime sky darkness using a photo electric sensor similar to the sensor in a digital camera. The measurements are important since they are a quantitive means to determine sky quality in terms of darkness. The darker the sky at night enables observers to see fainter objects such as the Milky Way, distant star clusters and deep sky objects.

What instruments measure sky quality?

A common instrument used to measure night sky quality is the Sky Quality Meter (SQM) manufactured by Unihedron.

What do these instruments actually measure?

SQM instruments measure photons of light from the night sky. The higher the reading corresponds to darker skies. It is important to take night sky measurements on clear cloudless and moonless nights away from other sources of light such as street lights.

What do the numbers mean?

The SQM readings are in magnitudes per square arc/sec. Magnitudes per square arcsecond is a logarithmic measurement. Therefore large changes in sky brightness correspond to relatively small numerical changes. A difference of 1 magnitude is defined to be a factor of 2.5 in received photons. A typical reading on a Full Moon night might be approximately 16. Where a very dark sky without the moon might have readings of 21 to 22. In Norwood, we have recorded readings from 21.45 to 21.88.

Star Parties

What is a Star Party?

There are two kinds of star parties: one involves a gathering of serious amateurs that are pursuing a special project such as astronomy society and the other is a gathering of serious amateurs and/or interested individuals experienced or new to astronomy for general viewing. The format is usually to get several telescopes in one spot looking at different objects. The viewer then can go from telescope to telescope for viewing. There is usually a short lecture describing what will be viewed (with questions) and a question period afterward or in real time about what is being viewed.

Where do they happen?

In theory, a star party can happen anywhere but they are best when held in an area with little or no light pollution where the sky will be very dark. Norwood is one of those very dark places located in the high desert (dry) of SW Colorado with viewing areas available from 7,000 to 9,000 ft. Preliminary Sky Quality Meter readings are between 21.45 and 21.88; dark.


Do you have to be an astronomer to attend one?

No! Star parties are for everyone, young and old. Usually, serious amateurs are very happy to share their experience and telescopes.

What are good times in the month to have them?

The best time is from new moon to first quarter moon. This gives the observer the chance to see some of the deep space objects without competition from the bright period of the moon. 

What would you expect to see?

Stars! and planets and galaxies (like our Milky Way), clusters of galaxies, gas clouds and nebulae, and, of course, our Moon. A Dark Sky community is, literally, a gateway to the Universe.


What is the Milky Way?

It is the galaxy in which our solar system exists. It is so massive that it takes light, perhaps the fastest thing in the universe, over 100,000 years to go from one side to another, and it contains over 200 billion stars! If you look into the night sky at a dark location, you can see into the center of it. Look for what looks like a thin cloud that stretches accross the sky. You are looking at the Milky Way Galaxy!

Where is the Sun in our galaxy?

Our sun is about 26,667 light years from the center of the galaxy. So we are about a fourth of the way out from the center of the galaxy to its "edge". Since the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy, it has many different arms. Our solar system lies in the Orion Spur arm.

What is the plane of the ecliptic?

The plane (line) of the ecliptic is the apparent path of the sun through our sky. If you follow the sun throughout the day, it will follow a curved path through the sky - the ecliptic. It is tilted 23.5 degrees from the line of the equator because the North-South axis of the Earth makes that angle with the ecliptic plane, causing our seasons. If you look for each planet in the sky, they will also follow within about 7 degrees from the ecliptic. That is because, in the early formation of the Solar System, the planets formed from a single disk of dust and rocks surrounding the sun, much like the rings of Saturn.

What is celestial mechanics?

It is a subcategory of astrophysics that deals with calculations regarding the motions of planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies. It is a very precise science that allows us to maneuver space craft in spectacular missions such as landing on an asteroid, intersecting a comet, or orbiting Jupiter. When you see the answers to the space exploration questions, all those missions are the result of the science of celestial mechanics.

What is a planet? Why was Pluto demoted from being a planet?

Planets are spherical celestial bodies that orbit the sun. These range in size in our solar system from Mercury to Jupiter (which can hold about 24,462 Mercurys). Another factor that defines a planet is that it must have cleared its path around the sun. For example, the Earth revolves around the sun with the moon and there is no major obstacle that will interfere. Pluto, on the other hand, is a member of the Kuiper Belt. Since this belt of asteroids and frozen elements can impede Pluto's path, it fails the third condition. 

Which major bodies in our solar system have been explored by robots?






















2 robots have completed flybys and one even intentionally crashed onto the surface


38 robots have been to Venus


We have pretty much explored this planet, but we have launched 3,700 satellites into orbit. The remaining exploration of Earth is within its oceans.


There have been six manned landings


43 missions have been launched


9 have flown by


4 have flown by


Voyager 2 has been the only spacecraft to flyby


Again, only studied by Voyager 2


New Horizons flew by last year

In total, we have sent spacecraft to every planet in our solar system. Voyager 2 takes the "gold medal" as it has studied the most, including all of the ringed gas giants.

This is a picture of MAVEN preparing to launch. It was used to study the atmosphere of Mars and how it might have been in the past.

Have we explored other objects in our solar system?

Object Investigated






The Sun










Name of robot/mission


Vega and Giotto did a flyby of Haley's Comet

Deep Impact and Rosetta landed on comets

Stardust also went to a comet to collect and bring back samples


Ulysses has flown by the sun and looked at both its poles

Wind has been placed in between the Earth and Sun to investigate its solar wind


Cassini was sent to investigate Saturn but also its biggest moon Titan's atmosphere (the second largest moon in the solar system)

Huygens landed on Titan and transmitted data for over an hour


NEAR and Hayabusa landed on asteroids


Phobos 2 went to explore Mars's moon Phobos

With all of the comets and asteroid in space flying around the sun, is the Earth safe from collision?

First of all, any large collision impact is extremely rare; even more rare in the relatively small amount of time that we will be around. There have been some big impacts, though, so we have to be prepared. Take the famous Barringer Crater (or meteor crater) for example. An estimated 120-foot meteorite struck the Arizona desert making a quarter mile wide and 560-foot hole in the ground. What can we do to prevent this? Well, first of all, we need to be able to find such relatively small objects in space. Scientists can detect them using infrared telescopes to see their thermal energy absorbed from the sun. After that, we can calculate their current velocities, and distances to know the chances of an impact. If it is confirmed, we can use certain methods to prevent disaster. Two leading solutions are: attach a rocket to it and alter its course, or try and explode it into smaller pieces that will burn up in our atmosphere. Overall, there is no need to worry about a worldwide catastrophe event. Other planets, like Jupiter, though, don't have our protection. The famous Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision into Jupiter consisted of a comet that broke into several pieces (21) and bombarded Jupiter. It left impact marks so large that people on Earth could see them for up to months afterward as easily as the Great Red Spot.