Steamboat Springs If you're a night owl, if you're mesmerized by the mysterious, murky depths of a river at midnight, and if all of your senses are sharp, you ought to take advantage of local astronomer Jimmy Westlake's expertise and recent late-night adventures on the Colorado River. The Colorado Mountain College professor will be divulging the secrets of the night sky on CNN this weekend.
In the dark on the banks of the Colorado, Westlake joined up with rafting families and CNN crew members to study the stars with $1,500 night vision goggles, but without the light pollution that often comes with living in a city.
"I think the best thing was the incredible view of the Milky Way with the naked eye," Westlake said. "Night vision goggles enhanced it. Most of these people were from big cities with night pollution and had never seen the Milky Way that vividly."
The Lakota River Guides rafting company in Vail invited Westlake to share his astronomical expertise on the night rafting trip in late July. As part of the trip, four boats were beached on a sand bar to give the rafters the opportunity to really see the stars, using both the naked eye and the high-tech goggles, which clear up the starry horizon through an eerie green hue.
Some 20 rafters and crew members, enveloped by shadows and the sound of water lapping up over the sand, watched the Milky Way, shooting stars, satellites, the Summer Triangle and Scorpius the Scorpion, among many other constellations and stars. Using the goggles revealed many stars not normally visible to the naked eye.
"Our guests find that the goggles allow you 'to walk through the door' and experience the night. By the end of the tour, most people don't use the goggles," Lakota Rafting Guides owner Darryl Bangert said.
As one would imagine, the goggles are not used exclusively for the night sky.
"We could see beavers slap their tails in the water and different kinds of birds, swallows, kingfishers, bats, occasional eagles and deer and other wildlife. The whole idea of the trip is to experience the sounds of the night air," Westlake said.
Wearing night vision goggles gives the user a unique view of the nighttime surroundings.
"When there's a full moon, it looks like daylight in the middle of the day with a bright, clear sky," Bangert said.
If that doesn't do it for you, night goggles were also attached to the camera so CNN viewers this weekend can see the river and skies the way the nighttime rafters did.
Westlake will be appearing on CNN's Science Technology Week program at 11:30 a.m. Saturday to describe the night sky as seen on one of the only night rafting trips offered in the world. Additionally, Westlake's aurora borealis photo from the early August Perseid meteor shower and comments on the photo are featured on the NASA and CNN space science Web sites at:
To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org