Steamboat Springs Any visitors to the Astronomy Picture of the Day Web site (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html) on Christmas Day saw a photo taken by Colorado Mountain College Astronomy Professor Jimmy Westlake.
He searched Colorado for the perfect spot to watch Orion rise.
"Watching Orion rise is one of my favorite wintertime activities," Westlake said.
As he took the picture, he said he thought of the Robert Frost poem "The Star Splitter" about Orion:
"You know Orion always comes up sideways,/ Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,/ And rising on his hands, he looks in on me," Frost wrote.
Westlake chose a cold, open valley north of Leadville at Camp Hale.
A frozen lake is in the foreground.
He left the shutter open for 18 minutes as Orion threw its leg over the mountains. In his photo, the mountains glow white and Saturn leaves a long orange streak to the left of Orion.
Through the photo, anyone can see Westlake's admiration for the sky and an interest in the everyday astronomical moment.
During 2003, the sky above Routt County will not explode in a shower of once-in-a-lifetime meteors. Mount Werner will not fall under the surreal stillness of a total solar eclipse.
There will be two total eclipses of the moon. The eclipse in May will be the first one in the area since January 2000.
Otherwise, to enjoy the sky this year, observers must notch their interest toward more subtle things like the movement of the planets.
Mars will be the closest to Earth in 100,000 years. It rises at sunset on the night of Aug. 27 and looms in the sky until sunrise only 34 million miles away.
For those who hope burns eternal, there may be a surprise in the sky toward the end of January. Astronomers recently discovered Comet Kudo-Fujikawa. As it hurdles toward the sun, no one knows how bright it will become.
"We are watching," Westlake said. "It could become a bright, naked-eye comet," he said.
For registered CMC students, Westlake hosts a group called the SKY Club to observe such astronomical activity in the local sky.
The club meets weekly. Though it is open only to students, Westlake hopes to have a few nights of unannounced, guerrilla sidewalk astronomy this year.
"On a clear night, I'm going to set up a telescope on the street and whoever walks by will get a chance to look," Westlake said.
He will also host one public night in March called "Poets and the Stars."
Otherwise, anyone with a few thousand dollars can leave the United States for a more exciting sky abroad.
A total eclipse of the sun will take place on Nov. 23, visible from Antarctica.
"Not many people have seen a total eclipse of the sun," Westlake said.
He has traveled to Mauritania in Africa, to Columbia, Canada and Mexico to witness eclipses. The next time homebodies can see one will be in 2017. The best visibility will be from Wyoming, he said.
In 2003, there will also be an annular eclipse of the sun, which means that a ring of light shines from behind the moon as it eclipses the sun. It will occur on May 31, best visible from Greenland.
Last but not least, for those with ability to travel to Africa or Asia on May 7, Mercury will pass in front of the sun and can be observed with a telescope in those places. Unfortunately, it will be nighttime in Colorado.
Backyard astronomers can turn to the "Observers Handbook: 2003" published by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada or watch the Web site www.spaceweather.com for coverage of celestial events worldwide, including Aurora alerts. For dates and times to watch the International Space Station, space shuttle and other satellites pass overhead, visit www.heavens-above.com.
The best place to view the open sky in Routt County is from Rabbit Ears Pass. The best place for observing the Auroras, Westlake said, is toward the north in Clark or Hahn's Peak.