It is a place where the smell of campfires dances on the same winds that move the trees in a melody you never hear down below. The quiet is piercing in its silence while the stars meet the distant horizon in a melding unique to this magical place.
I am speaking of our very own Shenandoah National Park (SNP) - an oasis of nature a scant 75 miles from downtown D.C. and comprised of 200,000 acres of nature.
I was in the Park on Friday to begin a new activity called “Let’s Talk About Space in the Shenandoah”. It is a an effort to bring the wonders of the Universe to SNP guests by offering space related presentations followed by a skywatching session in Big Meadow.
My first presentation was on “The Sky Is Falling: Space Rocks and You”. All of the seats were taken by 9 p.m. and there were guests who stood the whole 35 minutes as I discussed, asteroids, comets, impacts and finished up by showing my real space rocks - meteorites - including specimens from the Moon, Mars and Chelyabinsk, Russia - the big fireball that exploded last year.
The audience enjoyed touching the 4.5 billion year old asteroid pieces as well as seeing a piece of Mars and the Moon. The Chelyabinsk specimen is accompanied by a piece of broken greenhouse glass - part of the million square meters of glass destroyed by the Chelyabinsk fireball.
The sky was clear for our group as we met at Big Meadows parking lot. The summer Milky Way - one of the spiral arms of our galaxy - was visible in all of its splendor from the south all the way across the sky to the Northeast. It was so clear that the dust clouds that are part of this spiral arm were clearly visible.
For almost two hours our group looked at the sky and learned about stars, constellations, space missions to the planets Saturn and Mars which were visible and we saw some shooting stars (meteors) and satellites. Way cool.
Families and couples from New Jersey, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia made up our skywatching crowd. People reveled in the beauty they were seeing and what they were learning. Luckily three amateur astronomers had their telescopes out so people could see the rings of Saturn and a variety of other sky objects.
Kids asked great questions. A father told me his 15 year-old daughter wants to be an astrophysicist. A young girl with her parents eloquently explained to me that when she was 8 she saw a big fireball in SNP but now that she was 11 she knew of such things and loved to watch the sky.
A couple I met was spending their 30th wedding anniversary at SNP and he was taking pictures of the sky and our group. He is supposed to send me copies so I can share - I was never able to get my camera out as it started getting cloudy around midnight when we called it quits.
I hope you come to SNP to see Mother Nature in a way that is refreshing and down right cleansing to the soul. The Park comes alive on a clear night and even weather has a magic to it up here.
I invite you to join me in “Let’s Talk About Space in the Shenandoah” as there will be 7 more presentations. Our next get together is August 12th, the night of the Perseid Meteor Shower; my presentation will be on our very own “Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater.
Come up and stay a few days at SNP. You will be glad you did, believe me.
Sky Guy in VA