Some Nights Are Cloudy: Astronomy Retreat

There is perhaps nothing more disappointing than setting aside time to go star-gazing . . . and watching clouds form.

Okay, there are more disappointing things, but when I signed up to attend BYU-I’s astronomy retreat last week up near Wyoming, I hoped and prayed that the skies would be clear.

After two weeks of warmer weather and blue skies, it started snowing the day before we were set to leave. Even as we got on the bus to drive to Badger Creek, snow was drifting down from the sky, layering everything in a soft blanket of cold and white. I kept hoping, as we drove east, that the clouds would lift, but no dice.

The event team had other plans to replace the actual star-gazing. A physics/astronomy student had put together a PowerPoint illustrating basic facts about astronomy (the Big Bang, star life-cycles, and even NASA’s recent announcement about the 7 exo-planets), which we watched in the lodge after dinner. She showed us videos about supernovae, pictures of the HR scale, and fun facts about astronomy topics. I can’t say she told us anything that I did not already know, but it’s been a while since I have read a serious astronomy book. Her PowerPoint was a good reminder of things I had learned before.

After the PowerPoint, we packed up and hiked about fifteen minutes into the dark, snowy night to the yurts—yes, yurts. The snow drifting down, reflecting our flashlight beams, sometimes gave the false impression that stars were out, but the hike was quiet and invigorating in the cold. We dumped our things inside the yurts and started the fire one time to ward off the chill air; the evening naturally progressed to roasting marshmallows. While we were doing that, our astronomy guide opened up a program called Stellarium. Even though the skies were cloudy, Stellarium allowed us to see the stars and learn more about them (you can find information about this program and download it for free here).

After a shivery-cold night, we went back to the lodge for a few activities, including a 40-foot swing (!!!), then headed back to campus.

The trip was, all in all, a fail as an astronomy retreat, but I still had a good time. New friends, good food, camping in yurts, and hiking at night made this one for the journal (both this one and the paper one!). Since this was the last astronomy retreat of the semester, I am glad I was able to go, even if the skies were gray and cloudy. 10/10 would recommend the experience to astronomy and nature lovers—after the threat of snow has passed.

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