Tonight, drone watchers out on the plains can take a break for another really big show: The first major meteor shower of the new year is coming, and Jackson Lake State Park is ready. The International Meteor Organization (IMO) is projecting that the Quadrantid meteor shower will peak just after 1 a.m. Saturday, January 4, MST, and most of Colorado, particularly the eastern plains, will have good viewing conditions for the short but intense show.
In fact, the skies over Morgan County, in northeastern Colorado, are so dark that last year the park was awarded two grants — $3,500 from the Colorado Parks Foundation and $20,000 from the Director’s Innovation Grant — to fund a “Dark Skies Initiative.”
The project will focus on eliminating and changing out lights inside and outside all of the buildings on park property to be “dark skies friendly.” This means that lights are fully shielded, point straight down and have a color temperature of less than 3000 kelvins. Bathroom buildings will also have sensors inside, so that lights do not stay on in the evening. The park is also working with the Morgan County Rural Electric Association to remove large light poles at the park to increase opportunities to see stars in the dark sky above.
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The grants will also allow the park acquire a new telescope for educational and interpretive programs.
By making these changes, Jackson Lake State Park, which is also renowned for its beach and water sports, hopes to gain the accreditation of an “International Dark Skies Place” from the International Dark Skies Association. Currently, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Dinosaur National Park, along with Norwood and the paired towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, have that status on the Western Slope; the Great Sand Dunes was designated an International Dark Sky Park this summer. Jackson Lake State Park would be the first accredited spot east of Interstate 25.
But first, the Quadrantid meteor shower is coming, and Jackson Lake State Park, just over an hour northeast of Denver off Interstate 76, should be dark enough to offer an incredible view.
If those drones don't get in the way. (BTW, if you see drones instead of meteors, Morgan County Sheriff Dave Martin suggests that you email him with details of the sighting.)