Chaco Night Sky Program
Chaco's Night Sky Initiative: Since 1991, Chaco Culture NHP has offered astronomy in its public interpretive programs. Programs emphasize the practices of the Chacoan people a thousand years ago, as well as modern approaches to viewing the same night sky they viewed--in a remote environment with clear, dark skies, and free from urban light pollution.
Astronomy also provides an opportunity to protect park resources. The park retrofitted all park lighting to reduce light pollution and enhance night sky viewing. In 1993, the park designated the night sky as a critical natural resource to be protected and has worked on efforts to reduce the threat of urban light pollution in the Southwest.
The park's natural nighttime darkness, commitment to reducing light pollution, and ongoing public outreach led to its certification as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association on August 19, 2013. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is the twelfth park to receive the designation worldwide and only the fourth unit of the U.S. National Park System.
The park established an on-going partnership with the Albuquerque Astronomical Society (TAAS) in 1991. Star parties are offered twice yearly. In January 1997, TAAS member John Sefick brought his astronomy equipment to Chaco. He was so impressed with the skies above Chaco that he donated a domed observatory and equipment to the park.
The Chaco Night Sky Program: The park began constructing a permanent observatory at the visitor center in 1997. In May 1998, the park dedicated the Chaco Observatory. The observatory added a new dimension to Chaco's interpretation of astronomy and now serves many different people:
In 1999, the National Park Foundation awarded Chaco Culture NHP and TAAS an Honorable Mention in the category of education at its Partnership Award Ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Ancient Connections--Modern Connections: The Chacoan people were intimately aware of all their surroundings. They were close observers of the skies and seasonal cycles, and their observations gave them the invaluable ability to time their agricultural and ceremonial events, which were central to their survival. Today, Puebloan descendants carry on many of these same traditions.
Visitors are drawn to the park to learn about the monumental Chacoan sites, to view the pecked and painted images on canyon walls, to observe scattered pieces of pottery, and to ponder the greatness of the Chacoan world. It is natural to wish for a connection with the people who flourished in this stark and challenging place. The night sky, so clear and brilliant at Chaco Canyon, is a special connection that we all share, as we look to the skies to better understand our place on earth.
Chaco's night sky programs are generally offered from April through October on Friday, and Saturday nights. Contact the park to verify times and dates.
To see images taken from the park's observatory visit the photo gallery on this web site.
April & October: Evening Night Sky Programs are presented on Friday, and Saturday evenings at sunset. The programs begin with staff presentations on archaeoastronomy, cultural history, and other topics, and are followed by telescope viewing of celestial objects.
May 1- September 30: Evening Night Sky Programs are presented on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at sunset. The programs begin with staff presentations on archaeoastronomy, cultural history, and other topics, and are followed by telescope viewing of celestial objects.
March 20: Spring Equinox Programs are presented at Casa Rinconada, a Chacoan great kiva and religious structure, at sunrise. Join park staff to observe the alignment of the building with the equinox sunrise.
June 21 & 22: Summer Solstice Programs are presented at Casa Rinconada, a Chacoan great kiva and religious structure, at sunrise. Join park staff to observe the sunrise and the solstice marker of light inside the kiva.
September 22: Autumn Equinox Program will be presented at Casa Rinconada, a Chacoan great kiva and religious structure, at sunrise. Join park staff to observe the alignment of the building with the equinox sunrise.
December 21: Observe a winter solstice alignment. Park at the Pueblo del Arroyo parking area and walk 1/8 of a mile to Kin Kletso. Experience the winter solstice sunrise at this Chacoan Great House.
Did You Know?
Many of the animal mounds you see at Chaco were made by Ord's kangaroo rats. They often dig in the soft midden (trash) areas in sites because they are elevated, easy to dig in, and don’t flood. In their colonies there are often more burrow openings than there are rats! (Drawing courtesy: ICWDM.org)